U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that Congress passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) a provision to extend and enhance a Department of Defense (DOD) Proof of Concept Commercialization Pilot Program based on key provisions from her legislation to help accelerate the commercialization of basic research. This provision authorizes military departments across DOD to make competitive awards to universities, non-profit research institutions, and federal laboratories to carry out programming to help translate more of the estimated $520 million a year of research funding secured by Capital Region research institutions into successful small businesses and science and technology jobs in the region and across New York. The NDAA passed the House of Representatives last week and passed the Senate today.
There are often few resources available to help researchers who work with federal laboratories or who are based at universities or non-profit research organizations to translate their scientific discoveries into marketable products and companies. There is a particular need for “proof of concept” funding, which is aimed at helping researchers prove that their research can be practically and concretely used, better positioning the technology for private investment critical to launching a company. New York State currently ranks second in the nation in university research funding – securing approximately $6 billion in total federal investment across research institutions each year – but only attracts 7 percent of the nation’s venture capital needed to grow successful companies. Of this amount, Upstate areas like the Capital Region only receive about 3 percent of venture capital that comes to the state, holding back the potential to grow new businesses from the research done at institutions across Upstate New York.
To help close this gap, Gillibrand joined local leaders at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Manufacturing Innovation Learning Laboratory in the Low Center for Industrial Innovation in July of this year to announce the introduction of the Technology and Research Accelerating National Security and Future Economic Resiliency (TRANSFER) Act, which would create a competitive grant program for universities, colleges, federal laboratories and non-profit research institutions to help scientists and researchers secure valuable business resources to bring their discoveries to the marketplace and create new high-tech companies and jobs.
“New York is home to some of the world’s brightest minds and best ideas to grow our economy,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This important provision will help bring high-tech innovation into the marketplace, producing cutting-edge small businesses and new jobs. Equipping our scientists and students with support and access to much-needed gap funding will go a long way towards creating the next high-tech industry and a new generation of innovative leaders who are critical to the future of our economy.”
“The approval of this TRANSFER Act pilot program, spearheaded by Senator Gillibrand, will provide university researchers, including those at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with greater opportunities to further new discoveries and develop new technologies that result in better processes and more competitive products,” said Jonathan S. Dordick, Ph.D., Rensselaer Vice President for Research. “The pilot program has the potential to benefit all Americans by enhancing the commercial potential of innovations and new ventures and lead to new companies and new jobs.”
“Funding from this effort could be an important catalyst in the New York Capital Region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Center for Economic Growth President F. Michael Tucker. We have a rich array of higher education institutions and a growing start-up culture, but new capital resources are necessary to bolster the pipeline of research to commercialization that we need to see from an economic development perspective.”
Under the NDAA Proof of Concept Commercialization Pilot Program, military departments across DOD are authorized to establish a competitive grant program to help universities, federal laboratories and other non-profit research institutions identify and grow the development and commercialization of initial discoveries, making potential products more attractive to state, local and private investment, and providing important technology for use by the military. Winning institutions are eligible for up to $1 million in federal funding.
This investment would help create or strengthen “proof of concept” funds and technology transfer programs. Universities and institutions would be able to use grants for important technology development activities like evaluating the commercial potential of existing discoveries, including technical validations, market research, clarifying intellectual property rights, and investigating commercial and business opportunities.