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Proof of Concept (POC) Grant Program

 Rod LaFoy works on headbands for face shields with a Raise3D printer. Photo: Spencer Roberts for Virginia Tech.
Photo: Erica Corder.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

How to apply

Complete the proposal application short-form using the link below. You must be logged into the Virginia Tech system to access the form. 

The end of the form requires uploading a written POC Project Proposal. Please have your project proposal completed and ready to submit as you complete the on-line form, as your application session cannot be saved.

Your written POC Project Proposal should be ≤ 6 pages in length (excluding any attachments), single spaced, 12pt font, submitted as a pdf file. Your written POC Project Proposal should include the following sections:

  1. Title of your Proposed POC Project (≤ 10 words suggested). 
  2. VTIP Disclosure No. – Project eligibility for POC grant funds requires prior submission of a Virginia Tech Intellectual Property Disclosure on the relevant technology to be commercialized. To help us accurately connect your POC proposal to the applicable disclosure(s), please identify the applicable VTIP Disclosure Numbers assigned (example: #20-022), the date of your disclosure submission, and the title of the disclosure(s). If you are unsure of the assigned Disclosure No., contact VTIP at vtippatents@vtip.org or call Katherine Nicewander, VTIP’s IP Specialist, at (540) 232-8749.
  3. POC Proposal Team - Identify the Project Leader for your proposed POC project (see eligibility and responsibilities above), and list all POC project team members. Include the position title and a link to a suitable on-line bio for each. Please be parsimonious in the space you dedicate to this section (¼ page total recommended). If there is relevant commercialization experience represented within the team, please describe. Please do not include any full bio’s for any POC team members in the written project proposal.
  4. Description of the Technology & Benefits – The Review Committee will have access to your VTIP Disclosure(s), so the summary of the technology does not require detail or elaborate tables/graphs already provided in the disclosure. The technology description should be brief and easy to understand (approx. ½ to 1 page recommended) with clear articulation of the functionality of the technology. If this new technology solves an existing problem, please briefly define it. Since your POC project is directed to commercialization, please emphasize any relevant points of novelty and the specific user/customer benefits you believe this novelty provides (examples: smaller, faster, cheaper, more convenient, etc.).
  5. Prototype Status - Provide a short description of any prototyping status of the technology (≤ ½ page). This would include any simulations, modeling or other progress towards a functional prototype. If there is no prototype and one of the proposed POC project objectives is to build a first prototype, please explain the needed the prototyping activities.
  6. The Contemplated Commercial Opportunity – Please identify the commercial opportunity for the technology as currently contemplated (≤ ½ page). If commercialized, who would likely purchase it and why? 
  7. The Proposed Project – This should be the largest section in your proposal (2-3 pages), specifying what you wish to accomplish with POC grant funds. Please define specific non-research related objectives intended to reduce risk (increase confidence) in commercialization of the technology. A strong proposal will have at least one objective directed to increasing confidence in the commercial opportunity (i.e., reducing speculation) and at least one objective directed to increasing confidence in the technology (example: build, test or enhance a working prototype).  After specifying an objective in your proposal, identify the project activities and milestones for achieving that objective and the proposed measure(s) that will be used to determine if the objective is accomplished. Provide a target date or timeframe for milestone completion. Example: Objective: Validate the commercial opportunity in preparation for a SBIR Grant application. Activities & Milestones: (i) complete the I-Corps short-course in semester x; (ii) build a target user/customer interview questionnaire directed to target users of the technology by (date), (iii) Interview 5 people each week in the target user group for 8 consecutive weeks (40+ people), (iv) interpret results (date). Measure: at least 60% of those interviewed said that this technology, if commercialized, would solve a problem that they or someone in their organization directly experienced. In this simplified example, a second objective could be to prepare an SBIR grant application or an alternative next-round funding application (accelerator, STTR, etc.) that leverages what was learned in the interview process.
  8. Proposed POC Project Budget (up to $50k). Please summarize how the POC grant funds would be spent (≤ ½ page) and over what time periods. All POC projects should be planned for full completion in 12 months or less, and funding is preferably split into 2 payments, with the second payment triggered by a milestone completion.  POC funds cannot be used to cover AY or summary salary for T&R faculty, but can be used for support of graduate student(s) or postdocs specifically working on POC project activities or for funding for external resources needed to meet specific POC project objectives (example: purchase of components needed for a POC prototype).
  9. Anticipated Next Step(s) after POC – Describe what you believe would be the next steps towards commercialization following completion of your proposed POC project (approx. ≤ ½ page). One of the primary goals of the POC program is to successfully position the technology for next-round of commercialization funding, so target next-round funding should be addressed.
  10. Note: the POC proposal should not be submitted through SUMMIT. Use the link below for submission. 

Questions:

Please email Mark B. Mondry, Associate Director of LAUNCH: The Center for New Ventures, at mmondry@vt.edu or call him at or (540) 505-4131 if you have any questions.