From the Director: Navigating Proof of Concept Funding – Part 2

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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 one of this interview here.

How was OTT’s first investment chosen? Are there any other inventions that are in the process of applying for funding?

The first investment was chosen because we happened to have a cardiologist that had a great idea for a new device at that time to deliver stem cells to the heart. There were some potential challenges as to how you would make that and she had become aware of an industry expert in California that had expertise in making cardiovascular devices. Engaging this expert was going to cost between $10,000 and $40,000 and that became a great opportunity to use the proof of concept fund. We had interest from the Coulter Translational fund, but being able to get that initial feedback on what that prototype might look like put the technology in a much better position for Coulter funding.

As a matter of fact, just recently two additional projects were approved for proof of concept funding and there are several more that are in the works. Our goal is to create a short investment document and again, it needs to be a stage-appropriate investment document. We can’t answer all the questions we need and it does take some work to get that document completed, but if we can at least consider the intellectual property and business potential, then we can make decisions relatively quickly.

Do you think there will be an upsurge in the amount of inventions disclosed now that this funding is available?

I don’t expect there to be an upsurge in the number of inventions disclosed necessarily. I do expect there to be a surge in the number of inventors that want to take advantage of this funding and we’re starting to see that increase in interest as inventors become aware of it.

Todd Sherer, Exec Director Photograph

Todd Sherer, Exec Director

What are your goals for the fund?

At some level I think it will help our ability to get faculty—in particular, physicians—to submit their ideas to the tech transfer office because one of their complaints has always been that they may not have a research lab if they’re a clinician, so what can Emory do to help? We’ve always been able to tell them that we might be able to file a patent which they think has some benefit, but it will have a lot more benefit if we say we can provide funding if an external partner can be identified to help prototype their ideas.

How do you plan on evaluating whether an investment was successful or not?

The funds success will be determined by looking at the outcome of the technology after the funding. What was the next step? Was it licensed by a startup or established company? Ideally, we would want to see more technology licensed simply by helping move the technology forward. That metric may not always be practical so we would also track whether faculty received follow on funding that we wanted through GRA, Coulter, or through the SBIR/STTR programs. Although these are ideal metrics, the ability to conclude that the faculty and the office should not further pursue the technology as a result of the activities from the POC fund is also highly valuable. In any of these cases, the . technology is closer to a point where we can make a “go” or “no go” decision and “no go” decisions are just as important as “go” decisions.