Ingenuity alone doesn’t turn a promising idea into a marketable product. That’s why NC State launched the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF) in 2010.
Between the research lab and the real world, there’s a long, uneven path. Starter funding is key to navigating that path, and the CIF fills funding gaps where financial support for technology development can have a decisive impact.
Since the fund began, 23 projects have earned support from the CIF. The university’s $1.4 million commitment to those projects has yielded a major return on investment: $4.4 million in follow-on funding, $926,000 in licensing revenue and seven startup companies.
The 2014-2015 CIF projects include an effort to cost-effectively extract biofuels from saltwater algae; a project to create a better device for identifying dangerous plaque in arteries; and a smarter, more efficient fuel injector for cars.
The fund’s success stems from NC State’s approach to selecting CIF recipients. Each year, roughly 75 faculty members file CIF proposals. After initial screening, finalists pitch their technology development projects to a selection committee comprising representatives of university innovation partners: Eastman Chemical, Rex Healthcare, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, First Flight Venture Center, HQ Raleigh, the Kenan Institute, NC Idea Fund Partners, Hatteras Venture Partners, the Center for Entrepreneurial Development and the North Carolina Small Business Technology Development Center.
Chancellor Randy Woodson makes the final selections, with input from the university’s research leadership.
Proof-of-concept funds like the CIF are critical to supporting innovators, says Kelly B. Sexton, director of NC State’s Office of Technology Transfer. The presence of Research Triangle partners in the review process differentiates NC State’s fund from others.
“We’re working really hard to get the voice of the marketplace into the lab and make sure that the commitments we’re making through the CIF are based on validated market needs,” she says.
Meet some of the CIF’s biggest successes:
CellSentry has developed a system of embedded software/firmware components that protects computer clouds and mobile systems. The package, based on research by NC State computer scientists Peng Ning and Ahmed Azab, is part of Samsung’s Knox security and data management system.
Scientific Organizational Solutions is applying the ideas of psychology to the hiring process. Because it takes longer to come up with a lie than to tell the truth, psychology professor Adam Meade has developed software that gauges how long candidates take to answer questions on computer-based employment tests.
The SleepiBand, a headband developed by NC State engineer Alper Bozkurt, deploys a smartphone to encourage sounder sleep. The band links to a mobile app that wakes users during shallow sleep cycles. Funded by the CIF in 2013, the SleepiBand has been in clinical trials under a partnership with Duke University and has drawn funding from the National Institutes of Health.