Tech Connect Spring 2018

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06 Next Level 012 Big Bang 014 Promising ‘Poison’


PUBLISHERS Sandra Watson Steven G. Zylstra


Don Rodriguez






Arizona Innovation Challenge winners excel in ecosystem

Erin Loukili Lucky You! Creative


Jaclyn Threadgill

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Kerry Bennett Joe Kullman Bruce A. Wright Steve Yozwiak

E-MAIL For queries or customer service call 602-343-8324 TechConnect is published by the Arizona Technology Council, 2800 N. Central Ave. #1530, Phoenix, AZ 85004.

Entire contents copyright 2017, Arizona Technology Council. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Products named in these page pages are trade names or trademarks of their respective companies. Publication of TechConnect is supported by the Arizona Commerce Authority.




Culture has sparked tech industry boom.

Also Inside

04 Publisher’s Letter

05 Governor’s Letter 014 TGen 015 Northern Arizona University 017 Arizona State University 018 The University of Arizona

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Publisher's Letter

Always Ecocentric first entered the innovation ecosystem when I bought the modern wonder of its day: the transistor radio. That electronic household mainstay until then known simply as a “radio” had shrunk to the point of fitting in my hand. It turned out to be the gateway to my career. When it comes to introducing something new—the definition of innovation—technology no doubt immediately comes to mind as the driver. For Arizona, the innovation born in the tech sector also translates into a key economic factor. Last year, technology was responsible for an estimated 10.1 percent, or $28.5 billion, of the overall state economy, according to the Cyberstates 2018 report recently released by the trade association CompTIA. As home to some 8,561 tech business establishments with 237,100 workers, Arizona ranked No. 18 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in net tech employment. Additionally, the average wage in the industry was $99,960, compared to the state’s average private sector annual wage of $49,500. We truly have seen innovation shape our lives, as well as society as a whole. Technology in some form has come to be used by every person and embedded in every company. From the pioneering disruptive technology known as the PC to personal devices you’ll find in pockets and purses, the proliferation in recent years is immense. It is especially encouraging to see the increase in Arizona job postings for emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things. Even those who claimed to have no interest





in technology are now talking of concerns about cybersecurity and privacy. Fortunately, conversations also have moved on to such advances as artificial intelligence and automation. That has contributed to membership in the innovation ecosystem growing. Add to that our seeing more venture capital flowing toward Arizona. It was a contributing factor to our state being ranked No. 19 in the Cyberstates Innovation Score, which also was based on a state-by-state per capita analysis of tech startups/new tech business formations. This is a reflection of companies choosing Arizona for our quality of life and tech talent pool. A pro-business state government led by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature also is a critical component of the ecosystem. Last year’s legislative session brought recapitalization of the Angel Investment Tax Credit program, which resulted in $10 million being put back into the program. In addition, 2017 brought the extension and continued expansion of the Research and & Development Tax Credit program until 2021. Arizona is now No. 1 in the nation in terms of R&D tax credits. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention TechConnect’s contribution. We recently passed the 50-issue mark for our magazine, all the while concentrating on the innovation ecosystem. It’s only fitting that our theme for this edition reflects our commitment to where we’ll keep the focus for our next 50 issues. STEVEN G. ZYLSTRA is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council and Arizona Technology Council Foundation..

Governor's Letter

Arizona: The Startup State o

ne of my top priorities since taking office as governor has been to grow Arizona’s economy. Vital to that effort is supporting entrepreneurial and small business success, and ensuring Arizona remains the best place to test, launch and scale new ideas. I know firsthand, from my experience at Cold Stone Creamery, the responsibilities that come with building a business. I recently had the privilege to speak with other entrepreneurs, founders of emerging tech companies, and business and community leaders at the 2018 Phoenix Startup Week events. The highlight was hearing directly from those trailblazers and answering questions about how the state is working diligently to champion their success. As an increasing number of 21st century businesses expand and relocate to our state, we will continue doing all we can to ensure our government keeps pace with changing technologies, and remain focused on preparing the workforce of the future for careers in these emerging sectors. I was proud to sign into law HB2434, new legislation supporting the testing of new financial technology (Fintech) products, at the 2018 Arizona Tech Innovation Summit. This bill—championed by Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Rep. Jeff Weninger, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Thiel Capital Managing Director Jack Selby and many others—makes Arizona the first state in the nation to establish a Fintech testing “sandbox.” This builds on the efforts of last year’s legislative session, during which I signed HB2417, the law that updated the Arizona Electronic Transactions Act to accept signatures secured through blockchain technology. As part of efforts to shrink red tape that gets in the way of job creation, I set a goal in early 2017


to eliminate 500 unnecessary regulations. With input from the public and stakeholders, Arizona agencies exceeded that goal, eliminating 676 regulatory burdens and saving Arizonans more than $48 million in the process. I remain committed to modernizing our state government by reducing burdensome regulations, embracing new technologies and encouraging innovation. In this edition of TechConnect, you’ll read about the state’s efforts to foster the success of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, driven by the Arizona Innovation Challenge (AIC). A program of the Arizona Commerce Authority, the AIC assists the most promising tech companies in commercializing their innovations. From bio and life sciences to AI software to clean energy technology, the fall 2017 AIC awardees featured in this issue provide a great glimpse into this program in action. Opportunity and innovation come as a result of dedicated entrepreneurs, taking risks and pursuing their dreams. Whether you are an entrepreneur just starting to explore a recent great idea, an executive at an early-stage company ready to scale rapidly, or something in between, Arizona is proud to do all we can to support your growth and success. SPRING 2018 AZTECHCONNECT.COM


Close+up: Focusing on Significant Topics Affecting Technology

Twice a year, the Arizona Commerce Authority’s (ACA) Arizona Innovation Challenge awards $1.5 million to the most innovative companies looking to commercialize new technology that creates sustainable and growing businesses in the state of Arizona. Winning companies leverage awards of up to $250,000 to grow their businesses and facilitate the state’s economic development goals. In this edition of TechConnect, we highlight winners of the fall 2017 competition that were named in December. For information about the spring 2017 winners, see the TechConnect blog at

ARIZONA INNOVATION CHALLENGE Companies get opportunities to reach next level in ecosystem

GT Medical Technologies offers hope for brain tumor patients


eurosurgeons must exercise extreme care in removing a brain tumor for fear of damaging vital brain tissue. In other parts of the body, doctors can cut a wide swath around a tumor but they have no such margin in the brain. They know they will leave tumor cells behind. Several weeks after surgery, once the patient has healed, treatment continues with external beam radiation therapy five days a week for six weeks. If the cancer returns, options are more limited. External radiation often can’t be used twice. Six years ago, doctors at Barrow Neurological Institute asked: Is there a better way? What if we implanted radiation therapy in the brain at



the time of surgery? Ten U.S. and two Canadian patents later, their idea has grown into a company, GT Medical Technologies, on the verge of improving quality of life for tens of thousands. GT stands for GammaTile.

For these brain tumor patients, there aren’t a lot of good options available. The GammaTile technology offers potentially significant improvement in their lives by delaying or even preventing tumor recurrence, says CEO and President

Matthew Likens.


The company, one of the fall 2017 awardees in the Arizona Innovation Challenge, is on the verge of entering a potential billion-dollar market. Food and Drug Administration clearance of the GammaTile could come in 2018. Sales would begin shortly thereafter. The 2-square-centimer tile consists of a spongelike material implanted with radiation sources called seeds. Much like tiles in a shower, they’re placed in the cavity left by removing the tumor. Radiation of any remaining cancer cells is immediate and localized, having minimal impact on healthy brain tissue alone. The radiation is expended in about a month. The patient suffers fewer side effects and the cost is far less than external radiation. Clinical trial results at Barrow have been impressive. Almost 60 percent of the first 72 patients treated remain cancer free for up to five years after the tile has been implanted. The clinical trial initially focused on patients with a recurring tumor, so doctors could directly compare how effective it was. Barrow doctors see the potential to use it as a first-time treatment as well. The Arizona Innovation Challenge experience helped the company refine its message, Likens says. “We were able to tell for the first time in detail how it started, what the promise of the future was, and lay it all out in a comprehensive way.” That wasn’t the only benefit of the AIC: It helped GT define its business plan and strengthened fundraising. Likens previously grew another medical device startup, Ulthera, into a $100 million business. He said the benefits of being in Arizona will help GT Technologies just as it did Ulthera, which grew to well over 200 employees before being acquired. “We love the lifestyle and the pro-business operating environment,” he said. “As we were growing Ulthera, if we were unable to find a specific talent locally, we had no problem getting people to relocate. There are a lot of attractive features about Arizona that make this a great place to build a company.” He is proud that GammaTile was invented in Arizona and half the company’s funding came from within the state via Arizona Technology Investors, Canyon Angels at Grand Canyon

University and Desert Angels in Tucson, as well as several individual investors. “Our mission is to improve the lives of patients with brain tumors and by doing that, we can also have a positive impact on the Arizona economy,” Likens says. founder finding success with new artificialintelligence platform


aron Matos founded and led, which has connected employers and job seekers since 2000. As technology developed and a new generation entered the job force, he saw that something was missing. That’s why in 2015, Matos launched an R&D project to improve the job candidate experience and address millennials’ preference for connecting via mobile platforms. A year later, a solution was tested and received rave reviews from clinics. Thus was born Paradox and its assistive technology software, Olivia. The company is among the latest awardees in the Arizona Innovation Challenge, the Arizona Commerce Authority’s competitive program to support the state’s rising stars in technology and innovation. Paradox set out to make recruitment easier and faster for job candidates and recruiters. Using machine learning, Olivia works much like a human assistant, conversing with a job candidate via text or other messaging platforms. She asks and answers questions, and can decide in less than a minute if someone meets the minimum, quantifiable requirements for a job. If the person qualifies, Olivia checks the recruiter’s calendar and schedules an interview. “Recruiters spend a lot of time on administrative tasks,” Matos says. “Our goal is to eliminate the busy work. Olivia frees recruiters to do what they do best, which is talk to people.” Matos’ wife is named Olivia but he says the product development team gave the software that name independently. Still, job seekers see SPRING 2018 AZTECHCONNECT.COM



the human Olivia’s photo when they interact with the digital Olivia. And perhaps her personality seeped into the software. Three-fourths of Olivia’s interactions—even those who know they’re interacting with a bot— end with a “thank you” from the job applicants, Matos says. His experience with and as a human resource professional before that informed the product’s development.

I saw that the pains of the jobseeking process hadn’t been solved,” he says. “Most of our platforms are built around email and pre-date mobile. Consumers of today have different expectations.

In its first year, Paradox has landed about 100 clients, ranging from small retailers to suburban Phoenix school districts to major corporations. Matos already has grown one startup into a household name. His chief operating officer, Marc Chesley, was a leader at Infusionsoft, another Arizona-grown success story. Yet, even with those impressive résumés, they found the Arizona Innovation Challenge process extremely helpful. “We both have experience but it’s a different time and a different market. Building a business is hard. We’re fortunate to have access to great people in Arizona who give back,” Matos says. “As an early-stage company, it helped us codify our strategy and how we look at the marketplace. And the funds go right back into the community. We’re hiring and adding staff as quickly as we can.” Matos can’t imagine starting a company anywhere but Arizona. “I’m a native. Marc is a native. We love this town. Arizona has always gone under the radar as a place where you can build a great company. There’s tremendous talent here, and ASU is producing more. People love living here. It’s a great ecosystem to build a company.”



Biotech Innovator Life365 looks to improve lives with medical monitoring platform


ent Dicks was one of the first people to bring the Internet of Things to healthcare. Now, with his third startup, he’s confident innovation and technology can keep people out of the hospital and reduce health care costs by connecting and monitoring patients in their homes. Life365, one of the fall 2017 awardees of the Arizona Innovation Challenge, builds on the work of Dicks’ prior company, MedApps. For most patients, that means monitoring their blood pressure, glucose levels, activity or other health indicators at home. The data is given to their health care providers, who can watch for warning signs and provide care before a condition becomes critical.

We look at the patient, the disease, their age, how adept they are with tech, their economic status and whether they have access to the Internet, so we can find the right solution for that patient,” says Dicks, twice named Arizona’s health care innovator of the year. “We take all the solutions that

exist today to connect the patient at home, to try to keep them out of the hospital and get the right data to the doctor.

The system works best for those with chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Congestive heart failure patients are key targets because a hospital is reimbursed less if they return within 30 days. Mobile monitoring can help avoid that. The system also works well with kidney patients who are able to do their dialysis at home and send readings to their doctor or health center. Early results are impressive. Working with Phoenix-based Catalytics Health Partners and


300 Medicaid patients in Tucson, a test version produced a 65 percent reduction in emergency room visits, a 40 percent drop in hospitalizations and an estimated 30 percent increase in clinical workflow efficiency. The company is also working with an emergency medical services system to explore how Life365’s technology can enable an ambulance crew to stabilize a patient at home and do monitoring from a distance instead of automatically taking every patient to a hospital. The full commercial product was completed in November 2017 and is rolling out now. Dicks expects at least $1.5 million in first-year sales, rising to between $60 million and $70 million in four years. Dicks has been an Arizona biotech evangelist, presenting at events such as San Francisco’s Biotech Showcase. He pitches his company to investors while also emphasizing the strength of the state’s health care startups. “Arizona has all the ingredients for a digital health startup to be successful,” he said. “I want to be able to level the playing field— urban or rural, rich or poor—to all have access to the same quality of care,” Dicks said. “We have all this in Arizona: Spanish speakers, Indians, vets, seniors. There are a lot of things that need to be addressed in typical health care, whether access or cost.” The Arizona Innovation Challenge will help Life365 meet those challenges more quickly. “We’ll be able to hire employees earlier to propel us,” Dicks said. “It makes us more attractive to investors. I’m really thrilled about it.”

Renewlogy: Transforming plastic into clean fuel


or Priyanka Bakaya, a landfill isn’t just loaded with refuse; it’s also a treasure trove of “feedstock” primed to be recycled and converted into clean fuel. Bakaya’s company, Renewlogy, uses a proprietary chemical recycling process to convert non-recycled plastic into new products, such

as high-value fuels that include diesel. And her company, founded in 2011 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is bringing its industry-leading technology to Arizona. Phoenix’s aggressive goals in reducing waste and fostering a sustainable economy made it an attractive spot for the growing company, which has facilities in Salt Lake City and Nova Scotia, Canada.

Phoenix’s focus on zero waste, and the city’s forward thinking in setting up a campus for circular economy companies really attracted us to this market,” Bakaya said. “That’s the type of partner we want. That’s really what made Phoenix attractive for us over anywhere else in the country.

The problem of plastic waste in the U.S. is widespread: Only 9 percent is recycled. Renewlogy offers a technology-based solution that reduces a community’s volume of plastic buried in landfills while producing a much-needed commodity in the marketplace: recycled fuel. The company was one of the fall 2017 awardees of the Arizona Innovation Challenge (AIC), the business-plan competition of the Arizona Commerce Authority, which awards grants to help technology startups with potential global solutions commercialize their innovations. Bakaya, an engineer with degrees from Stanford University and MIT, began thinking about “the energy problem and the problem of plastic waste” while at MIT, and was convinced she could develop a scalable, commercially viable solution that addresses both issues. The company plans to invest its AIC grant directly into getting its Phoenix operations up and running by early 2019 at a facility that already processes waste. The facility would provide its leftovers to Renewlogy, SPRING 2018 AZTECHCONNECT.COM



which would place the plastic feedstock into a processing machine—about the footprint of a tennis court—to be reverted back into fuel to sell. Renewlogy plans to initially employ 12 to 15 workers and will be working through 2018 on completing financing, agreements, planning and permitting for its 5,000-squarefoot location. The goal for the Phoenix facility is to be “a showcase for other cities and countries around the world” on what is possible in plastics recycling, waste reduction and circular economies, she said. “This partnership between cities and the public sector and the private sector and technology in one facility is a great signal to other cities on what’s possible.” The Arizona Innovation Challenge was valuable for a variety of reasons, including relationship-building. “For us it’s not just about the money,” she said, “it’s about the relationships we build with both the city of Phoenix and the state of Arizona.”

Founded by cardiologists, Resonea brings healthy sleep technology to marketplace


reat days require restful nights. But there’s an inherent issue in analyzing how well you sleep: You’re unconscious. Enter Resonea. Founded by cardiologists Sanjiv Narayan and Ruchir Sehra, the Scottsdale-based startup and fall 2017 Arizona Innovation Challenge awardee, works to improve access to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of sleep-related issues. Its mobile software system—called Drowzle—monitors, records and analyzes users’ breathing patterns while they sleep and stores their sound files to secure cloud-based servers, allowing users to track their sleep-related health risks over time. Each morning, users receive the results from their prior night’s sleep, along with tips and resources to help them understand their sleep health risks.



Sleep apnea is widespread, according to Neal Beswick, the company’s vice president of business development: 24 million Americans suffer from the disease while additionally more than 40 million show risk factors for it. More than 85 percent of cases are undiagnosed—a gap Resonea is working to narrow.

Ultimately, we thought that software and technology could be used to improve this and put the management of sleep issues in the hands of patients,” Beswick says. “We’re bombarded with pillows and mattresses and Fitbits attempting to tempt people to track their sleep but these are somewhat meaningless metrics. We’re adding some real medical science to the equation.

Setting up shop in the Valley of the Sun, where the company’s founders live, also made sense. The company was enticed by the Phoenix metro area’s low cost of living and high quality life, especially relative to other tech hubs. It also enjoys a strong partnership with Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The Resonea team caught wind of the Arizona Innovation Challenge in early 2017 and participated in both the spring and fall rounds before being selected as an awardee. Throughout the year, the company’s story became tighter and more tangible, and its leaders were better prepared for their second AIC experience. “There was a lot of self-improvement” as a result of Resonea’s first AIC round, according to Beswick. “There’s a huge amount of scrutiny from (AIC) judges on condensing your story and giving the most amount of information about what you do with the least amount of words,” he says. “It really improved the telling of

our value proposition. It’s not human nature to accept criticism easily but as a group, we’re pretty low ego. We were able to take the criticism that we obviously weren’t telling the story well enough—and that improved us tremendously as a management team.” And as a medical device company, Resonea has found the connections they’ve forged with other finalists to be invaluable. “If you look at the six awardees, the technologies are very different,” he says. “But when you’re in the same room with those companies, you start to make connections with people you wouldn’t otherwise. And anytime you make a connection with another entrepreneur, it strengthens the whole community.”

SimpleWAN develops streamlined, cloud-based network solution


our years ago, Erik Knight had a vision: to make networking simpler and easier. He had gotten his start years earlier, first running an IT business and later launching a hosted VOiP company. Both required him to jump in a truck on a moment’s notice and drive to sites all over the Phoenix metro area to fix onsite networking issues. The “nightmare” of trying to cover a geographical region as vast as Maricopa County wore on him, and he figured there had to be a better way.

Routers and firewalls have been around since the dawn of the Internet—you know, those little boxes that sit around and gather dust,” Knight says. “The old way of doing things was that every time you had to fix the box, you were running out to a site and physically doing it by hand. But times are changing, and we saw a way to put all of that intelligence into the cloud instead of in a box onsite somewhere.

The result was SimpleWAN, which Knight and his partners launched in 2014. The company provides an all-in-one, cloud-based networking solution that’s fast, simple to set up, and, most importantly, easy to troubleshoot remotely. The company’s product offers software-defined wide-area networks (or SD-WAN), managed Wi-Fi, real-time cybersecurity defense, firewall protections, content filtering, diagnostics monitoring services and automated security updating for users across a wide range of industries. It also provides regulatory compliance support for payments data and protected health information. Clients turn to SimpleWAN for an automated, centralized way to manage and secure IT infrastructure across multiple geographic locations, Knight says. The company’s first connection with Arizona Commerce Authority programming was in 2016, when it applied on a whim to the Venture Madness startup competition. Knight credits the experience with helping the company forge valuable connections with Phoenix investors and business leaders, which in turn helped SimpleWAN close a round of funding during its second Venture Madness last year. Add to that, the company was named among six fall 2017 Arizona Innovation Challenge awardees, receiving capital to further grow its business. SimpleWAN plans to use the funding to ramp up hiring and marketing efforts. In addition, Knight credits the AIC experience with helping the company refine its pitch “into a more standard, investor-friendly experience,” he says. And thankfully, he says, the innovations behind SimpleWAN have made his transportation nightmare a thing of the past. “The old way to deal with these problems has been to get in a car or a plane and go fix them,” he says. “This allows the dream of truly remote ownership to become a reality.” SPRING 2018 AZTECHCONNECT.COM


BIGBANG Arizona’s culture of innovation sparks tech industry boom » by sandra watson


f you want to know just how hot Arizona’s innovation ecosystem is, consider this: More than 30 venture capitalists attended the 2018 Venture Madness startup competition in late January at Phoenix’s Galvanize Campus. And 25 of them were from out of state. That means there was at least one VC for every company that advanced to the finals of the annual startup competition. The fact that so many of those venture capitalists hopped flights to Venture Madness—an event presented by Invest Southwest in partnership with the Arizona Commerce Authority—speaks volumes about Arizona’s reputation as one of the most talent-



rich tech ecosystems in the country. National rankings back that up, as do articles by some of the largest news organizations in the country, including one recently in The New York Times that described Arizona as in the midst of a “tech boom.” When you talk to the entrepreneurs themselves—the ones on the ground developing ideas, fundraising and bringing technologies to market—you get a similar refrain. Arizona has the foundational ingredients that make it an ideal place to live and start a business: exceptional talent, affordability, access to capital and a great quality of life. But the key ingredient enticing many of these digital-age

pioneers is a supportive ecosystem that embraces innovation (for example, there are more than 70 incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces) and isn’t afraid of industry transformation. “Arizona checked our major boxes— economic and tax climate, employee availability, per capita GDP, ability to fundraise—but what really impressed s was the growing density of startups and their survival rates,” says Trent Walker, founder and CEO of NetChain Squared, a Scottsdale-based startup that has developed a fully automated, artificial intelligence-based platform for accounts payable and accounts receivable functions. “There also seemed to be an unbelievable support and rally behind tech startups, which has shown to be true.” The praise carries some weight, considering Walker has assembled a leadership team of veteran Silicon Valley executives from major tech companies, including Google and Tesla. This innovative mindset in Arizona extends to the state’s elected and business leaders, who are committed to modernizing government, streamlining regulation, keeping taxes low and encouraging new business models. In short, this environment makes Arizona an ideal location to start up and find success. Among the most widely known startup programs is the Authority’s Arizona Innovation Challenge (AIC), one of the country’s most dynamic business plan competitions for entrepreneurs who develop technology-based solutions and products. The AIC helps these early-stage companies advance from idea to commercialization while providing technical expertise, mentorship and funding. These companies have a positive impact on the state’s economy. They’ve gone on to hire hundreds of high-wage workers, raised millions in private investment and earned millions in revenue. The 58 AIC-winning companies have created more than 700 full-time, part-time and contract jobs; collectively earned revenues of approximately $140 million; and have raised


Arizona Commerce Authority

about $165 million in private capital investment, which tracks the companies’ progress to ensure they meet benchmarks. The contest is intensely competitive, attracting more than 1,900 applications since its inception in 2011. The average awardee gets rejected about three times and returns with a refined business plan and sharpened pitch honed through a rigorous process involving dozens of volunteer judges drawn from the ecosystem of investors, business executives, successful startup CEOs, and business mentors. There is a cache and credibility in being an AIC participant. Throughout the rigorous process, entrepreneurs are evaluated by a series of judging panels made up of Arizona’s most respected investors, serial entrepreneurs and subject matter experts. The detailed feedback provided to each company helps fine-tune their business plan and improve their pitch. Founded by cardiologists with vast experience in the software and medical device space, Scottsdale-based Resonea, a fall 2017 AIC awardee, describes itself as having a “Silicon Valley pedigree with an Arizona heart,” says Neal Beswick, vice president of business development. Resonea developed a mobile software system that seeks to improve access to the diagnosis, treatment and management of sleeprelated disorders. The company was enticed by the Phoenix area’s affordability and quality of life, and has established a robust partnership with engineering graduates from Arizona State University, Beswick says. The combination of world-class educational institutions, top talent, ideal operating environment and support from pro-business leadership ensure that Arizona will continue to advance its status as a leading market for entrepreneurship and innovation. SANDRA WATSON is president and CEO of Arizona Commerce Authority. She also is co-publisher of TechConnect.




PROMISING ‘POISON’ Form of arsenic a potential treatment for McCain’s tumor type WRITING BY >< STEVE YOZWIAK


rom Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie, arsenic is often the poison of choice in popular whodunits. But in ultra-low dosage—and in the right form—this naturally occurring chemical element can be a potent force against cancer. Arsenic trioxide for years has been used to fend off a rare subtype of blood cancer known as acute promyelocytic leukemia. Now, in a study led by Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), this anti-cancer agent is being considered for use against glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and aggressive type of deadly brain tumors. “Our findings show that, for some patients, arsenic trioxide could be a powerful therapy that could extend the lives of certain glioblastoma patients by as much as three to four times the median expectation,” says Dr. Harshil Dhruv, an assistant professor in TGen’s Cancer and Cell Biology Division and one of the study’s authors. GBM rocketed into public consciousness this summer when U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona lawmaker who also serves as chairman of the TGen Foundation’s National Advisory Council, was diagnosed with this aggressive disease. Median survival of glioblastoma patients is only 15 months and survival statistics



Dr. Michael Berens (left) and Dr. Harshil Dhruv

have improved only minimally over the past three decades. An estimated 17,000 Americans will die this year of brain and other nervous system cancers. The origin of this new study had all the serendipitous turns of a good mystery novel. TGen recently identified arsenic trioxide among a library of 650 compounds that potentially could be used against different subtypes of glioblastoma. When Dhruv presented these findings at a scientific conference, he met Dr. Jonathan Bell, who at the time was a graduate student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Northwestern University. He described his work that showed resistance of a specific subtype of GBM against arsenic trioxide. In two clinical studies that Dhruv and Bell examined, the therapeutic effects of arsenic trioxide were initially dismissed. But drilling down into the studies, they discovered that a specific


subtype of GBM cells was more responsive to the arsenic trioxide treatment. Northwestern was involved in one of the clinical trials, which tested the efficacy of arsenic trioxide in combination with temozolomide (TMZ) and radiation in treatment of GBM. Researchers at Northwestern were able to share biospecimens from their clinical trial with TGen. “We were then able to identify these particular patients as having the same genomic signatures as those we had tentatively identified in our computer and laboratory screenings of potential therapies,” Dhruv says. The next step will be to validate the findings by initiating a new clinical trial designed to match arsenic trioxide with glioblastoma patients that have a specific genomic signature, according to Dr. Michael Berens, a TGen deputy director and professor in the Cancer and Cell Biology Division, and one of the study’s authors. These patients also would receive TMZ, which is the current standard-of-care drug given to GBM patients. “This is an amazing convergence of complementary thinking,” Berens says. “We tripped over a clinical partner who says, ‘Oh, we’ve already done the (preliminary) clinical trial.’” Researchers reassessed the earlier clinical trials and zeroed in on mesenchymal and proneural glioma subtypes, whose genomic signatures differ according to distinct underlying misbehaving genes. Researchers identified two additional advantages of using arsenic trioxide. First, it is a small molecule able to penetrate the network of ultra-small capillaries—the blood-brain barrier— that surrounds the brain and spinal fluid, and protects the central nervous system from most toxins and spikes in hormones. It is this barrier that prevents most other anti-cancer drugs from attacking brain tumors. Second, its costs are minimal since its source material, arsenic, is abundant in nature. STEVE YOZWIAK is the senior science writer for the Translational

Genomics Research Institute (TGen). Connect at

NO ADD-ON FOR ENERGY Technology combines structural support with power storage WRITING BY >< KERRY BENNETT

Sample of multifunctional material


hat if an electric car could be run off the power stored in its door panels? What if a jet could be powered by energy stored in its fuselage? Researchers at Northern Arizona University have invented a unique multifunctional material that is capable of storing power while providing structural support for high-performance systems operating in a wide range of environments specific to the aerospace, automotive and renewable energy industries. Constantin Ciocanel, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Cindy Browder, associate professor of chemistry, have worked together for more than seven years to develop this innovative technology, which recently was awarded patents from the European Union and Australia. (U.S. patents are pending.) SPRING 2018 AZTECHCONNECT.COM



The multifunctional material’s design combines elements of composite materials with a power storage mechanism specific to supercapacitors. Made of carbon fiber layers bonded with a solid polymer resin capable of conducting electricity, the multifunctional material can be molded without compromising strength or durability. A complementary technology integrates the mechanical strength properties of a honeycomb design with the lightweight characteristic of carbon fiber electrodes, resulting in a material that simultaneously exhibits both electrical energy/power storage capability and mechanical strength. High-performance composite materials have been used widely in industrial applications for decades. Examples include making stronger, lighter aircraft and spacecraft components. More recently, researchers have begun to integrate other properties into composites, including sensing, actuation, computation and communication. Ciocanel’s brainchild was the idea of embedding the property of power storage into such composites. The idea was triggered, Ciocanel says, “by the realization that we are surrounded by many structures with large surface areas. Building

Associate Professors Constantin Ciocanel and Cindy Browder



walls, solar panels and wind turbine blades, for example, all play a structural role. I wondered whether a structural material could be made that would still provide the mechanical strength required by these structures while simultaneously storing electricity, by taking advantage of the inherent large surface areas that are a key ingredient for power storage in supercapacitor-like systems.” The potential for bringing this technology to market is exciting. According to the Energy Storage Association, the global energy storage market is growing exponentially, with an annual installation size of more than 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2022 — from an initial base of only 0.34 GW installed in 2012 and 2013. Ciocanel and Browder are now seeking an industrial partner who can make the technology scalable to accommodate its potential for growth. “We think that this technology would be very attractive to companies like Tesla, Boeing, GM, BMW and Raytheon,” says Browder. “There’s growing interest in this field.” While the researchers are busy developing prototypes of the multifunctional material for a variety of industrial applications, they’re also continuing to improve and diversify the technology. Recently, Ciocanel and Browder have been joined by colleague Gerrick Lindberg, an NAU assistant professor of chemistry who is applying computational physical chemistry methods to help understand the ion transport that is responsible for the resin’s conductivity. This work is enabling the team to change the formulation that renders the resin more affordable and ecologically sustainable. For more information about licensing NAU’s structural supercapacitor technology, contact NAU Innovations, Northern Arizona University’s technology transfer unit, at NAUInnovations@, or call 928-523-4620. KERRY BENNETT is Northern Arizona University’s research communications officer. Connect at

UPDATE ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY Assistant Research Professor Qiushi Fu uses a synergy-based prosthetic hand called the SoftHand Pro to grasp a bottle as data is recorded by neuroscience doctoral student Patrick McGurrin.



Striving for big steps in prosthetic hand technology


rosthetics have advanced from the simplistic apparatuses of a few decades ago to today’s complex interfaces of devices and systems designed to resemble missing body parts and replicate their functions. But researchers’ sights are set on even bigger leaps forward in expanding the capabilities of prosthetics technologies. Arizona State University engineers are collaborating on projects aimed at nothing less than revolutionary steps in hand prosthetics. Professor Marco Santello and his research colleagues want to break through the functionality barriers that still burden people using artificial hands. Santello is the director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and a neurophysiologist who directs ASU’s Neural Control of Movement Laboratory. He says significant barriers remain to enable those who have lost limbs to regain a high level of function with prostheses. One such barrier is a lack of sensory feedback. “Users of commercially available prostheses still must look at what the artificial hand is doing to be able to properly control it because current technology cannot fully compensate for the lack of feedback when, for instance, a user is touching or manipulating an object,” Santello says. Working with researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the Italian Institute of Technology and Florida International University, Santello and ASU colleagues Qiushi Fu and James Abbas are applying the latest advances in bioengineering, robotics and brain-machine interface systems to develop prosthetic hands that would allow users to feel sensations by which they can judge how

much or how little force to exert in gripping, lifting, moving and holding objects. With new technologies that connect directly with the body’s nervous system, they hope to provide users feedback through mechanical or electrical stimuli that will send relevant information to the brain by exerting pressure on the skin or stimulating peripheral nerves. Research aimed at optimizing the integration of sensory feedback into prosthetics to control movement and manipulation is supported by a joint ASU-Mayo Clinic Team Science Seed Grant. A project funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency focuses on developing a new neural-enabled system that uses implanted electronics to provide tactile sensation to amputees derived from sensors on a prosthetic hand. Such progress would provide artificial hands that are highly sensitive to pressure, force, vibration and texture, and enable a full range of movement and grasping ability. More help in achieving these goals will come through Santello’s role as the ASU principal investigator for the BRAIN (Building Reliable Advances and Innovation in Neurotechnology) Center, a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. Santello foresees a new wave of more durable, functional and easier-to-use technologies creating a seamless integration of the nervous system with a myoelectric prosthetic hand operating through electrical signals generated naturally by one’s muscles, and guided by the same natural intuitive physical actions and reactions we use to control our bodies. JOE KULLMAN is a science writer for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University





Arizona Center for Innovation


ow does a concept ignite into the next big idea? What makes inventions succeed? And what drives technology forward? Innovation thrives in a supportive environment. It flourishes in dynamic communities where innovators and business leaders meet, and where emerging companies and technology giants work side by side. Tech Parks Arizona develops the atmosphere for success through “Interactive Ground,” which connects the university, community and industry. By linking cutting-edge technology companies with the resources of The University of Arizona, Tech Parks Arizona creates an environment where companies innovate, grow and succeed. Several programs and innovations communities have been developed to support and accelerate technology to the leading edge. Tech Parks Arizona offers programs like Mentored Launch and Global Advantage, and creates places such as the Arizona Center for Innovation (AzCI) and The University of Arizona’s Tech Parks to develop communities of innovation. AzCI is the place where success starts and grows. This business incubator provides the facilities, services and expertise it takes to grow a business. Technology entrepreneurs work together in a fast-moving, collaborative and creative environment. These startup founders have the advantage of hands-on support from people who have track records of success. The UA Tech Park at Rita Road is one of the nation’s premier research parks, featuring a spacious campus encompassing 2 million square feet of space for high-tech offices, R&D and laboratory facilities. More than 40 companies and organizations make their homes there and



Tech Parks Arizona sets up system of success employ 6,500 people, making it one of the largest employment centers in Southern Arizona. These employees, also known as Tech Cats, engage with each other, creating connections and establishing a broader sense of community. Beyond just real estate, Tech Parks Arizona offers business development programs that are just as innovative as the businesses they serve. AzCI works closely with startup founders and emerging companies to move their companies and technologies through the commercialization process to successfully launch their businesses. AzCI provides a structured business development program with customized business development assistance to bring technology and science-based startups to the next level of development on a path to commercialization. The companies also have access to a series of workshops, networking events and facilities to enhance their chances of success. To date, AzCI has supported more than 100 such startups, which have attracted more than $40 million in the form of debt, grants and equity investments. Global Advantage is a full-service, soft landings program for both domestic and international high-growth companies. It utilizes a network of trusted partners with a wealth of expertise in international business and business support. Specifically, Global Advantage gives companies a competitive advantage by helping with market access, product development, manufacturing assistance and business development. Together, the programs and places enhance the innovation creativity through events and experiences in collaborative environments to better support business needs. BRUCE A. WRIGHT is associate vice president, Tech Parks Arizona

at The University of Arizona.

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To join the Arizona Technology Council, a member-supported group that represents the interests of the state’s technology community, go the

Film Creations promotes your business, products and services through high-quality video optimized for your website, social media and sales presentations. It also produces videos for employee recruitment, training and orientation. Genius Avenue was created to establish connections between insurance companies and their customers. It goes beyond traditional insurance and weaves the stitching of Insurtech and Fintech. Geotemps / Geopros is the premier professional multimarket recruitment service, handling temp-to-hire as well as direct placements on all levels. It provides experts for a broad range of positions.

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Gordley Group is a full-service communications and marketing firm, providing services that include advertising, strategic planning, branding, market research, graphic and web design, social media, and public relations. JusticeTrax focuses on development of law enforcement, forensic lab and medical examiner software. Its flagship Harbinger Security Group is a physical- product is LIMS-plus, which is used cyber security firm whose experts from organizations ranging from two to former U.S. military special operations, 500+ users in multi-site lab systems. law enforcement, and intelligence community and counterterrorism Kadima.Ventures helps tech startups organizations assess, design and develop and commercialize their implement countermeasures to protect innovative ideas and products to the security interests. point that they are ready to scale. Health Information Management Systems is a leading electronic KalqueLord is a class-management and health record software company that gamified education platform to teach optimizes the integrated health care math starting in the K-6 age range. community to better serve patient It’s similar to Prodigy but much more populations. ambitious. HG Consulting — with the BRAIN of an Kercsmar & Feltus is a business engineer, HEART of a teacher and GUT of an entrepreneur — has helped good litigation firm. As a group of former big firm attorneys, it routinely handles tech companies become great. www. disputes related to intellectual property. In less than 10 minutes, Hire Capacity’s organizational management Kiyohara Optics provides optical manufacturing, design and analysis systems assessment allows you to services. get into the minds of your candidates and understand what really motivates them.

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The University of Arizona College of Engineering with 15 engineering degrees is the destination of choice for students serious about making a difference in the world.

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