Early Innovation Fund

Early Innovation Fund logo with Technology commercialization logo underneath

The Early Innovation Fund is a competitive funding program available to the UMN research community to fund short-term projects that advance early-stage innovations. The program provides $3,000 to $10,000 per project and will fund approximately 5 to 10 projects per cycle. Where applicable, program participants may also be connected to additional funding opportunities.

This opportunity is open to all UMN researchers and employees, including faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and staff. Funding is offered twice a year, in the spring and fall, with a goal of advancing a diverse portfolio of innovation opportunities across all campuses, colleges, and disciplines. We encourage all to apply, especially those who have never worked with the Tech Comm office previously.

Fund Scope

The Early Innovation Fund is designed to help advance the technology readiness of an innovation through a variety of means, including support for: materials or resources to advance an innovation (e.g., buying/renting equipment or purchasing materials); access to services, expertise or personnel (e.g., student worker); dissemination or implementation of innovations to generate user feedback; and/or entrepreneurial exploration (e.g., travel for customer conversations that are part of MIN-Corps or I-Corps programs).

Project Examples

  • Algorithm / Software / App development
  • Beta / MVP / User testing with feedback
  • Building a small product inventory
  • Fabrication / Prototyping
  • In-vivo animal testing
  • Material synthesis 
  • Material testing 
  • Method development
  • Optimizing system design and performance 
  • Pilot scale demonstration
  • Regulatory consulting
  • Scale-up analysis
  • Simulation / Modeling
  • Teaching / Learning module advancement
  • Techno-economic analysis
  • User design
  • User training
  • Validation in lab or simulated environment

Tech Comm is open to proposals for other types of projects (not listed above) focusing on innovations that are past the basic research stage.

For more Early Innovation Fund project examples, read about our past award recipients.

Project Requirements

  • Clear, achievable goals/milestones
  • Completed within 6-12 month duration
  • Lead investigator who is employed at UMN
  • UMN-owned innovation and/or intellectual property (IP)
  • Brief updates two times per year until project completion

How to Apply

Application Timeline

April 15, 2024 - Application opens
May 24, 2024 - Submissions due
By July 3, 2024 - Awardees announced

Apply here: z.umn.edu/EarlyInnovationFund 

Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the funding source for this program?

Awards are funded by Technology Commercialization, within the Research and Innovation Office at the University of Minnesota. Award budgets are set up with a UMN chartstring that is shared with the PI for project-related expenses. Awards are not issued through SPA, and do not include any indirect (F&A) expenses. PIs are responsible for the management of the chartstring budget and compliance with UMN Finance policies during their award period.

Can I submit more than one project application in this cycle?

Yes, however one of the objectives of the Early Innovation Fund (EIF) is to fund a diverse range of projects across multiple technology areas. As a result, it is highly unlikely that more than one project will be funded for a specific individual/team in a cycle. If a project isn’t funded in one cycle it can be resubmitted for consideration in subsequent funding cycles. We also work closely with other funding organizations and have been able to get a few projects funded outside of the standard EIF process.

The application is looking for information related to an Intellectual Property Disclosure. What is that, and is it required in order to be considered for funding?

An IP Disclosure Form (IPDF) is required for each technology being considered for EIF funding. Reporting the innovation by submitting an IPDF simply opens an 'IP Case' in the Tech Comm office. This puts the technology on our radar and enables access to a number of available resources. After an IPDF is submitted, and docketed in our system, the inventor(s) receives notification of the IP Case number for this technology. This IP Case is our way of tracking activity on University-owned technologies, including any subsequent discussions about IP protection strategies and activity related to licensing or commercialization of the technology.

If I am working with people from other institutions on this project, will it still be considered for funding?

As long as the University has an ownership stake in the technology, it can be considered for EIF funding. One of the requirements of EIF is that the technology is owned by the University, and this includes technology that is co-owned with other institutions. Other external institutions or companies that provide services which could help advance the technology can also be engaged to help advance a project. 

How much detail do I need to provide for questions related to Project Basis, Current Roadblocks, or Milestones?

Generally, we're looking for no more than a few paragraphs in each of those sections. In the end, it's up to the applicant to provide enough information to make sure we have clarity on the who, what, when, why, how of the project, but we're certainly not seeking a fully referenced, highly detailed proposal. We will also follow up if there are questions that come up during our review.

Is it OK that this project is only a portion of a larger plan to help move this technology closer to commercialization?

We are seeking projects that can be completed within a year of the receipt of funding and recognize that the awarded amount will typically only bridge a portion of the commercialization gap. We appreciate individuals/groups who have thought through the steps required to prove out their technology, and are able to define projects which advance the technology to the next logical milestone or decision point. 

What types of expenses can I include in the budget for my project? Which expenses aren’t allowed?

The one item that we typically exclude from project budgets is salaries/overhead for faculty, staff, or graduate students working on the project during the school year. Budgets can include:

  • Costs for purchasing or renting materials, equipment, or other resources 
  • Fees to access specialized services, expertise, or personnel
  • Costs associated with hiring workers (including students) to carry out specific tasks
  • Expenses (e.g., travel) related to generating user/customer feedback or other entrepreneurial activities

What criteria are used to determine which projects receive funding?

As stated previously, one of the primary objectives of EIF is to fund a diverse range of projects across multiple technology areas. Specific review considerations include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Will the project advance the innovation towards the next stage in development?
  • Are the project goals likely to be achieved through the proposed work plan and within the proposed timeline and budget?
  • Does the team include appropriate expertise and collaborations to complete the proposed scope of work?
  • Are there alternative, more logical funding sources available to fund a project of this nature?

What are my obligations if I receive an award?

Funding will be awarded with the expectation that the recipient(s) adhere to the stated work plan. Deviation from the stated work plan without prior approval may result in a revocation of project funding. We also expect brief updates on project progress approximately every 6 months until completion. 


Contact Tim Cusack (cusac021@umn.edu), MNBridge Gap Funding Network Manager.