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Incubating and accelerating success: Peoria in talks with ASU to expand BioInspire program

Posted 4/7/17

By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia

If all big-time cities have big-time companies and industries, then Peoria could be moving closer to the big time.

Arizona State University wants to …

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Incubating and accelerating success: Peoria in talks with ASU to expand BioInspire program

By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia

If all big-time cities have big-time companies and industries, then Peoria could be moving closer to the big time.

Arizona State University wants to operate and manage the BioInspire program, Peoria’s technology and biomedical incubator, in partnership with the city.

The marriage could bring a wide range of technologies to the incubator, spanning from software development to cyber-security, and more.

ASU and city officials recently met to discuss a proposal from the mega university that would expand on BioInspire, which was launched in 2011.

Mayor Cathy Carlat said ASU brings a wide range of experience in developing companies and a large network to help expand BioInspire.

This is an opportunity to grow the city’s brand as a hub for innovation and technology.

“We have been committed to producing an innovation economy for some time now … and we are still committed and will be committed until this ecosystem becomes a realty and these types of business are able to plant seeds and start doing business in Peoria,” Ms.  Carlat said. “We have a specific vision for this city and it’s not the kind that comes easily, but we are willing to work hard and put our money where our mouth is.”

The city helps fund eligible businesses associated with BioInspire. But under the ASU agreement, Scott Whyte, director of economic development services, said Peoria would cover only 10 percent of the program’s costs, amounting to a financial leverage of more than $3 million over three years.

He said ASU’s vast network of angel and venture investors can provide funding for incubator businesses. There will be a fee for service to the city associated with ASU’s program, he said.

While Peoria has not fully committed to the proposal, the city’s contract with operator and manager BioAccel ended in November and earlier this month the City Council approved an agreement to wind down its function with the operator.

Mr. Whyte said an agreement could come before the Council this month.

“The City Council will need to decide if the ASU proposal for the continuation of the BioInspire program is in the city’s interest,” he said.

Entrepreneurial ecosystem
“Entrepreneurial ecosystem” is the buzz phrase that has been floating around the proposed partnership between Peoria and ASU.

Mr. Whyte said having an entrepreneurial ecosystem is a public benefit that fosters all aspects of taking an idea from inception through to commercialization.

He said developing the ecosystem can grow Peoria’s entrepreneurial base and attraction, lead to the launch of new technology start-ups and lead to the creation of innovative technologies, as well as foster an environment of innovation and entrepreneurial activity.

The recently opened Maricopa Small Business Development Center Network, 8385 W. Mariners Way, is a piece of the entrepreneurial ecosystem Peoria is trying to create, he said.

“At root of it is an entrepreneurial ecosystem development. When you look at successful executions throughout the country, there’s a whole support system provided for entrepreneurialism  for small business and innovation creativity.

Those examples, done well, they have been enormously impactful economically,” Mr. Whyte said. “But you have to create the mentorships, the services, the  funding, the ability to  help with required federal studies and approvals, and get in front of senior executives that are willing to serve on boards — all those things it takes to secure intellectual  property. And if you can create that environment for innovation success then it will attract innovation creativity.”

Booming business
The incubator and accelerator space is exploding in Arizona, according to a survey completed by the Arizona Commerce Authority in January 2015.

The economic development organization conducted a telephone survey with representatives of 10 incubators and accelerators operating in this state. The study said the incubator and accelerator community is exploding in Arizona, with many facilities formed since 2011.

Today there are more than 40 incubators in the state that serve a wide range of technologies.

At the time of the survey, more than 300 Arizonans were working on a start-up at these incubators, more than 60 percent being paid. The incubators and accelerators surveyed nurtured companies that have created almost 900 full-time jobs. Companies that took part in these incubator and accelerator programs raised more than $110 million in private capital.

David Allen, vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, said incubators have been around for about 40 years and have been an important part of economic strategies.

Tech Launch Arizona is part of the commercialization arm of University of Arizona, which looks at inventions created by faculty, evaluates them for patentablity and commercial potential, and then tries to find a home for the technology.

He said businesses that are tenants of incubators are usually more successful than companies at-large.

“Incubators generally provide services that entrepreneurs may have a hard time accessing in the broader community,” he said. “The other thing is that an incubator provides an  environment of synergy in which entrepreneurs can learn from others. They no longer have to be alone like they would be if they were out in the broader community.”

Building on the past
Since it  launched, BioInspire has attracted 12 early stage biomedical device companies, brought in more than $14 million in additional private funding, and created 62 jobs.

Mr. Whyte said the biomedical industry has been the focus of the program because of the large health-care footprint in Peoria and the surrounding area, the number of medical device patents issued, and a sizable retirement population with medical devise needs.

“No other incubator at the time was focused on medical devices,” Mr. Whyte said.