SPARK|REACH Colorado is the translation and commercialization engine at CU Anschutz. The mission of SPARK|REACH is to advance academic research from the lab to patient care. SPARK advances new technologies to the clinic by providing education, access to industry expertise, a culture of innovation, and SPARK Awards, our flagship commercialization funding mechanism.
The SPARK Awards Program a biotechnology accelerator program to support promising academic discoveries towards commercialization. The program focuses on drugs, medical devices, and diagnostics addressing unmet clinical needs. Projects emerging from the program will be ready for a commercial transaction, including new company formation, SBIR/STTR submission, or licensing to an existing company.
A SPARK Award is not a traditional grant. SPARK Awards focus on commercial product development and do not support basic science research.
SPARK Fellows receive 1:1 project management support, funding for critical commercialization milestones, guidance from industry experts, and a community of like-minded individuals.
Chemical and Systems Biology Professor, Daria Mochly-Rosen, founded the SPARK program to provide a cost-effective model to generate proof of concept using out-of-the-box academic approaches combined with industry standards.
SPARK provides access to specialized knowledge and technical expertise regarding drug and diagnostic development, dedicated core laboratory facilities, and sources of funding to support translational efforts.
For more information on SPARK Standford, visit their webpage.
All SPARK sites share a common set of founding principles that are requirements for success.
No need to reach consensus
Open exchange and no hierarchy
On University campus
Ongoing, two-year program
SPARK may fund up to 5 projects a year. The number of awards is contingent upon submission of a sufficient number of appropriate projects.
Projects may receive up to $200,000. Budgets are developed with the SPARK team and are matched to relevant product development milestones.
Projects are expected to reach a commercial endpoint within 18-24 months. The maximum duration of SPARK Funding Program support is 2 years.
SPARK Awards are funded by the State of Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator Program and the NIH REACH Award. For more information, see Our Funding Sources.
Yes, since part of the source of funding is coming through NIH, all NIH budgetary rules as well as university rules applies.
No, due to restrictions on indirect costs, subcontracts are not allowed on SPARK awards. Fee-for-service contracts are allowed.
Eligibility and Application Process
SPARK Awards support projects within one or two key milestones of a commercial transaction or follow-on investment. SPARK Awards do not support basic science. The focus is on product development, specifically drugs, medical devices, and diagnostics.
Projects need to be CU Anschutz intellectual property, have a clear unmet need and market opportunity, and convincing, reproducible proof-of-concept data.
The external review board will be comprised of successful life science entrepreneurs, industry experts, and CU Innovations’ Entrepreneurs in Residence. The review board will spend every effort to make sure that judges evaluate within their specific expertise areas. Once the external review board completes its review, selected projects will be sent to NIH Technology Guidance Committee that has representatives from FDA, NIH, CMS, USPTO, Kaiser Permanente, who will provide feedback about the projects regarding their expertise areas.
Yes, however only one of their projects will actually be admitted. Multiple technologies can be ‘packaged’ into single applications if it is logical for their development.
Interdisciplinary teams are encouraged and tend to perform better in the SPARK model. A strong team with all necessary skillsets required to move the project forward would potentially have a greater chance to meet their milestones and convince investors down the line.
Having a scientific and clinical lead on the project would increase the chances of success for the application and the project, however, faculty can apply alone and SPARK|REACH Funding program would work with faculty in identifying skills gap for the project and build a strong team.
SPARK Awards Program and Expectations
SPARK Fellows receive 1:1 project management support, funding for critical commercialization milestones, guidance from industry experts, and a community of like-minded individuals. This is NOT a traditional grant mechanism; the aim of the program is product development and moving your discovery from the lab to patients.
For more information about what Fellows receive, view the SPARK Awards page.
Successful teams will have a strong desire and willingness to learn, receive guidance from industry experts, and commit the time necessary to translate their technology from the lab to the marketplace. Teams should expect to commit a minimum of 10 hours per month to commercial development activities, meetings and events, in addition to lab-based product development/ideation. The program will also require the faculty to work closely with the CU Innovations team, unlike a traditional grant.
SPARK Fellows will:
Work with the SPARK and CU Innovations teams to develop and hit commercially relevant milestones,
Attend monthly 1:1 meetings with a SPARK Project Manager and ad hoc meetings with advisors, service providers, industry providers, or investors,
Attend monthly SPARK community and education sessions,
Provide quarterly updates to the SPARK community, and
Commit time to commercial development activities, collateral development, and translational story building.