Report: UACI startups bring large profit to southern Arizona

Emilee Miranda
Mar 24, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A new economic report shows that the University of Arizona Center for Innovation generated $35.3 million in economic output.

20 years ago, UACI took a step in providing support for startups in southern Arizona. Since its start, it has supported 235 startups and empowered more than 1,000 entrepreneurs.

And executive director Eric Smith only expects these numbers to grow.

“That $35.3 million comes from our startups’ ability to achieve success, to hire employees, to purchase infrastructure, to attract more capital to our region, and what’s great about this number is that we’ll probably see this grow significantly as our operation has grown in the last few years,” UACI Executive Director Eric Smith said.

The UACI is a business incubator that empowers technology and science startups in southern Arizona and around the world to bring their ideas to market.

“Running a high-risk tech company is extremely hard, and you really do need support. So we provide that support, the on-staff mentors, the subject matter experts, the programmatic staff, the physical space resources, the labs if they needed. All of these things afford them access that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do on their own,” Smith said. “We do this purely for economic development. We do this for our region so that they can become the next great employers here in southern Arizona.”

The direct impact of the startups’ activities creates an additional indirect impact as businesses purchase services and products from local suppliers.

And in addition to the millions of dollars the program generates, it has helped create 441 jobs.

“What’s great about the jobs number, I believe it’s 441, is that is employees and contractors, but there are co-founders, those on operating agreements, taking equity in companies, participating in innovation that aren’t even reflected in that number. So, in fact, our impact is probably greater,” Smith said.

The report added that 46% of UACI startups employ and involve university alumni, graduate students or innovations that originated from university research.

Smith said the startups often provide internships and jobs to students to help keep their talent in southern Arizona.

“We certainly take the relationship that our startup companies have with the university pretty seriously. That starts with our internship program,” Smith said. “We pay those students, we train our startups on how to work with them, and then they actually go to work for our companies on a project-by-project basis.”

The report also added that 62% of businesses are minority-owned and 26% are women-owned.

“This program is actually focused on our women-led companies, and we have some federal support, as well as some private support to try to increase the mix of women-led companies that we serve, and therefore the mix of women-led companies that can attract capital,” Smith said.

Smith said they are working with groups such as Community Investment Corporation and Startup Tucson to make sure they are providing access to entrepreneurs from different backgrounds.

Smith said they are also focused on attracting businesses from outside the region. The UACI has attracted 25 international companies from 17 countries.

“Not all of our companies were born here in Tucson or southern Arizona. In fact, we have a full international program where we bring companies from other countries who are looking to make US market entry, who also might end up in Tucson. In fact, nine of them have in the last three years, and then either bring or hire employees here as well,” Smith said.

The report added that through the support provided by UACI, startups have accumulated $105.8 million in capital investment funding.

Currently, they are serving 78 startup companies.