There is a well-known funding gap between basic laboratory research and the resulting commercial products. Proof of Concept (POC) funding has proven to be a crucial element in bridging this so called “valley of death” between research and development. The goal of POC funding is to “de-risk” an invention such that the technology is more attractive for either (1) licensing to an existing company or (2) enabling the formation for a startup company that will raise money and further develop and commercialize the technology. To-date, the Office of Technology Management (OTM), in connection with either the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) or the Office of the Vice President for Research, has managed three POC initiatives and has awarded funding amounting to $590,000.
Recently, the IGB has announced the award recipients in the 2012 IGB Proof of Concept (POC) Initiative. Three projects were chosen to receive POC funding as well as additional entrepreneurial support that will help bridge the gap between the laboratory and commercial applications. Thirteen proposals were reviewed by a panel of five experts from venture capital, industry, and academia. Funded projects were selected on the basis of having clear market potential, targeted milestones, secure intellectual property, and well-defined deliverables. The OTM facilitated the proposal selection process and will manage the distribution of monetary awards. Although previous POC funds have come from a variety of sources, the 2012 IGB POC funding comes solely from the IGB.
The funded proposals are:
”Evolutionary Pharmaceuticals” Dr. William Metcalf (IGB faculty, Department of Microbiology) and Dr. Neil Kelleher (Northwestern University, previous IGB affiliate): Drs. Metcalf and Kelleher propose to create a natural product screening platform based on Actinomyecete genomes.
“Accurate Sequence Alignment using Distributed Filtering on GPU Clusters” Dr. Victor Jongeneel (IGB, NCSA) and Dr. Roy Campbell (Department of Computer Science): Drs. Jongeneel and Campbell’s proposalseeks to decrease the time required to align short genomic sequence reads.
“Stereolithographically Assembled Living Vascular Stamp for Neovascularization of Wounds and Ischemic Tissue” Dr. Hyunjoon Kong (IGB faculty, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering) and Dr. Rashid Bashir (IGB affiliate, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering): Drs. Kong and Bashir are investigating a revascularization strategy to allow for spatial control of functional neovessels.
In addition to monetary support, the 2012 IGB POC award package includes many other services to help advance the commercialization of research projects including:
- 6 hours per month of free consultation with a Research Park Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR)
- Automatic acceptance into the highly competitive I-Start Entrepreneur Assistance Program and guaranteed 75%-90% upfront funding matching
- Assistance from OTM-appointed IGB Commercialization Analyst with market analysis, industry and venture capital activity reports, and intellectual property landscape information
- Introductions to industry contacts, venture capitalists, and notification of entrepreneurial events
Although the inaugural POC initiative at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign began just 20 months ago, some of these first POC award winners have been able to jump-start the commercialization process. Martin Burke received $105,000 in additional funding from another source specifically to build on the momentum created by the POC award. Paul Kenis and his collaborator have formed a start-up company named MicroRadChem. The company is now actively seeking further funding to develop its microreactor synthesis technologies.