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California partnerships boost ASU startups

January 27, 2015

After a university technology leaves the research lab, but before it becomes a self-sustaining new product or startup, it must cross the “valley of death.” This challenging period can sink even the most promising ideas due to lack of funds, business expertise, market timing or even luck.

Arizona State University, through the activities of Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), has worked hard to address this challenge by developing a robust mix of services and financial support for university entrepreneurs, whether they be faculty, students, staff or alumni.

Arizona has a robust startup ecosystem, but with California right next door there are opportunities to bring in additional partners to support ASU-linked startups.

AzTE, which functions as ASU’s exclusive intellectual property management and technology transfer organization, has worked for years to establish deep connections with investors, technology firms and potential partners in California. Two years ago, the ASU California Center opened to provide a physical base for those activities.

AzTE has collaborated with the Los Angeles Venture Association (LAVA) on a number of events in Southern California, most recently with LAVA at the Beach, which brought together venture capital partners and angel investors from more than 20 firms to share with entrepreneurs how they make investment decisions and what they’re adding to their portfolios. Investors in attendance included venture funds like DFJ Frontier, and angel groups like Tech Coast, Pasadena and Sand Hill.

Two ASU-linked companies participated in the event. Breezing, co-founded by ASU professors NJ Tao and Erica Forzani, made its second trek to a LAVA event to pitch its portable device that can track an individual’s metabolism and use that information to provide diet and exercise recommendations for maintaining or reaching a healthy weight.

RubyRide founder Jeff Ericson also attended the event. RubyRide is an ASU Accelerator company with a monthly membership-based “car replacement service” that offers unlimited rides within “zones” of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“I was blown away by the quality of both the program and the participants at LAVA at the Beach,” said Ericson. “We met at least 15 investors and were approached by three after the event for more information. This type of event is a great introduction for anyone new to the investment world, and we greatly appreciate AzTE’s support in helping us make this connection.”

In addition to LAVA, AzTE has built relationships with other California-based venture supporting organizations, including StartEngine, AmplifyLA, Tech Coast Angels and the Founder Institute. The ASU California Center has played host to a number of events in collaboration with these groups, including a digital media showcase, a health care startup expo and multiple networking sessions.

“AzTE focuses its economic development efforts on making an impact in Arizona, but when it comes to potential investors and partners, we cast a very wide net,” said Charlie Lewis, vice president for venture development for AzTE. “Our work in California expands the university’s entrepreneurship networks and provides unique opportunities for ASU’s faculty and student entrepreneurs."

To date, more than 70 companies have been launched based on ASU innovations. These companies and their sub-licensees have attracted more than $425 million in funding from venture capital firms and other investors, collecting $40 million in funding in just FY 2014.