University technology transfer programs in Michigan now have a new pot of money to support their efforts, thanks to a fund supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
The University Early Stage Proof of Concept Fund, also known as the Advance grant program, will help move research projects and technologies developed at Michigan universities from the discovery phase to commercialization.
The total amount in the new fund is $1 million, to be doled out in increments of up to $40,000 to technology transfer offices in order to advance research through market analyses, proof-of-concept validation, technical feasibility demonstrations, and developing prototypes ahead of implementation and testing. The fund also requires universities to match each grant dollar for dollar.
Michigan State University will oversee the program and provide “resources and specialized services” to the awarded projects. Rich Chylla, executive director of MSU’s technology transfer office, says the fund was approved by the legislature last fall in an effort to de-risk or scale early-stage technologies to make them more attractive to potential investors or development partners.
Chylla says the grant program has four long-term goals: provide a pipeline of de-risked technologies for existing programs like Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC), make university innovations more enticing to prospective licensees, perform market research on technologies that are in the very earliest stages, and identify which technologies are ideal for university startups to develop. The idea, he adds, is to help researchers vet their inventions early in the process, before they spend time and money on a technology that may not work the way they initially thought it would.
“The grants help tech transfer offices leverage existing university money,” Chylla explains. “To be eligible for investment money or programs like MTRAC, these technologies often need de-risking, but it can be hard for tech transfer offices to get that money on their own.”
The fund is somewhat unusual compared to tech transfer programs put in place by other states, Chylla says, because it’s available at the earliest stages of the translational process and it’s not targeted toward a specific market or industry.
Chylla offers a real-life example to illustrate how the grant program might work. A few years ago, a professor at MSU developed technology to monitor blood flow through the heart. He built a crude device, but needed a prototype in prove his invention worked. MSU’s tech transfer office ponied up the money to help the professor build a prototype and demonstrate the technology. Eventually, a startup called Retia Medical was created to get the device to market.
“That’s an example of what would qualify,” Chylla says. “We ended up using MSU’s money in that case because the fund didn’t exist yet.”