Introducing the SDSU Pilot Innovation Fund

The SDSU Pilot Innovation Fund is a grant program established to help faculty transition their research-based innovations toward commercial readiness. Awards made from the Pilot Innovation Fund are targeted to helping faculty develop innovations in order to reach milestones that demonstrate their value or reduce their risk to potential corporate partners, investors or customers.

Goals for projects funded by the Pilot Innovation Fund include:

  • Developing innovations to bring them closer to the market. This can include prototyping, testing for efficacy, etc. (further examples provided later in this section)
  • Licensing SDSU innovations to external industrial partners
  • Formation of viable new companies based on SDSU innovations
  • Attraction of external follow-on funding (research funding, SBIR/STTR, angel investment, Venture Capital investment, corporate partner investment, etc.)
  • Bringing new products and/or new services to the market
  • New corporate partnerships

This funding is meant to address the gap that emerges when fundamental research funding runs out but the resulting innovations remain too high-risk to attract external funding from private investors. Projects can receive up to $45,000 in funding and are expected to be completed within 6 to 12 month period. The Technology Transfer Office (TTO) anticipates making three awards in this second round of funding. However, the ultimate distribution of funding will be determined in consideration of the budgets for the top proposals received.

Examples of projects suitable for this funding include, but are not limited to:

  • Development of prototypes, software or user interfaces
  • Creation of a mobile application to disseminate a social sciences intervention
  • Validation of markets or commercial feasibility
  • Pre-clinical animal and medical device testing
  • Creation of a digital platform for intervention to improve public health outcomes
  • Addressing a specific barrier to licensing or fundraising identified by potential licensees or investors.

Important Dates and Information

Commercialization Education Requirement: faculty applicants must complete a TTO approved commercialization education program prior to the 10-minute presentations around August 22 or 23. Approved programs include NSF I-Corps, CONNECT Springboard, or the SDSU ZIP Launchpad Faculty and Researcher Innovation Workshop. An option to meet this requirement may be made available for applicants who have not yet met the requirement by June 14. The TTO will consider approval of similar programs faculty may have participated in to meet this requirement. Please contact Tommy Martindale ([email protected]) for details.

Pre-Proposals due: Friday, June 14 by 5pm

TTO will alert applicants of recommendations within 1-2 weeks. 

Full Proposals due: Friday, August 16 by 5pm

Presentations: 10-minute presentations anticipated to take place on August 22 or 23. 

Evaluations will be completed shortly thereafter and award notices are anticipated by the end of August.


Teams with innovative ideas at the appropriate stage of development from all disciplines, including the sciences, humanities, social sciences, liberal arts, and engineering will be encouraged to apply if they meet the following required criteria:

  • You have participated in a qualifying Commercialization Education Program 
  • At least one team member must hold a faculty appointment at SDSU
  • The team has disclosed the innovation it is seeking funding for to the SDSU TTO
  • The related intellectual property must be owned by SDSURF and must not be licensed and
  • The team must be able to demonstrate that a tangible set of milestones achievable within 6 to 12 months and within a maximum budget of $45,000 would advance the innovation toward commercialization.

Proposals will be accepted from all research fields in which the proposed project fulfills the goals and funding priorities of the program.

Application Process

Pre-proposals due June 14 at 5pm should not exceed 3 pages and must:

  • Indicate how the commercialization education requirement will be met,
  • Describe the innovation (including the problem the innovation solves),
  • Summarize innovation’s competitive advantages,
  • Identify the milestone(s) to be achieved over the course of the project and describe how achieving those milestones will help move the innovation closer to commercialization,
  • Describe any current commercial interest and
  • Be submitted via email to [email protected] in PDF format.

Note on Mentor Availability: Interested applicants who may need guidance determining the appropriate milestones are encouraged to reach out to the TTO for access to industry mentors who will assist them.

Full Proposals due August 16 by 5pm should not exceed 7 pages and must include:

  • A more thorough description of the innovation optionally including tables, figures, and prototype images
  • A description of the market and the problem to be solved;
  • A work plan and timeline
  • A description of how achieving identified milestones will move the innovation towards commercialization
  • A budget including detailed and itemized expenditures;
  • A short biography of the team
  • A slide deck for a 10-minute project pitch (scheduled for August 23, 2023).
  • (Optional) letters of interest from potential commercial partners

Note on Budgets: Eligible expenses include direct project costs (such as equipment, supplies, products, animal care costs, payment to subjects, external consultants, computing related services, salaries and benefits (excluding funds for faculty salaries), and consulting services or assistance outside the university. Travel expenses may be eligible when travel is necessary to conduct a project outlined in the proposal. Ineligible expenses include funding for student tuition/scholarships/waivers, salary support for faculty members, funding for basic research studies or as general funding for a research lab, salary for visiting faculty members, travel to present research findings, and indirect costs.

Evaluation Criteria

An external Evaluation Panel with a variety of technical and business expertise will be established to evaluate the proposals received and recommend to the Division of Research and Innovation which proposals to select for funding. Evaluators may also recommend modifications to the proposal’s milestones.

The Evaluation Panel will assess pre-proposals, full proposals, and 10-minute full proposal applicant presentations based on the following criteria:

  • Significance of market-need and opportunity to impact the public;
    • 1. Will the innovation solve a customer/market need better than existing methods?
    • 2. How large is the addressable market?
  • Competitive advantages the innovation offers over current solutions. E.g., How novel is the innovation?
  • Technical Feasibility: Is it reasonable that the research can be translated into a useful product?
  • Likely project outcomes: potential for the project to generate additional funding, a license or a viable startup;
  • Project Feasibility: Probability of reaching milestones within the time frame and budget;
  • Strength of IP that exists now or will be generated;
  • Team Credibility: Expertise and commercialization interest by PI and project team.

Ongoing Responsibilities of Funded Teams

Awardees may be required to meet quarterly with an assigned industry mentor, who will consider whether aspects of the project need to be modified based on the results of the milestones and report back to the TTO. Upon completion of the project, teams will be required to submit a two-page summary of the major findings of the project. A brief annual status report will be required for 4-5 years following completion of the project to assist SDSU in evaluating the Pilot Innovation Fund. This will enable tracking of resulting licenses, new companies formed, external follow-on funding (research funding, SBIR/STTR, angel investment, VC investment, corporate partner investment, etc.), new products, and/or new services.

Please direct all questions to Tommy Martindale at [email protected].