Meet Eric Smith – Executive Director at University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI)

Written by Sonia Parikh

Eric Smith is the executive director of the University of Arizona (UA) Center for Innovation. With nearly a decade of technology commercialization experience as well as a love for entrepreneurship, Smith joined the UA Center for Innovation to manage it’s daily operations and growth. He worked as the commercialization network manager for Tech Launch Arizona (TLA) in which he was in charge of bringing UA research and technical innovation to market. While Eric Smith is new to the Venture Café Phoenix community we were honored to have had him speak on our panel and network with our community.

How did you hear about Venture Café?
So Tom of CEI (Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation) is a friend, or as he says, like a cousin of ours down at the University of Arizona Center for Innovation. We co-hosted a panel together for another conference where we each got to speak a little bit about our programming and he provided some information about Venture Café . Coincidentally later on some folks at Venture Café contacted us, and I’m thoroughly impressed with the ability to host something of this magnitude as frequently as it’s done, with the amount of attendees that it’s done. And now that I’ve been here, (seeing) the sophistication, it’s absolutely mindblowing.

What does Venture Café Phoenix mean to you?
Well, it’s a forum to discuss what we do. It’s a forum for our startups who are up on stage right now to talk about what they’re working on and ask for resources throughout the state of Arizona. It’s a place to see my friends. I didn’t realize the number of people that I already knew from this area that I would engage with and a place to meet new people.

Have you had any memorable connections at Venture Café Phoenix?
This is going to sound like a cop-out but so far every connection I’ve made has been memorable. People have been so friendly just walking right up and handed me business cards. I just got a book in my hands from somebody handing out his book. I love it. So far every connection has been memorable.
My first impression walking into Venture Café Phoenix was Wow! I don’t go into these things with a lot of expectations, because I like to be wowed and I don’t like to be disappointed. And thankfully I was extremely wowed. It’s just again, really well done. The sophistication of everything from how the timeline is run to how the presentations are created, I mean, the registration was the most sophisticated and advanced registration I’ve ever seen. I mean, absolutely a top-notch event.

Tell us a little more about the incubator you are starting and any current projects?
So we’re actually celebrating our 20th year, the longest continuously running incubator in the state. All the companies that we serve are Scalable Science and Technology Ventures. We have 75 of them. They’re all over the world right now. We serve them with a pretty robust program. You can actually see exactly what that program is by going to and how we work with our companies. But ultimately we take them through a continuum of education and activities. We track if they know it, if not we teach it to them. We track if they’re implementing it. If not we help them with that. We track how it’s developed across 27 major metrics. And then we have spaces. We have a 20,000-square-foot incubator at the University of Arizona Tech Park. We have a biotech incubator in Oro Valley. We have a climate sustainability incubator at the Biosphere 2 just north of Tucson. And we’re putting another installment here pretty soon. So our job is to provide the programming and the people and the places to help our companies scale.

Any final thoughts on Venture Café Phoenix?
Don’t question it. In forums like this, you can be engaged a ton, or just a spectator. You can learn a little bit, or you can network a bunch. Really, the way that somebody would be activate in an event like this can be completely up to them. So there’s really no risk. There’s only opportunity when you come to these things. So I would say don’t hesitate. Just do it.

Join the movement of innovators building the center of gravity here in the Valley. Join us every Thursday and meet people like Eric, 5-7 PM, free to attend, free parking, two free drinks.

Check out our upcoming programming and register here.

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