From the Director: Navigating Proof of Concept Funding – Part 1

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In 2014, the Office of Technology Transfer created a proof of concept (POC) fund. This fund was created to address the lack of funding in the “Valley of Death,” between basic scientific research and a demonstrable product. The POC fund is designed to help move technologies closer to the market.

See part two of this interview here.

What is a proof of concept fund?

A proof of concept fund, generally speaking, is non-diluted funding that can be used to take an early stage idea and get it to a proof of concept or proof of principle stage. Although this stage has different meanings for different people, at a macro level, it means that there needs to be evidence that the invention works for its intended purpose. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use it in humans. There could be an animal model or even a cellular model that is viewed as the standard for a particular disease, which could be used for this proof of concept stage.

What motivated OTT to create such a fund?

Todd Sherer, Exec Director Photograph

Todd Sherer, Exec Director

One of our biggest challenges is that the inventions that are disclosed to the office are very early stage. As a matter of fact, they are generally referred to as embryonic. We try to go out and present these opportunities to investors, business people, and translational funds all the time and we typically hear, “Well that would be really interesting if only you had done this or done that.” We are routinely told that we need to get this technology farther down the innovation pathway and maybe at least beyond the embryonic stage. The challenge in that is finding money that can be made available quickly. The inspiration behind the Proof of Concept (POC) Fund was to have money that could be deployed with a minimum of due diligence in less time than what it might currently take to get Coulter and GRA funding, then use those funds to achieve a proof of concept-like experiment or de-risking process for our early stage technology. This POC Fund could bring the technology to the point where it could be at the proof of concept stage and easier to get follow-on translational funding.

What sorts of projects would benefit from a POC fund?

The first example could be a project that is too early for Coulter funding because the prototype needs to be at a certain developmental stage for this funding. Getting a prototype that could be tested with Coulter translational funding is a good example. A second example could be a technology that GRA reviewed and believes would be great for a Phase I, but only after some preliminary data in an in vitro or in vivo model demonstrates, at some level, that the invention works. In this situation POC funding could start it down the road of VentureLab funding and company creation. A third example could be where there is a medical device of sorts and there has been some general thought given to what that device might look like, but the clinician hasn’t had a chance to get feedback from an engineer, for example. If we had different versions of that device and how it might work, then we might be able to build a patent portfolio around it and that’s the name of the game. Broad patent protection is desirable and having multiple examples of how you might make that device is key.

The goals for the fund are to get more early stage technologies to the point where they get follow on funding from GRA, Coulter, SBIR/STTR, or even to the point where they get licensed. It is possible that proof of concept funding could bring an idea to the stage where it could be licensed out to an established company.