By Nancy Sullivan, CEO and Managing Director, IllinoisVENTURES, and Azmi Nabulsi, ‎Head of R&D Strategic and Professional Affairs, Takeda Pharmaceuticals International

In December, representatives from venture capital and industry across the U.S. gathered in Chicago to hear scientists from Illinois’ world-class research institutions share their innovative ideas.  These presentations, part of the Illinois Regional Proof of Concept (POC) matching fund program, aim to provide early market feedback as professors work to move their research from a laboratory discovery to a viable product and company. The program, implemented by IllinoisVENTURES and funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, aims to accelerate commercialization in areas of Illinois’ research strength—like medical biotechnology, nanotechnology, energy storage, and others identified in the Illinois Science and Technology Roadmap—to help support the state’s diverse industry base.

Illinois’ world-class universities and national laboratories serve as an economic engine for the state’s knowledge-based economy. While there has been increasing success at turning the first-class research at our universities into patented innovations and startups, the recent Illinois Innovation Index shows a remaining gap between this outstanding basic research and commercialization. Although Illinois’ universities have increased the number of startups created from technology transfer offices (121 in the last five years), raising capital from investors for commercialization is still extremely challenging evidenced by only 20 of those 121 receiving external funding.

III_Q4Dec14_Ex4_final (1)

POC funding provides a bridge between basic scientific research and marketplace entry by “de-risking” early stage technology and increasing its potential for commercialization. POC funding represents one of the best investments a region can make in fueling the economic development engine. POC programs have been shown to have a significant impact on a number of critical commercialization and economic development metrics. An Innovosource report from 2011 found that just $1 of gap funding attracts up to $9.3 in government grants, $3.6 in industrial support, $11 in angel capital, and $148 in venture capital. POC programs provide milestone-based funding that can help provide critical commercially-relevant data that will increase interest from industry or investors.

Many institutions in Illinois have recently launched such funding programs. The regional POC program provides a platform for highlighting and advancing the most promising innovations coming out of these institutions. The program offers companies like Takeda unprecedented early access to research discoveries across Illinois’ universities and national labs through a single entry point. By providing industry feedback early in the product development process, this program will help generate more market-ready technologies with greater potential to incorporate directly into corporate R&D pipelines.

Thus, POC funding can help innovators focus on the most significant commercial opportunities, such as taking a technology for Hashimoto’s, which is a thyroid disease and a great model for autoimmunity, and translating what has been learned from Hashimoto’s to Type 1 diabetes (which has a larger unmet need). POC programs allow a researcher to get this type of invaluable feedback from industry leaders and then work towards a more commercially viable market.

Launched in October 2014, the regional POC program provides matching funds of up to $25,000, which must be matched 2:1 by the partner institution, to eligible projects to help them achieve important commercial milestones. The initial network includes Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northern Illinois University, Northwestern University, Southern Illinois University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Five awardees were recently selected for the initial funding round of the program. These projects represent potential significant social impact, such as a new diagnostic imaging test for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease and a tool to help doctors prescribe the best medications based on a patient’s genetic profile. (See infographic for complete list of the first round awardees). It takes an enormous amount of time and money to commercialize laboratory research and this program helps identify technologies with the highest potential for success and provides additional funding to accelerate commercialization. The program will help spur translation of the research conducted at Illinois’ universities and federal labs into the market to make an impact on the state’s economy.



Watch and Listen

Gap Fund Leaders Series: University-affiliated Venture Capital Funds

Celebrating the New Chicago Innovation Exchange


More News

Illinois Innovation Network Featured Resource:

Illinois Innovation Network Featured Resource: Each month, the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition features a service or resource available to innovators and entrepreneurs in the state of Illinois on the Illinois Innovation Network. To learn more and add your resource to the Network, click here. IllinoisVENTURES is a premier seed and early-stage technology investment firm focused on research-derived companies in information technologies, physical sciences, life sciences and clean technology. We start and build globally-competitive businesses based on work conducted at Midwest Universities and federal laboratories. Continue reading at Illinois Innovation Network