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SUCCESS STORY: Furnace

January 2014 Newsletter

Matt S. Erskine

An EDA investment is helping a Scottsdale, Arizona startup accelerator move cutting edge technologies from the lab to the marketplace. The Arizona Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator (Furnace) has launched a number of innovative companies and attracted international attention.

The Arizona State University (ASU) Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group, and Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE) jointly created Furnace to help startups license and commercialize the work of research institutions.  Participants tap the research of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, Dignity Health Arizona, Northern Arizona University Innovations, and the Mayo Clinic.

Gordon McConnell, Assistant Vice President for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at ASU, described the origin of Furnace.

“Uncommercialized intellectual property is a lot like unworked metal,” he said. “You need to refine and shape it to produce something useful. We realized that a practical accelerator would be like a furnace for high-tech startups.”

The accelerator provides entrepreneurs with seed funding and office space.  Significantly, it also provides them with expert mentors, made possible in part by a September 2012 EDA Technical Assistance grant of $92,400 which the university matched with $93,877 for a grant total of $186,277.

“The EDA’s investment in Furnace was absolutely essential to our mentorship program,” said McConnell.  “It helped us bring in a group of experts we call the ‘Fifth Beatle’ to each of the supported startup management teams, because they nurture and guide the creative minds attracted by this opportunity.”

Applicants to the competitive program go through a multi-stage selection process. They first submit proposals to develop one or more patented technologies for review by the institutions which own the intellectual property. Next, a panel of judges composed of representatives from the accelerator’s technology partners, plus funding partners Arizona Commerce Authority and BioAccel, selects the winners.

Startups launched from Furnace work in fields as diverse as medicine, data analytics and security, advanced materials, and e-learning.

In 2014, Furnace launches are planned for California and Texas Furnaces based on the ASU model, and additional higher education institutions from the U.S., Latin America, and Russia have expressed interest in the program.  Representatives of the Kaufmann Foundation have visited to view and discuss the accelerator’s work, and government agencies have also shown interest in developing similar programs dedicated to launching dual-use technologies for public and private use.

More information can be found at www.azfurnace.org.