Innovation is the lifeblood of any great university. But transforming the results of basic research into a commercial product that can benefit society is a path strewn with many obstacles. The new Fund for Innovation is intended to make that road smoother for Penn State faculty and student entrepreneurs to travel.
The Fund for Innovation was created in April by the Penn State Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes patenting and commercial applications for Penn State’s scientific and technical research.
“The mission of the fund is to promote commercialization of the new ideas and discoveries generated by our research programs,” said Peter Linder, Managing Director of the Fund. “The fund is another indication of Penn State’s renewed commitment to translating and implementing our most innovative findings. Commercializing promising ideas, creating new companies and new jobs, increases the already sizeable positive impact that Penn State has on the economy of Pennsylvania.”
Funding is provided in three successive stages, aimed at advancing the transition of an idea or discovery to a marketable product.
The first stage provides supplemental awards to determine proof-of-concept. “These projects are already sponsored by the colleges from which they originate,” said Ron Huss, Associate Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer and director of the Office of Technology Management. “Individual colleges solicit and select proposals from their faculty aimed at commercial development of findings resulting from fundamental research. For those projects selected, the Fund for Innovation adds $1 for every $2 of college support.”
In the second stage of the program, MBA students and faculty from the Smeal College of Business establish proof-of-relevance by examining the marketplace and an idea’s potential for success relative to existing competition.
Stage three occurs if and when proof-of-concept and proof-of-relevance are established, at which point the fund will provide $50,000 to $100,000 to “jump-start” formation of a new company to commercialize the idea.
Participating colleges in 2014 include Agricultural Sciences, Engineering, Information Systems and Technology and the Eberly College of Science. So far, 13 ideas have secured stage-one funding. Examples include a microorganism that converts methane gas into methanol — a liquid fuel that can more easily be stored and transported, a rapid visual detection method for pathogenic bacteria, a low-cost device to harvest fruit from fruit trees and a new type of biopesticide to control flies.
A second round of awards will be made in early 2015.
“Driving economic development across the state and beyond is a key component of Penn State’s mission,” said Neil Sharkey, Vice President for Research. “Our hope is that the Fund will serve as another important catalyst in this effort.”