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September 11, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

AZ Furnace Program

  |   Video
  • Statewide business accelerator AZ Furnace is offering economic and various other incentives to encourage entrepreneurs to commercialize innovative technologies developed within Arizona’s universities and research institutions. Learn more about the program from Gordon McConnell, Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at ASU and Brian Sherman, Vice President of Business Development for the Arizona Commerce Authority.
  • Gordon McConnell - Vice President, Entrepreneurship and Innovation at ASU
  • Brian Sherman - Vice President of Business Development
  • Arizona Commerce Authority
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: business, economy, program, ASU, ,

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Ted Simons: "Arizona furnace" is the name of a business accelerator that helps entrepreneurs launch new companies that are built around technologies created by the state's universities and premiere research institutions. Here to tell us more about "Arizona furnace" is Gordon McConnell, vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at ASU. And Brian Sherman, vice president of business Development for the Arizona commerce authority. Give me a better definition.

Gordon McConnell: The joke is that that's the way I feel in Arizona all the time because of the heat. But in reality, we are really use the analogy of a furnace so all the Universities in America, including the ones in Arizona, produce technologies. They patent them and protect them and a lot of them don't get used. So what we are trying to dies the analogy the block of melted at 9 beginnings of a furnace is the patent. Huge potential, not usable in its current stage. We want to put it through a furnace process and at the other end have something that's useful. Ideally, when a startup company, creating jobs and wealth and activity, that's really the idea behind furnace.

Ted Simons: Why is the Arizona commerce authority involved?

Brian Sherman: We spend a lot of time helping technology companies get started at Arizona commerce authority. And this is an opportunity to unlock the latent potential of intellectual property that lives in the state of Arizona, that is in some cases already a state asset. So this is a really important program for us to fund and then wrap as many services around it as we can.

Ted Simons: 400 some odd thousand in seed money?

Brian Sherman: Up to.

Ted Simons: Up to. As far as, I understand there's a competition of some kind.

Brian Sherman: Yes.

Ted Simons: Going on here. Talk to us about that. What is being used in the competition? What's being looked for as far as who wins and losses? What's going on here?

Gordon McConnell: It's open to practical anybody in America. You have to come to Arizona because the winners get six months of activity. We are one of the partners and we have a multitude of partners and Northern Arizona University, our members, dignity health Arizona which includes Phoenix children's hospital, thunderbird, one of the top graduate schools, are members as well. And what we are looking for are teams are entrepreneurs preferably mixed disciplinary, engineering, whatever it is. And they can apply based on one of the up to 200 different technologies that we have on the website. We have taken everything from 3D facial recognition to a potential solution to the west Nile virus. These are all technologies produced in labs by researchers in the state of Arizona, and most of them are actually owned by you, the people, the citizens of Arizona, through the Arizona board of regents and the Universities manage those assets. We are saying, he's all these assets. Here's all these potential entrepreneurs. Let's bring these two together in a unique way that nobody has ever tried to do before.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it's a database of information and research material and studies and such and you have teams looking at what the database and deciding what they can build with it? Correct?

Brian Sherman: That's right. One of the important things that Gordon's team has taken a lead on is looking within that database and taking that intellectual property that is offer described like a scientific abstract, and rewriting that in such a way that it represents business opportunities so help entrepreneurial teams understand the business opportunity and put together a proposal.

Ted Simons: If you put together a proposal, you want to get to how you win and the criteria let’s say you won and you get all the goodies there for your team. What's to keep you from saying, I want wait to go to Austin or move my little company over to California? What keeps you here?

Brian Sherman: That's where it's important for us to get involved, all of us, the entire team and bring all the assets we have to bear in Arizona and help those companies commercialize and grow in scale here and it would be crazy to go elsewhere. That's where the entire community is important.

Ted Simons: Do we have a ways to ongoing on that?

Brian Sherman: I think we are there. We have tremendous assets.

Ted Simons: Do we have enough to keep these companies here when they win your contest?

Gordon McConnell: 30% cheaper than California. None of the bureaucracy. You can buy a house. You can find a tech team. Choose resources in the state we never really brought the state together and very much this is about Arizona coming together as an entity and saying we have all these resources. Let's help the entrepreneurial community that we know is here. Let's bring in loads of different partners and that's really drive the whole range of new startup companies.

Ted Simons: How do you pair down the teams? How do you eventually get a winner out of all of this?
Gordon McConnell: There will be multiple winners.

Ted Simons: OK.

Gordon McConnell: We can take probably up to anywhere up to 20 companies potentially. So how many will get first time around? This is an experiment. Hard to know but I would say 10 to 15. And new companies all based on one or more patents. You can pick more than one. There's a menu. There's a lot of complementary technologies, one from NAU, one from ASU or a mixture of the above. Teams of two, three, four, as many people as you want. We have had interest from teams outside the state who are willing to move here for the six months acceleration that's part of the package. But we already know there's interest from outside of the state but we also want people in Arizona whether they are alumni of those institutions, whether it's a clinician in Phoenix children's hot or researcher in ASU's lab or a student in Northern Arizona University, we want them and their connections to form teams, the application process is relatively simple. You don't even need a business plan.

Ted Simons: And I guess conceptually, even if you don't win, quote-unquote, or you don't go too far or if things fall apart, you still got something started here. You still got something going, don't you?

Brian Sherman: We see entrepreneurial teams come together, we see spinoffs of spinouts. That's not uncommon.

Ted Simons: OK. So what kind of timetable we looking at here as far as this particular process?

Gordon McConnell: The competition is open at moment. It's open until the 30th of September. We have had a couple of information sessions and in scale and all of them have had 70 to 100 people turn up, a lot whom we never met before. That's good sign. The last one is on the 19th at 6:00 p.m. Open to anybody who is interested in finding more information. There's also a ton of information on the website we are running on behalf of the state off the ASU.
Ted Simons: Last question. Why hasn't intellectual property, all this opportunity from the Universities and other research institutions, why hasn't this been looked like in a more commercial mind-set in the past? Why?

Brian Sherman: Well, a number of reasons but I think one of them that is definitely being addressed here is that your entrepreneurial teams may not be -- may read the scientific abstract and not see the business opportunity. That's part of it. This is definitely an effort to change the way that technology is licensed and so the transaction is an important part of it, too. This is a game changer.

Ted Simons: That's how you see it as well?

Gordon McConnell: Absolutely. The Universities here spin out 20 to 25 companies a year between the three of them. What we are hoping to do is exponentially increase that number by promoting an active engagement with the entrepreneurial community rather than waiting for a faculty member to say, hey, I think I'm going to take this technology myself that I have developed and run with it. We are trying to change the game. And the other interesting point I think is that we are offering this to the other 49 states. We are as far as we are concerned this is an experiment. So far it looks like it's going to succeed. We will see what happens in a couple of months. We want furnace Colorado, furnace Alaska. Might have to change the name. But we want other people to copy the model and we are open to hearing from other people.

Ted Simons: It certainly sounds encouraging. Thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

Brian Sherman: Thank you.

Casino Land Near Glendale

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  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that puts the Tohono O’odham Nation a step closer to building a casino on land it owns near the City of Glendale, Arizona. Phoenix Business Journal reporter Mike Sunnucks provides an update on the ruling and the latest news about efforts to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale.
  • Mike Sunnucks - Reporter, Phoenix Business Journal
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal, business, Tohono, court, law, ,

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Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Tohono O'odham nation's efforts to build a casino near Glendale got a big boost today from the ninth circuit court of appeals. The court agreed with a Lower court's ruling that says the Department of the interior should be allowed to take the land into trust for the tribe, a move that clears the way for reservation status, which clears the way for a casino. Joining me with more on the story is Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business journal. Mike, you have been covering this story up, down, and sideways here. What was the ninth circuit actually looking at?

Mike Sunnucks: The validity of the law, whether the law was correct. Whether the unincorporated land that the tribe bought back in 2003, I think, fit under that law and whether they can take it into trust. And the tribe has won every single court battle against Glendale and the other tribes in the state. They are the rocky Marciano of this issue. And so it was the another win for the Tohono O'odham tribe and moves the 217 issue forward.

Ted Simons: There was an issue of state sovereignty, full, that the feds can't just come in and grant reservation status to what property a tribe purchases?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, that was their argument was, we have a state gaming exact, obviously, with all the tribes. And there was concern among Glendale and the other tribes what that does to that and does this oversee, oversee everything? City zoning, local zoning, state gaming rules? But the problem is there's a 1986 law on the books that they wrote specifically for this tribe because they lost some land down in southern Arizona, and said they could go in and buy unincorporated land in the Phoenix-Tucson areas or Pinnell County, and take that back. It was kind of a quid pro quo for them. That's what the courts have always looked at is that law.

Ted Simons: And they lost that land because of a Federal dam.

Mike Sunnucks: Yes.

Ted Simons: It was flooded. So go ahead, you can purchase, they went ahead and purchased under a corporate name which a lot of folks weren't even aware the tribe had bought this. A few years later we are going to build a casino here, all you know what breaks out.

Mike Sunnucks: Very secretive about how they bought that land, very upsetting to Glendale that doesn't like they won't offer sales tax to them. They did it under the dark of night so that doesn't get to the legal point of it. What they have done is the courts have ruled is legal. It's under that Federal '86 law sponsored by John McCain, and Goldwater, and so the tribe keeps going back to that and that's been the stalwart for them.

Ted Simons: The unincorporated land, the city was trying to figure unincorporated land was within the city boundaries?

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. The way this kind of surrounded by Glendale, pore, Glendale tried to annex some of the land and didn't follow through on it. And so they tried to argue that, well, the spirit of this violates the spirit of law. It's really part of Glendale, even though it's not. The court, what part of unincorporated land don't you understand?

Ted Simons: I got you. Supreme Court likely on this?

Mike Sunnucks: The Gila river tribe says they are considering it. Glendale hasn't put a statement out. I think them this is all about money. The Tohono O'odham is not going anywhere. It's a build casino. They are going to stick around for as long as they need. The other tribes that opposed to have casinos. The more they can delay the better for them. Glendale is the one that really has to decide if they are willing to put more City money into that. They are been getting flak from the city. We keep losing. It's pretty obvious but I think you will see some kind of challenge.

Ted Simons: The toe homoo'odham tribe and Glendale another story here, the tribe could be involved with plans to buy the Phoenix coyotes here. What's going on?

Mike Sunnucks: There's been so many false starts, rumors related to the coyotes over the, it's been three years this has been going on and Greg Jamieson is trying to finalize a deal and there's been talk out there about who his par neither are, he's been very secret about who is involved. Ice head holdings, they could be involved with him. And there's been talk of whether the tribe comes in and has a sponsorship deal, some kind of partnership, those types of things. Some past bids had looked as tribes as a possible financial partner. Whether NHL goes for that, the tribe says, no, no, we are not involved with this. That speculation is still out there. We will kind of see, if this deal ever gets done, we will see his partners at some point.

Ted Simons: Indeed. It will be interesting to see if the NHL would allow a tribe with casino right across the way from the arena to go ahead and be part of ownership of a hockey team. That would be breaking new ground.

Mike Sunnucks: It absolutely would. Pro sports are very skeptical towards that in the first place. Casinos and gaming operations, so if this would ever happen with them or any other tribe it would be probably more creative type deal. You see Gila river, Salt River have big sponsorships with the teams here. And then so you could see something structured like that. It's still bringing money into the deal. One thing that we will see if this happens, people are saying it could happen this week with the deal but we have heard that so many times.

Ted Simons: It kind of has to happen, doesn't there? Isn't there some sort of labor situation with the NHL on the 15th?

Mike Sunnucks: Yes. The owners and players, their collective bargaining agreement will run out on the 15th. We face a lockout situation. The captain of the team is a free agent who says he has a deal in place once this sale gets through. So he want to get a deal done and he is going to Nike a deal with somebody before the lockout because once that happens, his pay could go way down so he want to make a deal within the next few days. So all these things are kind of coming together. Like a perfect storm. Plus Glendale is skittish with the arena deal because of the sales tax that they passed an increase. If that's reversed by voters in November, that jeopardizes their finances including their ability to follow through on this coyotes deal.

Ted Simons: As with, as offer is the case with this particular story, we wait to find out what happens because it's going to happen shortly.

Mike Sunnucks: Kicking the can a little farther down the road.

Ted Simons: All right, Mike. Good stuff. Thanks for joining us.

Sustainability: Solar Tower Technology

  |   Video
  • Australian company EnviroMission is planning to build a massive solar tower in La Paz County, Arizona. Chris Davey, EnviroMission’s executive director, talks about his company’s solar tower technology that uses virtually no water to produce utility scale amounts of solar energy.
  • Chris Davey - Executive Director, EnviroMission
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: sustainability, solar, tower, technology, solar energy, energy, ,

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Ted Simons: Tonight on "Arizona Horizons” continuing focus on sustainability, we take a look at a huge solar tower that an Australian company is planning to build in the Arizona desert. The concept was featured on a discovery channel program about innovative technologies.

AD: Roger Davey will build a solar plant on the scale never seen before.

AD: It is spectacular. The talk of the town. Be right on our side as we are situated right now. About 65 meters across, all about 190 feet in diameter.

AD: He calls it the solar power tower. It will be the world's biggest solar power plant and one of the tallest objects ever built. It will rise 400 feet taller than Taipei 101, the world's tallest building. Around the base a sheet of glass six times the size of New York's central park.

Roger Davey: It's a vast area even from up here, isn't it? And the tower in the center, 600 meets tall. It really is a sight.

AD: Unlike traditional solar plants, Roger's tower is powered by the same principle that keeps this balloon aloft. Rising hot air. The sun's rays beat down on the glass and heat the air trapped underneath.

Roger Davey: Hot air rises so the air runs towards the center of the tower.

Roger Davey: And just like a cold day when you light a fire, smoke goes whoosh up the chimney, runs through to the generators generating electricity. Which I think is almost the holy Grail of renewable energy.

Ted Simons: Joining me now to talk about his cop efforts to build a solar Tower in western Arizona's La Paz county is Chris Davey, the executive director of enviromission. Thanks for joining us.

Chris Davey: Nice to be here.

Ted Simons: We saw a lot of animation, a lot of ideas going on. And we kind of saw how this works. Give me a better indication. This sounds fascinating. How exactly are we going to get power out of that big old silo out there?

Chris Davey: Just quickly, we put a large sheet of plastic out there and when solar energy hits that plastic it heats the air beneath it as it would in a hot house of flowers or a green house. The hot air flows in towards the center where the tall tower is located and that differential in temperature being hot at the bottom and cold at the top causes the hot air to be drawn out.

Ted Simons: That's what we are seeing right now. There's the ground heating, goes up the silo.

Chris Davey: Yeah. Just like if you lit a fire in a fireplace. The hot air rises. We channel the air through turbines which in turn turns the generator, and creates electricity.

Ted Simons: 200 megawatts it says.

Chris Davey: 200 megawatts of electricity which is in excess of 150,000 households. It's a lot of power to be generated.

Ted Simons: That's a lot of hype and that is a tall tower compared to some pretty tall things in the world here. Is this viable?

Chris Davey: Very. Very. The divide tower is being built. It's in excess of 2800 feet. This is planned to be shorter than that now. And given the height to width ratio meaning the diameter of that tower versus the height it's extremely stable. We are talking about seven to eight tons where a sky scraper is 12 to 14 times.

Ted Simons: 120,000?

Chris Davey: In excess.

Ted Simons: How is that power delivered?

Chris Davey: Those large transmission lines you see crossing the country? We essentially plug into those. Once it's there, it can feed the market. It can get to the utility.

Ted Simons: Are there lines where you are planning to build there in La Paz County close enough?

Chris Davey: They run adjacent to the property. We are the substation where you plug the power in just north.

Ted Simons: Compare the power cost of in to current methods, current models.

Chris Davey: OK. If you were to turn around and build a new coal facility or a new nuclear facility today, not one that's already been paid for 10 times over, we are cheaper than nuclear and cheaper than coal to actually generate the power. If you were to build a natural gas facility, that's the only thing right now that, given gas prices being at all-time lows that would be cheaper.

Ted Simons: So how much cost to build, just to build something like that? Forget power costs. Let's talk about construction. How much land is needed? And again, are these things viable?

Chris Davey: Yeah. Well, capital cost of the project, ballpark, around $700 million. We have a financial commitment, 100% commitment for those dollars right now. In terms of land use, it's around about three to 3500 acres which if you would compare that to other solar resources it's about the same for the power you generate.

Ted Simons: That's that three to 3500 facilities is that for one facility? Is getting 120,000 out of this you may want to build a cluster of these things.

Chris Davey: We would love to build more facilities in the same region. Each facility is 200 megawatts. We would plan to build moisture towers in the same region. So the economies of scale will drive prices down even further.

Ted Simons: It looks like there's something of a reflective material down there at the base. Is there a concern regarding that with aviation and other aspects?

Chris Davey: You have got to love animations. Because we are trying absorb all the energy, it will actually look relatively mat from the air. It won't reflect because you are looking to absorb as much energy as possible, unlike a mirror, for instance, which would be looking to reflect. From the air, it will not act as a mirror. It will not look as reflective as it does in that video.

Ted Simons: Are there other aviation concerns? I thought there might have been concerns from the military in California regarding those lines. What was that all about?

Chris Davey: I believe that was a reflective --

Ted Simons: A reflective thing?

Chris Davey: Completely different to what we are talking about. We have actually filed with the FAA as it relates to this project in western Arizona. And have been in constant dialogue with the military as well.

Ted Simons: Water concerns, western Arizona, not a lot of water out there. What does this need? How is it going to get that water?

Christ Davey: We don't use any water at all in power production. So in terms of building this in the west --

Ted Simons: Yes.

Chris Davey: -- makes a hell of a lot more sense than other technologies when you take into consideration 40% of the United States fresh water gets used in power production. We are in the west. We live in the desert. And this is going to use none.

Ted Simons: There is some maintenance going on out there, though. There will be some human beings keeping an eye on things.

Chris Davye: Yes. We are going to employ during construction in the range of about 1500 workers. It's peaking at 1500, drop afterwards. On an ongoing basis it's probably going to be 40 to 50 people out there maintaining the facility, security, scheduling, operation, maintenance.

Ted Simons: Speaking of maintenance, what kind of longevity for something like this?

Chris Davey: In excess of 75 years.

Ted Simons: 75 years.

Chris Davey: If you compare this to traditional power you ask me about the costs earlier. This has a last in excess double that of a traditional power plant and to you three times that of renewable power plants.

Ted Simons: We did talk about the land out there and how much is needed and where this particular project would be. Trust land is involved in this as well. Talk to us about that.

Chris Davey: Yeah, we have actually got a couple of leases in with Arizona state land trust. We are just moving through the final logistics as it relates to that. And plans have site control in the coming months.

Ted Simons: So there is a plan afoot to work and get the State some money out of this as well?

Chris Davey: They will be the biggest beneficiary of this project. The lease that's being negotiated would see them revenue share in the project.

What kind of timetable we looking at here?

Chris Davey: Looking to break ground toward the end of next year, beginning of the year after, be online two years after that.

Ted Simons: What the biggest holdup if it doesn't happen or it gets delayed?

Chris Davey: Given we already have capital to build the project it's permitting phase, just making sure we can move through the various permits within the State in a streamlined process.

Ted Simons: It's interesting stuff. It's good to have you here. Thanks for E. plaining for us and good luck about your project.

Chris Davey: Thank you.