Proof of Concept (POC) Grant Program
Efforts to enable the translation of our research into social and economic impact support our institutional mission of improving the quality of life and the human condition within the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the world. Many of our research faculty, graduate students, and staff are interested in participating in the innovation economy and seeing their work translated into successful products, services, and start-ups. Virginia Tech’s LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH are dedicated to fostering a culture of innovation and supporting these important activities.
Virginia Tech’s LAUNCH: The Center for New Ventures, in partnership with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP) offers a Proof-of-Concept (POC) Program that includes non-dilutive grant funding and early stage commercialization resources to our Virginia Tech research community.
The Virginia Tech POC Program
The POC program is designed to advance early stage Virginia Tech technologies from research into the commercialization process while providing professional recognition to the researchers involved. Virginia Tech’s Intellectual Property Policy 13000 defines disclosure obligations and describes how our researchers benefit from our technology commercialization processes.
Early stage technologies from research are often perceived as too uncertain or too risky to attract funding to develop them into marketable products of services, forming a “gap” between basic research and early stage commercialization efforts. Risk and uncertainty can be found in the technology itself (does it work and will it scale?) and in the potential market opportunity (who would buy it and why?). Specialized resources are needed to help address this gap.
The POC program is designed to inform applications and improvements of technologies from our research and position those technologies for subsequent funding opportunities in the Federal SBIR/STTR and NSF I-Corps grant programs as well from seed funds, startup accelerators, and early-stage investors. The Virginia Tech POC Program provides awardees non-dilutive grants of up to $50k in funding along with LICENSE & LAUNCH early stage commercialization support services.
POC grant funds and associated support are an important tool for advancing innovations beyond the early research phases, helping investigators bridge the gap between basic science and commercialization through a more informed approach that is anchored in user, market and technical realities.
Request for Proposals
Virginia Tech’s LAUNCH, in partnership with VTIP, is seeking a next round of proposals from Virginia Tech faculty, graduate students, and staff interested in moving novel early-stage technologies derived from university research out of the laboratory and into the marketplace through Proof-of-Concept (POC) activities and grant funding. Eligibility and award selection considerations are provided below.
Proposal Submission Due-Dates and Award Dates:
POC grant funding is awarded on a competitive basis. Our next POC Proposal submission deadline has been moved to January 15, 2021 with an anticipated award date of February 28. A subsequent June 2021 submission round is proposed but will be contingent upon remaining POC funds availability for the academic year. Submission dates for the 2021-2022 academic year and beyond have not been established.
Eligibility and Responsibilities
- People. Each proposed POC project must have a team with a minimum of two individuals, a Project Leader and a second team member who both meet the following eligibility requirements: current full-time status as Virginia Tech Faculty, post-docs, Staff or graduate students. Undergraduate students are not eligible for POC grant funding. The Project Leader should be familiar with the research that generated the proposed POC commercialization opportunity and shall assume overall responsibility for completion of POC project milestones and responsibility for assuring that all POC grant funds received are solely and properly applied to POC project activities.
- Technology. Eligible POC projects must be based on Virginia Tech owned technologies properly disclosed in a Virginia Tech Intellectual Property Disclosure form received by VTIP prior to the POC application submission date. Disclose first (before any publication), then apply for POC. All POC applicants are strongly encouraged to file their IP disclosures well in advance (30-60 days) of the POC proposal submission deadline to enable preliminary IP assessment of the subject technology. This IP assessment can have a positive influence in the POC proposal review process. Although VTIP always endeavors to make preliminary IP assessments as quickly as possible, POC applications without the benefit of preliminary IP assessment may be competitively disadvantaged in the review process so early disclosure is encouraged.
- Commitment. Each team receiving a POC funding award must commit at least one POC team member to complete the nationally recognized NSF I-Corps technology commercialization regional “short course” early in the POC project. Project Leader commitment to participate is a strong plus and many teams will have two or more members participate. There is no cost to the POC proposal team. Completion of the short-course results in higher success rates for federal commercialization funding proposal submissions (National I-Corps, SBIR/STTR, etc.). The regional short course is available on-line at no charge from Blacksburg-based facilitators and extends over an approximately 5 week period. The course requires weekly market/customer validation activities and engagement with local expert mentors. Additionally, each team receiving POC award funding will be required to provide periodic POC project milestone updates and are encouraged to participate in applicable POC related research studies, available LAUNCH technology incubation and commercialization workshops, and related LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH innovation events.
Important POC Program Features and Considerations
Successful POC project proposals do not seek to apply POC grant funds to basic research activities. They are project proposals directed to activities outside the scope of typical research funds, activities designed to depart the research phase and confront the conceptual uncertainties and risk associated with early stage technology commercialization. As a result, successful POC proposals will describe activities and project milestones relevant to making progress in answering fundamental commercialization questions, such as: Does it work as intended? Do we know who is likely buy it and why? What is our evidence?
Many of these questions can benefit from POC project activities that incorporate a scientific approach (relaxed, not rigorous) of hypothesis testing, tests designed to generally validate, or fail to validate, optimistic assumptions supporting the conceptual vision of the commercial opportunity. Examples of anticipated POC project activities include:
- Fabrication of technology prototypes and testing that results in functional or performance validation relevant to the potential target user/customer.
- Market and industry assessment and analysis activities, including customer discovery interviewing, exploration of potential industry collaborations, and/or gathering prototype feedback from industry experts, potential licensees, or potential new venture customers.
- Business model generation and testing, financial modeling, and startup activities that help to validate the commercial opportunity.
- Information gathering relevant to informed preparation of federal commercialization grant applications, pitch competition presentations, and/or technology accelerator applications.
A POC proposal should define a project team of individuals with the complementary skills needed for successful completion of the proposed project. The strongest POC proposal teams include full-time Virginia Tech graduate students or post docs with the interest and capacity to assume POC technology and market validation activities and attend the NSF I-Corps regional short course. An entrepreneurial intent is not required, however, because POC activities are designed to reduce commercialization risk and uncertainty, informed opportunity may become brightly illuminated and attract either startup formation or licensing by an established company.
Review of Proposals
All POC proposals shall be evaluated on a competitive basis by the POC Review Committee composed of research faculty representatives, commercialization experts from the Office of Research and Innovation and external organizations, and early-stage investment professionals from outside the university. The POC Review Committee shall score each written proposal from a technological, market opportunity, and POC submission team capabilities perspective. In some circumstances, the Committee shall contact the applicant(s) for additional clarifying information necessary to make award decisions.