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NCInnovation To Consider UNCW Research For Commercialization Grant

By Audrey Elsberry, posted May 9, 2024
The board of directors of state-funded research grant organization NCInnovation will hear research grant proposals from seven state universities, including the University of North Carolina Wilmington, for its pilot funding round on May 14. 

The group’s board will hear and approve grants for six to eight research projects, dolling out the first grants from its $500 million endowment. The total grant amount for the first funding round is expected to be much smaller than the subsequent rounds, NCI spokesperson Patrick Ryan told the Business Journal, to test processes before scaling to larger funding rounds.  

Two UNCW projects were submitted for the pilot grants, Justin Streuli, UNCW’s director of the Office of Innovation and Commercialization told the Business Journal. University officials expect to know the results of the board’s proposal review by the end of next week, according to Streuli. 

Submissions by each state university were limited for the first round of grants. Of the two UNCW research projects, one is focused on a novel flu virus vaccine and the other is a “machine-learning medical assessment tool” used for “strengthening protocols to reduce head trauma,” according to Streuli. University leaders decided which projects to put forth for review during the pilot round, according to NCI. 

If not awarded a pilot grant, UNCW officials plan to submit the projects again, along with several others, for the following funding rounds. NCI plans to grow the pilot program to a larger, statewide proposal request later this year, according to an NCI release.

The research proposals that will be heard next week have been honed through a review process over the past month through NCI’s network of industry professionals in research and commercialization. The board’s hearing of the proposals is the last step before funding is granted, Ryan said. There is no guarantee any of the applications will be approved, he said, all researchers could receive grants or no one could. 

Most NCI board members were selected by the N.C. General Assembly, the release states. The grant selection criteria focus on which projects have the highest chance of commercialization. No private companies are eligible for grants. The grants for this cycle will likely fall in the upper six-figure range, Ryan told the Business Journal in an interview early this year. The grants are to be disseminated through the North Carolina Collaboratory, a distribution program through the UNC system. 

Durham-based NCI’s $500 million endowment was granted to the organization through the state legislature in October to help North Carolina universities commercialize the finished product of their research. 

“The state budget was enacted into law only about six months ago, and NC Innovation received funding from the state… three or four months ago," Ryan said. "So, they've moved very, very quickly and thoroughly to stand up the research grant program."
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