October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

The Research Institution GAP Fund and Accelerator Program Summit

3 Tiers for Evaluating GAP Projects and Startups for Funding

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

Funding is a major goal for gap fund and accelerator projects and startups. That’s why it’s so important to have an effective process in place for evaluating potential success. The goals of this process are:

  • to create and define a clear evaluation approach that provides an informed and consistent review of submissions;
  • to incorporate external input; and
  • to provide quality feedback – regardless of the final award decision.

In order to achieve these goals, you need to get answers to these questions first: 

  1. Do we have a standardized process for evaluating gap funding opportunities? For example – intuition, checklists, road-mapping, advisory boards? If so, is this process transparent and accepted by internal and external stakeholders?
  2. What internal/external support programs exist that we could leverage in the evaluation and development of technology and startups? Do we need to create/offer an initiative to supplement a need area?
  3. What methods are we using to collect and report feedback for applicants to improve either the current project or future submissions to the office?

“More than any other stage of the process, this stage must be clear and transparent,” Jacob Johnson, founder of innovosource, says.

One fund manager said, “The evaluation and decision-making process must be standardized, while the funding must be individualized.”

Johnson says that their research has found that a three-tiered approach to evaluation and decision-making works best to achieve these goals. First, it starts with programming and professionals to support tech and startups through evaluation and development.

Leading GAP programs don’t function in a silo or work to reinvent the wheel. They seek to partner with existing innovation and entrepreneurship programming on campus and throughout the community, and work to create new programming only when necessary and advantageous. For example, for pitches, the University of Notre Dame has a Race to Revenue Day which is a 10-week full-time summer program for students to launch their businesses, culminating in pitches; and the University of Connecticut manages the TCS Mentorship Program that pairs university researchers with industry experts for regular meetings throughout the technology development stages.

Second, standards need to be created to compare projects based on fund priorities and expectations. While most fund managers have a clear set of selection criteria that can be used as a filter early in the evaluation process, most programs do not have the resources or internal expertise to go through in-depth analysis of every submission that comes into consideration for gap funding.

To help support the goal of this process stage (defined criteria, consistent review, and purposeful feedback), we’ve created a quick reference scorecard that condenses the most popular variables into a scorecard based on Fund Type – it’s called the Gap Funding A.C.E Evaluation. It can be used as template and customized as needed. The A.C.E approach takes the following into account:

  1. (A)ffirmations: Four questions that get to the root of the five evaluator thrusts of technology assessment, commercial assessment, and project planning, and team formation. Four positive responses move a project forward to further investigation.
  2. (C)riteria: 16 areas of consideration related to the four thrust areas, scored and weighted in a way that makes sense to your process.
  3. (E)xternal Perspective: Leverage external technical business, investment, and entrepreneurial talent to either review or take part in your evaluation.

And third, an advisory board of technical, business and investment stakeholders should perform an assessment. You’ll want a mix of university representatives, technical, corporate and businesses professionals and entrepreneurs and investors.

Ultimately, gap fund programs must decide who or what group will make the final call. This is often dictated by the funding source or the leadership expectations of your institution.

To learn more about how you can create an effective plan for evaluating GAP projects and startups for funding, download the summary or purchase the full Mind the Gap Report 2022.

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