THE SPARK FUND
Funding Northeastern’s transformational technologies
THE SPARK FUND
Funding Northeastern’s transformational technologies
Meet the Spring 2023 Spark Fund Awardees
One year, $50,000 | 5+ awards available
Awards support commercially valuable inventions (from any field) in earlier stages of development.
Spark Fund applicants may apply for up to $50,000 per cycle to advance a technology or suite of technologies towards commercialization. Recipients of past Spark Fund or GapFund360 awards may apply for additional funding up to $150,000 total on a technology or suite of technologies. Prior award recipients must use active award funding for a full year prior to applying again to further advance that technology or suite of technologies towards commercialization. Note, new applicants and past awards recipients applying for funding may only have one active Spark Fund award at a time. While you may apply to advance multiple technologies or suites of technologies through the Spark Fund simultaneously, you will only receive funding to advance one technology or suite of technologies at a time.
- Bouvé College of Health Sciences – Award dedicated to advancing research from the lab of a Bouvé Professor.
- College of Science – Award dedicated to advancing research from the lab of a COS Professor.
- College of Engineering – Award dedicated to advancing research from the lab of a COE Assistant Professor.
Spark Fund Uses
Spark Fund grants may be used to advance the commercial prospects of inventions in many different ways, including but not limited to:
Building a commercially ready prototype
Animal testing to generate in vivo data
Optimizing processes for yield, speed, cost
Repurposing tech to meet industry needs
Eligible applicants include Northeastern University Principal Investigators (PIs) with novel, pioneering, and commercially valuable technologies currently in the proof-of-concept stage. All technology must be disclosed to the CRI before applying. At least one Northeastern PI with the duty to assign must either lead or oversee the proposed project. No outside PIs will be allowed. Any prior intellectual property required to implement the technologies must also have been assigned to Northeastern.
Questions about eligibility? Contact Katie Hemphill.
Show me the information needed to apply.
Applications Are Closed
Show me the information needed to apply.
Applications Are Closed
- How well qualified is the PI to oversee and successfully execute the proposed activities?
- Does the proposing team have the expertise and experience to conduct and successfully execute the proposed activities?
- Does the proposed activity have the potential to significantly advance the knowledge and understanding within the relevant field of study?
Novelty and Technical Advantages
- How technically significant are the novel and/or disruptive aspects of the proposed technology compared to the current state of the art?
- Is there a significant market opportunity that could be addressed by the proposed technology?
- How large is the market for the proposed technology and the current products that are derived from similar technologies?
- Does it seem reasonable that this research can be translated into a product or service that will have high commercial success?
- Does it seem reasonable that the resulting intellectual property (e.g. patents) will be licensable externally?
- If a future spin-out is contemplated, is a spin-out strategy the best commercialization path for this technology?
- How significant are the potential societal benefits of this technology?
- Is it likely that the project milestones will be achieved within the proposed budget and timeline?
- Is the project plan reasonable, well-organized, and well-justified?
- Will the project likely result in an increased Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion?
- Does the project have access to the required materials, equipment, personnel, compounds, etc.?
Letters of Support
- How relevant are the letters of support to the proposed project?
- Are the letters just from academic and technical collaborators, or also commercial and industry sources?
- How strong are the letters?
- Is the budget reasonable?
- Are the project costs limited to what is deemed reasonable and allowable?
Frequently Asked Questions
Current & Previous AWARDEES
Representing multiple colleges and disciplines, the first cohort of Spark Fund awardees presented diverse and exciting projects to the Center for Research Innovation.
With expert assistance from the Spark Fund strategic advisory board, the CRI carefully evaluated all thirty applicants and selected six research opportunities and ventures to fund and grow.
Our experience with both the Spark Fund and the GapFund360 has been simply invaluable. Participating to both initiatives has given us the opportunity to fund those development activities that as researchers we tend to leave “for future studies”… It’s thanks to these initiatives that we were able to take the next step to understand the market value, identify customers, focus on pain points rather than cool features, and work on a product that can attract interest and funding. From a student point of view, I believe that the participation to both the Spark Fund and the GapFund360 has allowed students to gain experience on how to further increase the impact of their research on society by getting involved in technology transfer activities.
Tomasso Melodia & Salvatore D’Oro (CellOS)
As a junior faculty, you always need to look out for that one idea, one spark (pun intended) that will make your career…This is when Spark Fund (formerly known as Gap Fund 360) came to the rescue… With the help of CRI, we are now known as thescientific authority in the field, and have published several ground breaking articles on the subject…A common question asked in academic job interview is: “what is it that people will know your research for?”, and when I started my job I would have never imagined it to be scientific machine learning. But today, that will definitely be my answer, and it is all because of the trust that CRI put in my work. So, a huge shoutout to CRI’s leadership and their vision/generosity in supporting young faculty with their ambitious aspirations.
Safa Jamali (Rheopoint)
The GapFund360 and the Spark Fund, both of which have provided me and by extension, my formative companies with critical funding… While the team put in a lot of its own time, the funding, spent principally at Northeastern University was crucial to the acquisition of all of this data. The access to resources that the funding and the imprimatur of approval granted by the funding permitted provide a multiplier of at least 10x. Thus, the Gap Fund’s $50k behaved more like $500k in our hands. This is because of careful use of University resources (i.e. lab equipment, animal facilities and deep discounts on supplies when purchase through NEU) and judicious use of our human resources which I had approved to work at Northeastern.
Fu Lab. Gap funding was instrumental in the formation and early success of AInnovation, which is currently working with I–Corps and arranging for Angel funding. According to Prof. Fu, …the gap fund uniquely providesflexible support of grad students or postdoc development in a timely fashion to best leverage our research, development and the commercial promise of our technology.
Raymond Fu (AInnovation/PathFind)
DIRECTOR OF TECHNOLOGY VENTURES & TALENT NETWORK
Center for Research Innovation
Safa Jamali, COE
The Jamali lab is advancing Rheopoint, a science-based AI solution for engineering applications with focus on fluid mechanics and soft material design and discovery. Customer industries range from consumer products, to chemical and pharmaceuticals, and oil and gas.
Tania Konry, BOUVE
Konry Lab produces rapid, low-cost, highly accurate, and readily available point of care testing (POCT) solutions for microbial pathogen detection.
Tomasso Melodia, COE
The Melodia lab is developing CellOS, a data-driven network operating system to automate the control of 5G/6G cellular networks and maximize their performance. CellOS combines softwarization and virtualization principles, network slicing and intent-based networking with data-driven solutions to automate network control and deliver high-performance services to mobile users.
Sara Rouhanifard, COE
The Rouhanifard and Wanunu labs are refining ViralNPQ, a cost effective and easy-to-use device that collects all viral measurements using the same sample. This solution images and quantifies the presence of a viral genome with single-molecule accuracy.
RAYMOND FU, COE
Pathfind uses patented deep learning model compression techniques to transform once costly AI algorithms into customized lightweight processes. Pathfind enables complex computer vision and machine learning programs to run in real time on simple devices – bringing cutting-edge innovation to telemedicine, in-home fitness and other markets.
Neel Joshi, COS
Tantu is developing innovative microbe-based therapeutics expressed and delivered to the site of intestinal lesions to treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and other gastrointestinal diseases without systemic side effects.
RANDALL ERB AND JASON BICE
New advanced manufacturing platforms
Certain types of ceramics known as phononic crystals exhibit the remarkable combination of thermal conductivity and electrical insulation. These properties offers a route toward thermal management solutions that are deeply demanded by high density electronics, RF systems, and battery packs. Here, Randy and Jason are developing knowledge around new advanced manufacturing platforms that can process these all-ceramics into intricate parts at high rates of production.
CRISPR Cas9 Acceleration of Human Active Collagen Production
There are currently few reliable sources of human active collagen. To construct therapeutics that deliver active collagen to injuries, the EMERL lab has been working to enhance the production of this very important molecule using the CRISPR Cas-9 promotional system. Thus the work will be focused on developing and optimizing methods to induce human fibroblasts to produce large amounts of type I collagen. In addition, the packaging of collagen into a metastable liquid crystal for in vivo delivery of active collagen is also part of this effort.
“Ultra-low Power Wake-up” with Analog Computing for Always on Connectivity
Maintaining continuous connectivity among IoT devices remains a technological challenge owing to the large power consumption of radios. This research focuses on reducing the power consumption of radios by over 6-orders of magnitude. We aim to develop <20 nano-watts, wake-up radio circuits that can achieve a sensitivity greater than -90 dBm, to realize approximately 100-feet connectivity. The radio architecture is based on the energy detection of the incoming radio signal implemented using high sensitivity passive energy detection circuits to realize ultra-low power operation. We have demonstrated the design feasibility with a proto-type chip that shows connectivity over 10-feet distance.
A Co-Culture Method for Enhanced Biofuel and Biochemical Production from Untreated Waste Gases
The Woolston lab is developing a symbiotic co-culture to enable the high-yield conversion of carbon-rich waste gases to high-value fuels and chemicals. The use of multiple microbes with specialized metabolic capabilities enables the generation a wider portfolio of products and more stable operation than is possible with a single microbe.
Recyclable, Scalable and Self-cleaning Passive Cooling Paper for Building Roofs
Compressor-based cooling systems, providing comfortable interior environments for infrastructure, account for about 20% of total worldwide electricity consumption. The resultant greenhouse gas emissions intensify global warming and accelerate climate change. As such, an carbon-neutral, eco-friendly cooling approach is vital. Emerging passive cooling technologies are the perfect solution to this problem, without any energy consumption.
Spatial and Temporal Activation of Protein Therapeutics by Light
A fundamental impediment in drug development is the limited therapeutic index, due to the on-target/off-tumor toxicity. Our approach is to mask (or cage) peptides and proteins, rendering them inactive. Our invention and platform enable both the chemo-enzymatic site-specific conjugation and the engineered chemistry tailored for the controlled re-activation (unmasking or uncaging). For clinical applications, after administering to the patients, then upon exposure to light (or other stimuli), the mask is removed, the active form is regenerated with precise spatial and temporal controls, thereby expanding therapeutic index.
Oral RNA Tx -Solutions for Oral RNA Delivery
With the overwhelming success of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, there is an increased interest in the development of nucleic acid delivery technologies for therapeutics and vaccines. Oral administration is the most convenient and patient-friendly route of drug and vaccine administration in the body. The multi-compartmental polymeric (MCP) formulations provide a platform for oral administration of nucleic acid molecules, such as mRNA, into the body. This work will enable MCP formulations to be developed for specific target therapeutic or vaccination areas and to commercialize the technology through effective partnerships.
Validating AI-guided, rapid, self-administered vision diagnostics in a remote setting
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of visual impairment worldwide as it causes blind spots that progressively diminishes the central visual field that is used to see details of the world such as reading this text and recognising faces. Current treatments for AMD aim to slow or stop the progression of the disease as there is currently no cure. Therefore, early detection of the disease and monitoring its progression during treatment are critical.
Clinical diagnostics suffer a number of problems: A patient needs to attend a clinic, needs to see a trained clinician who can administer tests that are cumbersome, time-consuming, and unable to detect subtle, small changes of vision due to disease progression or treatment intervention.
The current project will use computer-based, rapid, self-administered vision diagnostics that probe multiple visual functions before and during AMD treatment, and will conduct those tests remotely.
SARA M. HASHMI
High throughput microfluidic tensiometry/elastometry
While we mainly investigate how material softness determines complex fluid flow, in this project we turn this idea on its head: we measure flow to quantify both droplet surface tension and particle softness. Our in-situ, in-line technology will help increase stability and high-throughput efficiency in a variety of microfluidic platforms that use droplet and particle encapsulation for drug discovery, pharmaceutical development, and other applications. We will work with advisors from the microfluidics industry to ensure maximum impact of our innovation.
Passive Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing of Marine Ecosystems
Underwater linear towed coherent hydrophone arrays are multifaceted and extremely versatile leading to a multitude of applications requiring ocean environmental awareness, including commercial and recreational, academic research and conservation, as well as maritime security. This hydrophone array technology developed at NU has large sensing frequency range from ~10 Hz (fin whale calls) to ~ 50,000 Hz (dolphin clicks), with lower frequencies capable of sensing wide areas ~100 km in diameter from array. The compact version of the array will contain 96 or 128 hydrophones compared to the full array system built in Prof. Ratilal-Makris’ lab comprising of 160 elements. This will lead to a version of the array that can be readily moved by personnel without the use of machinery.
AI Technologies for Need Finding, Concept Evaluation, and Generative Design
This Spark Fund project envisions an end-to-end AI-powered SaaS platform integrated in the value chain from assessing user needs through design generation and evaluation of novel concepts. This will allow designers to ‘fine tune’ desired attributes and innovativeness level, making it appealing to a wide range of industry verticals, from consumer products to software design. As co-founders of a startup Advanced Design Augmentation (ADA) Technologies, LLC, the PIs strive to foster designer-AI co-creation and innovation centered on empathy with users and bias mitigation, to bridge the gap between user need discovery, social impact, and design. The team is actively developing a first generation of the platform to be tested with initial industry partners in Fall 2022.
Infant feeding is complex and consists of sucking, swallowing, and breathing and all must be coordinated for feeding to occur successfully. Currently, assessment of infant feeding is extremely subjective and includes assessing all these components together at the same time by observing a bottle feed or by simply placing a gloved finger in the infant’s mouth to feel the strength of their suck. This trial-and-error approach can have devastating outcomes for the developing infant and can lead to feeding aversions and prolonged hospitalizations. Objectively measuring and longitudinally monitoring the patterns of non-nutritive suck (NNS)—sucking without nutrient being delivered—guides therapy and improves safety by lowering the risk of feeding aversion and the danger of milk aspiration into the lungs. Currently, no technology currently exists to track infant NNS remotely. Put simply, if we had more quantitative and accurate data, we could do more targeted feeding therapies earlier and we could blunt developmental delays.