The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund supports the translation of research discoveries into products, processes, and other commercial applications. We are eager to identify and support UConn-developed inventions and technologies that address unmet needs and have strong potential for commercial application. We invite proposals from across all disciplines for projects that aim to advance these technologies forward toward commercialization.
Process and Timeline
The SPARK competition is organized into a two-step review process. 1) Applicants are asked to first submit a letter of intent designed to allow applicants to demonstrate that the project is ripe to transition from basic research to commercialization and to familiarize the review committee with the projects. The applicants with the most competitive projects will be invited to submit full proposals. 2) All full proposals will be reviewed to evaluate the project’s scientific background and commercial potential. Reviews will be conducted by a team of commercialization experts. The proposals which demonstrate the most promise for commercial success will be selected for funding.
The SPARK program allows for awarded projects to receive a total of $100K between the initial award and one-time follow-on funding. Follow-on funding is dependent on meeting established milestones and demonstration of success.
Important Dates (all due dates by 12 noon)
- 9/15/23 – FY24 program opens.
- 10/23/2023 2-Page Letter of Intent. Click here for LOI submission details
- 12/01/2023 (or earlier) Invitations to submit full proposals will be sent.
- 1/22/2024 Full Proposal deadline (by invitation)
- Award Notifications are expected in April, 2024
- The OVPR anticipates funding up to 4 projects each cycle.
- Each award will begin with an initial award period of up to 1 year. Awarded project is also eligible for up to 1 year of follow-on funding pending the completion of specific milestones agreed upon at the time of the initial award.
- Proposals should include plans for the full duration of the intended effort (including a follow-up award period, if one is anticipated), and the must include a list of objective proposed milestones to be completed by the end of the initial award period.
- Budgets for the initial award period should reflect of the needs of the project for that period, up to $50K. Follow-on funding can be requested in amounts that would bring the total award size up to $100K. (Ex. $50K initial and $50K follow-on or $40K initial and $60K follow-on.
- Standard award periods for both initial and follow-on funding are one year. We encourage applicants to submit well-defined scopes of work that can be completed within 1-2 years.
- No-cost extensions are possible for SPARK awards but are typically only approved when extenuating circumstances beyond the control of the PI exist. Extensions needed because of compliance delays or to allow financial transactions to finalize are also allowed. Adequate justification / documentation will be required, and the program director may request a revised budget and timeline before extensions are approved. Requests for extensions can be made using the IFP Project Change form.
- SPARK awards are intended to support the development of new innovations within the labs / research groups of UConn/UConn Health faculty members. SPARK funds cannot be used for a) continuing existing commercialization projects, b) costs related to creating/operating start-up companies, or c) development activities that take place in faculty-owned companies.
- Projects that make use of UConn resources, core facilities, or that include significant interdisciplinary partnerships will be prioritized
- No more than 50% of SPARK project budgets can be used to support salary for graduate assistants, postdocs, research associates, or technicians. Please see SPARK budget guidelines for more detail.
- SPARK Awardees will be connected with commercialization experts from OVPR’s Technology Commercialization and Venture Development group. Awardees should expect to work closely with TCS to discuss progress/obstacles and to gain access to advice and resources that will enhance the project’s chances for commercial success.
The SPARK program is available to UConn/UConn Health faculty members, within the following parameters:
- IP: Projects should have intellectual property at their core. To be eligible, project-related UConn IP must exist or the proposed scope of work must have a high likelihood of leading to a UConn invention disclosure by the end of the award period.
- Effort and Salary: Although no minimum effort level is required for SPARK projects, a PI must have departmental research time available during the award period or address in the application how they will handle the time commitment required by a SPARK project. Generally speaking, SPARK is only available to tenure-track, clinical, and (Storrs/Regional Campus) APiR faculty. Research Professors / those whose positions are contingent on grant-funding (soft money positions, including UCH in-residence faculty) are not eligible. Faculty with potential SPARK projects that involve grant-dependent faculty should contact the SPARK program director before applying.
- UConn Primary Appointment: SPARK PIs must be faculty whose primary appointment is at UConn / UConn Health. Faculty with primary appointments to CCMC or Jackson Labs are not eligible to apply. PIs with a primary appointment at a TIP company are also not eligible. Individuals who are not eligible to apply as a PI may be able to serve as a collaborator/consultant on an eligible PI’s SPARK project.
- Number of submissions: Eligible faculty may only submit one LOI/full proposal per year as lead PI. Investigators may serve as collaborator on multiple projects.
- Past SPARK Winners: Projects/technologies that have received one round of initial and follow-up funding and projects/technologies that received SPARK funding prior to FY22 are not eligible for additional SPARK awards. Prior SPARK awardees may apply for SPARK funding for new projects/technologies that are distinct and independent of those funded with past SPARK awards. All past SPARK awardees are asked to consult with the program director prior to submission to ensure eligibility.
SPARK LOIs and Proposals will be scored based on the following criteria:
Market Need—does the innovation address an unmet need and is there evidence that there is a market for the proposed solution?
- Does the applicant make a strong case that there is a need/problem that needs to be met?
- To what degree will the innovation satisfy the unmet consumer, industry or medical need?
- Does the proposal include market data and a compelling estimate as to what share of the market the innovation may realistically capture?
Innovation and Novelty—Is the innovation novel and/or does it make a significant improvement over currently-available solutions?
- Does the proposal make a convincing argument that the innovation is novel and or makes a significant improvement over currently-available solutions?
- Is there existing or the potential for intellectual property protection?
- To what degree does the innovation solve the unmet need differently (e.g., better, faster, cheaper) than the current state-of-the art?
- If novel, is the innovation a disruptive technology, a platform technology, or an incremental improvement over the current state-of-the art?
Commercialization Plan—Is there a realistic path for commercializing the innovation?
- Does the proposal present a path to bring the innovation forward to market?
- If so, is the path chosen (licensing, startup, etc.) the most promising for the innovation?
- Does the proposal contain reasonable estimates of the time needed to enter the market?
- Does the proposal present plans for future financing of the project, such as SBIR/STTR or industry investment?
- For future development, will this technology require regulatory approval? If so, does the proposal address plans for successfully navigating the process?
- Does the applicant point to any obvious potential licenses / commercial partners for this innovation?
Approach and Feasibility—Are the activities proposed attainable in the proposed timeline and are they consistent with the high scientific/scholarly standards?
- Does the investigator/team have appropriate expertise and laboratory facilities available to conduct the work?
- Does the project include the involvement of a UConn core facility or a third party be required to complete the work (e.g prototype development)? If so, have appropriate commitments been obtained?
- To what degree will the activities proposed de-risk and advance the development of the innovation?
Postaward Considerations (Reporting and Follow-on Funding Policies)
SPARK awardees agree to provide regular progress reports to the OVPR during and after the award period. Reports fall into four categories:
- Consultations with TCS: Awardees are expected to connect regularly throughout the award period(s) with their point of contact within OVPR Technology Commercialization Services to discuss progress, to talk through potential problems, and to consider future steps and additional resources that may be of use. Each PI will work with their TCS contact to set up the best check-in schedule, but it is expected that consultations would happen at least on a quarterly basis.
- Application for Renewal/Follow-on Funding: At the end of the initial award period, awardees will have an opportunity to request follow-on funding to support continued development of their innovation. The renewal process will proceed as follows:
- One month prior to the completion of the initial award period, awardees will receive an invitation to submit a renewal NOI (indicating whether they would like to renew, request an extension, or allow the project to close out).
- Awardees who select the renewal option will be able to submit a renewal application in the Quest system immediately after completion of the NOI.
- Renewal applications should include the following:
- A brief oral presentation (20 min, followed by Q&A) on project activities and accomplishments and plans for the follow-on award period. The presentation should address the milestones agreed upon at the start of the initial award period and demonstrate that they have been satisfactorily completed. The OVPR will reach out to awardees to schedule this presentation after receiving their follow-on funding NOI.
- A revised scope of work for the follow-up award period, detailing proposed activities and how those activities will move the technology forward along its path to market
- A new budget with justifications outlining how follow-up funds will be used.
- Renewal applicants are limited to 3 pages, plus references and budget
- Invention Disclosure(s): It is expected that all SPARK awards should lead to at least 1 UConn invention disclosure within six months of the close of the award period.
- Annual Reports: Recognizing that investments made by the OVPR can often take some time to produce their full results, we will be asking that all recipients of OVPR Internal Funding, including SPARK, submit annual reports over the life of the project. This will allow us to better understand the impact of internal funding and make the case for it continuing / increasing. You will receive an email request at the start of the fiscal year following the completion of your award period. We’ll be interested in hearing about the results of your project, the significance of those results, and gathering statistics about graduate students supported, publications, external grants / patents received, other projects launched, etc. Other questions may also be included as needed. The OVPR may request updates annually for up to five years following the end of the award period to track the development of the project longitudinally.
The SPARK program is jointly administered by OVPR Technology Commercialization Services and Internal Funding Program.
Dr. Vivek Ramakrishnan
Director, Venture Development, OVPR Technology Commercialization Services
Program point of contact (Contact for information on program/process, application status, award management/extensions)
Dr. Matt Mroz
Manager, Research Development Services
Internal Funding Coordinator