For more than two years, Terry Chase Hazell has urged a faster, more transparent and diligent process at the Texas Emerging Technology Fund as a volunteer outside adviser.
Now she will be doing it as the state fund’s full-time director in Gov. Rick Perry’s office.
“I’ve been the biggest critic of the process’ timeline that they have,” said Chase Hazell, a former entrepreneur, consultant and university instructor. “Now I get to be the conductor of that timing.”
Chase Hazell began work Tuesday, just as contracts are being completed for eight Regional Centers for Innovation and Commercialization — six of them are new — that serve as the initial step towards state grants for universities and tech startups.
In Central Texas, the RCIC duties will be performed by the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center in collaboration with Capital Factory, an Austin-based incubator. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce had served in that role until last year.
Created by the Legislature in 2005, t he Texas Emerging Technology Fund has awarded $194 million to 137 companies and another $175 million to help universities recruit top-level researchers or attract federal research dollars, according to the fund’s 2012 annual report.
As a tech center, Austin’s startups and universities have been frequent recipients of the state aid, but the fund also has faced criticism from Perry’s critics who either questioned the need for the fund or its political independence.
Chase Hazell joined the fund’s advisory committee in January 2011 in the wake of a critical state audit and became its chairwoman in September of that same year.
She sometimes carries a color-coded notebook showing state lawmakers how the fund has addressed the audit’s findings and has championed the fund in testimony before legislative committees.
“The vision of the Emerging Tech Fund is to make Texas the best place to work on a new idea,” Chase Hazell said. “We are building an ecosystem, not just screening deals.”
Specifically, the fund has provided early seed money to tech startups that are being spun out of universities or are using the intellectual property developed on Texas campuses.
Chase Hazell has done both, first as a biotech entrepreneur and creator of a biotechnology program for the University of Maryland, and later at a women’s entrepreneurship program at Texas State University in San Marcos.
She said she will continue to chair AVINDE, a nonprofit women’s business accelerator, and to serve on the national advisory committee for Springboard Enterprises, which helps women entrepreneurs raise money.
In an interview Friday, Chase Hazell said the Texas Emerging Technology Fund’s grant application process has gotten faster over the past couple of years, but it can still be improved.
“The ‘no’ is now much, much faster,” she said. “Getting to ‘yes’ hasn’t been shortened to the extent that it can. There is still work to be done there.”
A faster timeline is crucial, particularly for startups needing money, but Chase Hazell said she also wants to increase the due diligence of the state’s review of applicants.
A faster but more thorough review might sound like a contradiction.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur where you have to move forward with no money,” she said. “Catch 22 situations are something that I’m pretty comfortable with.”
In the past, the review process from the local RCICs through state approval was a series of steps spread over several business quarters. Now the RCICs and the state will review applications as soon as they get them.
At the same time, the subcommittees on the state’s advisory panel can take longer, if necessary, for its crucial assessment.
“It’s still the same steps, but the timing is different,” Chase Hazell said.
The RCICs, however, will be funded and managed differently.
Chase Hazell said 60 percent of a RCICs’ money from the state is contingent on achieving measurable goals.
Each regional center is expected to be a clearinghouse of information on services to help entrepreneurs — whether they are university researchers or entrepreneurs trying to commercialize a university’s research. Such services aren’t statewide yet.
“Austin has it,” Chase Hazell said. “Some region’s don’t.
Another new wrinkle is the investor-in-residence.
Each regional center is expected to employ or contract with an individual with the experience and contacts to help entrepreneurs find additional money after they have received a state grant.
Chase Hazell said the investors-in-residence will work only with companies that already have been funded by the state and won’t be involved with applicants.
About $20 million of applications are already in the review process. The technology fund has aother $65 million to spend, including a new appropriation of $50 million from the Legislature, over the next two years.
“The ETF is not in hiatus,” Chase Hazell said of the transition to the new RCICs. “We are open for deals.”