Arizona Center for Innovation Appoints New Director

Anita Bell has been appointed as acting director of the Arizona Center for Innovation (AzCI).  Bell has managed client services for AzCI since its inception in 2003.  As the acting director, her responsibilities include directing daily operations, managing client services and programs, and recruiting new clients.

Bell replaces Joann MacMaster who served as the director of AzCI from November 2010 to September 2013.    MacMaster was recently appointed Associate for Venture Development with Tech Launch Arizona (TLA).

The Arizona Center for Innovation (AzCI) is a business incubator and innovation center that promotes and accelerates technology commercialization, helping entrepreneurs transform their ideas into successful companies.  AzCI has served over 75 companies since inception in 2003.  AzCI is a component of Tech Parks Arizona which is part of the initiative Tech Launch Arizona – a new approach to managing the commercialization of technologies at the University of Arizona.

Mobile Traffic App from Tucson Startup Brings New Solution for Congestion

Chiu_Yi-Chang_Smartrek_web2A revolutionary approach to motor vehicle transportation that can benefit major metropolitan areas around the world will soon be launched from right here in our Tucson community.

University of Arizona startup company Metropia, Inc., — founded by UA civil engineering associate professor Yi-Chang Chiu – has developed a technology platform that is a potential game-changer in the dreadful world of traffic congestion.

Metropia’s Smartrek mobile app uses advanced traffic prediction and vehicle routing technology — combined with user rewards — to give drivers the best ways to avoid traffic while collectively helping reduce traffic congestion.

Automobile commuters using Smartrek get the clearest routes, along with the times it will take them to travel these routes when accounting for construction, road emergencies, and traffic congestion. In addition to route selections, the app will also suggest departure times with their associated travel times. Users who seek to avoid rush hour or a local parade or event can earn rewards for removing themselves from highly congested areas.

“Our research shows we need only 10% of drivers to avoid peak hours to make a noticeable difference in traffic flow,” Chiu said, estimating that a traffic system of a major city with Smartrek will see a 10 to 15 percent reduction in road congestion.

Smartrek_screen_shot_vert2Motorists who complete a Smartrek-suggested route during the selected time earn rewards points, also known as “trek points” that they can redeem for gifts from Metropia’s partners. Rewards can include everything from free parking, event passes and other incentives from cities, to food and entertainment discounts from local businesses that want to attract customers that prefer traveling before or after peak hour traffic.

Smartrek uses complex algorithms based on historical traffic patterns and real-time congestion data to deliver the most accurate predicted travel times available from a mobile app.

“My goal really has always been to improve transportation,” said Dr. Chiu. “Government has had to manage transportation for decades by widening, re-widening and expanding highways. Freeway and road expansion costs on average from $2.5 to $15 million per mile to build. But now, thanks to technology, we can maximize the efficiency of roadways through driver influence, and individual decision to become part of the traffic solution instead of the problem.”

Congestion pricing is getting popular in the U.S., but Smartrek offers another complementary, compatible solution, he said.
Professor Chiu began working on transportation issues in 1995 as a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. He came to the University of Arizona as a professor in 2006. In 2010, while visiting Disneyland with his family, Dr. Chiu was intrigued with the ride reservation system for popular attractions, which allowed people to avoid long lines by reserving a time later in the day to enjoy the ride.

In March 2011, Chiu filed for a provisional patent for the Smartrek technology and obtained $30,000 in seed funding for prototype developments. The following May the idea won second place at Startup Weekend Tucson. By January of this year the company signed its first contract with its first city, and added a second city last month. The company is not releasing the names of the cities pending official announcements, but it says they are among the largest in California and western Texas.

Car manufacturers, municipalities, fleet operators and consumers are all part of Dr. Chiu’s multi-faceted vision for the company.
He hopes to help city and counties by providing them with vital traffic pattern data that they can use for economic development and zoning, in addition to roadway construction decisions.

For car manufactures, he hopes to supplement on-board GPS navigation systems with customized versions of Smartrek.
Fleet operators like taxi services or commercial shipping companies using Smartrek technology will be able to maximize fleet efficiency while providing their customers with more precise delivery and arrival times.

And he hopes to accelerate consumer adoption of Smartrek by offering incentives through retail partners.

Metropia R&D Manager Xian-Biao Hu works with Dr. Chiu on maintaining Smartrek’s complex predictive algorithms. Hu said Smartrek field tests show that 35% of drivers are willing to change both their departure time and route.
“It demonstrates Smartrek’s potential in exploring people’s available flexible schedule or and proves its theoretical foundation in solving the world’s traffic problems,” Hu said.

Hu said Metropia’s field tests also show that when people change their behavior by leaving a little earlier or a little later, or by taking an alternate route, they cut their travel time by an average of 20 percent.

Hu, 28, completed his doctoral degree under the advisement of Dr. Chiu in late July. Hu specializes in intelligent transportation systems, and formally joined Metropia in September 2013.

smartrek_500The small, innovative company of about 10 employees is now gearing up for its official launch in early October. Starting in 2012, Metropia has been conducting field tests that showed Smartrek outperformed two leading predictive navigation programs available in the area.

“Smartrek is our end user product, part of our four-pronged, synergetic Metropia system,” Chiu said. “But, at its essence, Smartrek is so much more. It is our vision for the future. So many people choose to live in vibrant, innovative urban centers because of what they offer, and with Smartrek, we can leverage technology to enhance the quality of those lives.”

A video showing how Smartrek lets drivers help solve traffic congestion in their cities can be found on YouTube at

More information on Smartrek mobile traffic app can be found at

Racing to the Finish: Vote to advance Funding Garage to the Finals in the 2013 SEMA Launch Pad Competition

Dominic LinWe know the next innovative car idea is sitting in a guy’s garage, in a notebook, under the hood, or stuck in his or her head. Funding Garage is a community fundraising platform created to help turn those ideas into working products that will revolutionize the future of automobile industry. You can help turn this dream into a reality with one simple vote.

Founded by Dominic Lin (a.k.a. DomDaBomb in the Tucson Startup Community), Funding Garage is a concept formed in 2012 inside the Arizona Center for Innovation (AzCI), and it is slated to be the most Innovative Automotive Leader of 2013 in the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Launch Pad Competition. Check out his submission video, but most of all, vote for him, and help him turn car guys ideas into automobile solutions.

Visit SEMA Facebook Page to vote for DomDaBomb and help send him to the 2013 SEMA Expo to participate in a live “shark tank” style event with a chance to win the most Innovative Automotive Leader of 2013.

Video: What is Funding Garage

Entrepreneur Magazine Names Tucson “Emerging Entrepreneurial Hub”

Header Entrepreneur Magazine Banner

Entrepreneur Magazine has named Tucson’s startup scene among the “New Hot Spots” for entrepreneurs.

In the article’s August 2013 issue, author and Startup Genome co-founder Shane Reiser cites several factors in naming Tucson to it’s list, chief among those is the communities’ efforts at developing a culture of collaboration saying “all community players – investors, universities and goverment agencies – are involved from the start”.

Tucson's Startup Pipeline

Tucson’s Startup Pipeline

Reiser specifically cites Startup Tucson and the intentional creation of a Startup Pipeline as an important addition to the ecosystem calling it an “entrepreneurial conveyor belt”.

The article also cites as evidence of a growing startup ecosystem the fact that the Tucson investment group the Desert Angels were among the top angel groups in the nation as well as a recent IBM acquisition of Knowledge Computing/I2, founded by UA Professor and local entprepreneur Dr. Hsinchun Chen.

The report follows other recent favorable national news that Tucson has received including:

To get involved in Tucson’s startup scene checkup the upcoming events including:

  • Code for Tucson, this weekend (register)
  • What is Startup Weekend? (register)
  • School of Startup – 6-8 Graders (register)
  • Startup Drinks at The Hive, Aug 13th (register)
  • Startup Day at UA, Sept 4th (save the date)
  • Startup Weekend, Sept 20-22nd (register)
  • Startup Shark Tank, Sept 22nd (register)
  • Lean Launchpad, Sept 28-Nov 6 (info coming soon)
  • Idea Funding, Oct 24th (website)
  • Make Tucson (Tucson’s first ever Maker Fair), Nov 16th (website)

The full Entrepreneur Magazine article is available on news stands now or you can read the Tucson excerpt here:

Protecting Intellectual Property: A Smart Strategy for Tech Startups

Blue Eye MD

Photo courtesy of Nacu at

Disclaimer: This a general guide to help startup founders and investors protect intellectual property (IP) assets. It is not intended as legal advice to resolve specific IP issues that may arise in the launch and operation of a new venture.

Personal Resources
Your startup may be so new it doesn’t have an office yet. You and your partners may be holding down day jobs, and doing startup work evenings and weekends. If this describes how your startup is currently operating, there’s one important thing to remember. Make sure you and your partners use only personal resources, not employer resources, to do work for the startup. This helps keep all underlying IP assets untainted right from the start. This includes workplace, work hours, computers, Web, email, phones, and other office equipment. Continue reading

PitchDay at AZCI Hosts 23 Startups from Across Arizona


On Thursday PitchDay at AZCI attracted the largest number of companies and attendees in its history.  At the 4th annual event hosted by the Arizona Center of Innovation (AZCI), 23 companies gave 5 minute pitches to over 100 attendees.  Companies came from incubator organizations from across Arizona including ASU SkySong, Aztera, CEI Gateway, Gangplank Tucson, NACET, UA’s McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, and Tallwave.

AZCI’s Director Joann MacMaster said that PitchDay “gives companies the opportunity to present to potential investors, mentors and partners.  It’s great for the companies and entrepreneurs.”

Unlike other venture pitch events, PitchDay is not a competition but instead follows a showcase that allows teams to get feedback from members of the audience.  “We see great benefits for AzCI companies to participate in PitchDay, this is an excellent opportunity for them to showcase their new ventures and meet with potential partners and investors.” said Corey Smith, AzCI Entrepreneur in Residence.

MacMaster believes that this event is a key contribution to the region’s startup ecosystem, saying “when the community attends events like this we hope they are  inspired by the presentations.  All of that is part of a growing dynamic startup ecosystem.”

Ulitmately, MacMaster believes that the ecosystem will grow as companies succeed saying, “our goal is to help these companies bring new products and ideas to market.  But more importantly, our focus is to help the founders build companies that are successful, financially viable, and sustainable well after the startup years. This success adds to the growth of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, as these companies create new jobs, generate wealth, and attract larger companies to our region. Today was a great example of how we can come together as a community and a state to support these startups.”

Here’s a summary of the teams that presented Thursday.

Exchange Med (link)

An online market for pharmacys to exchange unused medicine, helping to find matches between those that have excess drugs and those that have a shortage.

Local Work (link)

“Hyper-local” recruiting and talent management platform for recruiting for small businesses.

Obelus Media (link)

Mobile marketing app to post ads during the “loading” delay with slow mobile website downloads.

Convrrt (link)

Easy to use and low cost marketing tool that allows businesses to quickly inexpensively build landing pages for converting website visitors to customers.

Creative Allies (link)

A music industry online marketplace of fan-submitted artwork that allows bands to host design contests and sell products based on the winning artwork.

Rarus Innovations (link)

An education technology platform that uses gamification and social media to turn formal education into something children do themselves.

Nest Energy Systems (link)

Solar powered portable outdoor lighting systems.  Alternative to diesel powered systems in use today.

Arbsource (link)

Uses an innovative process that enables electricity generation from the waste water treatment process.

DNA on a Shirt (link)

Wearable, affordable, and personalized genetic art.  The company renders the DNA fingerprint of people, pets, zoo animals, and more onto shirts using a biomemetic ink process designed to mimic the natural visual properties of DNA.

Crowd Audio (link)

A platform where musicians can submit their recorded songs as competitions and audio engineers compete for prize money for the best mixes.

Grafted Growers (link)

Grafted Growers produce vegetable grafted plants for the $1.4 B gardening and commercial growing consumers struggling with disease, low yields, and harsh environmental conditions.

Howdy (link)

An online marketplace for creating, buying and selling internship guides for college students

Vive Innovations (link)

Developing technology that reduces hospital acquired infections by detecting pathogens in real time.

Acomni (link)

Smart thermostat that helps homeowners learn their a home’s heating/cooling requirements by looking at previous behavior and providing users with an estimate of future behavior and costs.

Quantified Resistance (link)

Developing a wearable device that provides targeted muscle feedback for weightlifting training

Pirate Mansion (link)

Local Tucson co-working/living space for young entrepreneurs

Colloidal Gen

Magnetic particle nanotechnology products for genetic research, molecular diagnostics, and bio-pharma manufacturing

Property Management EZ

Free online property management software for landlords with 1-50 units


Building the Smartrek app which allows drivers to earn rewards for driving on the clearest roads, or leave at alternate times

RallyUp (link)

A fundraising platform for non-profits and other groups to help simplify the full fundraising program

Your Labs (link)

An e-learning software and knowledge evaluation system

Ufree (link)

A mobile app that allows you to identify your free friends based on their live availability.  It allows users to sync and share their calendar/schedules with friends to see who’s available and find local events around you.


Cheap Avocado Wins the Shark Tank Competition at Startup Weekend!

Congratulations to the Cheap Avocado team for winning the Shark Tank competition at this year’s Startup Weekend Tucson event!  The 3 winning teams will receive free admission to the Arizona Center for Innovation, IdeaFunding and the Desert Angels screening panel.  All presenting teams will also receive admission to Gangplank Tucson’s Lean LanuchPad program.

1st Place – Cheap Avocado

Cheap Avacado as the grocery equivilant of a “Cheap Gas Finder”.  The web site and mobile app combine to allow a shopper to find the cheapest grocery store for their basket of groceries.  A shopper can just select the most common items that they purchase each week at the store and within seconds, Cheap Avacado will tell you which of your neighborhood stores will give you the best deal.  While we are editing the final presentation videos, you can watch the first few minutes of Cheap Avocados’ presentation thanks to Scott from Associated Blogs.  And here’s their Q&A with the judges.  You can also watch two demo videos they made for their final presentation here and here.

Team Avocado includes Forrest Danford, Charles King, Xaio Qin, Brian Volk, Frank Ventua and Asher Caplan.

2nd Place –
 took second place with their offline data storage system for backing up high value data increasingly stored in the cloud.  While that data is often backed up, those backups are not perfectly secure and often are inaccessible to the user.  Snowflake backup your data to an offline DVD format so you own your cloud data.  Here’s Scott’s link to the full presentation of family duo of Michael Righi and his brother Daniel Righi.

Note: During the after party for Startup Weekend, Michael and Daniel withdrew themselves from the prizes allowing a 4th team to “win”.  See more about that below.

3rd Place – Automagic Share

Automagic Share finished in 3rd place with an app designed to simply, safely and automatically display photos, videos, short messages, and drawings that have been shared by a family member.  The idea borrows ease of use concepts and strong visual foundation from modern news reading apps and applies that to sharing family content with grandma and grandpa.  We’ll upload their presentation here once it’s available.

Automagic Share is Tim Colson, Dominic Lin, Scott Stanley, Matt Jager  and Ed Newton.

4th Place – $limFund

$limFund finished in 4th place during the judging, but after withdrew from prize consideration, they they will be one of the 3 winning teams.  $limFund is specialized crowd funding application that helps friends, family, employers or others to pool together money to provided that extra incentive to make a lifestyle change and help you lose weight and keep it off.  You can see their pitch to judges here.

$limFund is made up of Sandra Byron, Stephen Ost, Jonny Basha, Bryon Keck and Chad Lehrman.

Startup Weekend Tucson – What to Expect This Week

This is the week!  Startup Weekend Tucson is only 5 days away.  Do you have your schedule set?  Do you have your tickets?  We know it’s going to be a busy week of events, education, networking, ideas, team building, and finally pitching!

With so much going on, we’ve put together this helpful program of activities, dates, times and links to register.  First, we’ve got a table of events, who can attend, location, date, time and where to register.  Then below that, you’ll find a detailed agenda for the entire week.

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Arizona Innovation Challenge – Applications Now Being Accepted

Every AZ-based startup should apply for this grant.  Up to $250,000 in funding to grow your company that you never have to pay back.  Applications now being accepted.


The Arizona Innovation Challenge, powered by the Arizona Commerce Authority, awards the most money in the country for a technology commercialization challenge – $3 million ($1.5 million twice yearly) to the world’s most promising technology ventures. Awards range from $100,000 to $250,000 per company.

via Arizona Innovation Challenge.

Mark Banister Formed Local Startup Firm Medipacs with Help from AzCI

Mark Banister of Medipacs

100 days of science: His patio tinkering led to medical device

July 24, 2012


The Arizona Daily Star’s Centennial salute to science in Arizona runs all summer. Each day, for 100 days, we’ll record a milestone in the state’s scientific history.

Mark Banister didn’t have a garage to tinker in, so he started to invent his “mini-infuser” medication pump on his back patio in Tucson.

Banister, with a high-school degree and a keen interest in science, eventually developed and patented the polymer that makes his pump work.

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