start-ups

We are committed to translating new discoveries and innovations into health-care practice via a variety of channels. The Office of Entrepreneurial Development and the Office of Commercialization and Economic Development (OCED) can assist you in these endeavors.

We offer expertise that can provide education on matters related to technology development, help to identify and evaluate the commercial potential of novel inventions, and facilitate the development of promising technology.

Inventor Basics

In order to be eligible for patent protection, United States patent law requires that an invention be:

  1. New or Novel: The invention must be demonstrably different from publicly available ideas, inventions, or products (so-called “prior art”). This does not mean that every aspect of an invention must be  novel. For example, new uses of known processes, machines, compositions of matter and materials are patentable. Incremental improvements on known processes may also be patentable.
  2. Useful: The invention must have some application or utility or be an improvement over existing products and/or techniques.
  3. Non-Obvious: The invention cannot be obvious to a person of “ordinary skill” in the field; non-obviousness usually is demonstrated by showing that practicing the invention yields surprising, unexpected results.

Not all Reports of Innovation (ROI) submitted to OCED are appropriate for patenting. A Technology Development Associate will work with you to determine the potential and patentability of any disclosed inventions.

Assessing Patentability

In conjunction with the inventor(s) and possibly the input of a patent attorney, OCED Technology Development Associates will make an assessment of the wisdom of pursuing patent protection for a given invention. Associates make their determination based upon a number of factors, including:

  • The invention is competitively superior and commercially viable.
  • OCED recognizes a well-defined market for the invention.
  • OCED, or the innovator, are in contact with a company or companies expressing an interest in licensing and developing the invention.
  • Prior art search reveals no impediment to successfully prosecuting a patent.
  • OCED has an obligation to the sponsor of the research leading to the invention with regard to patenting.

The patent system was created to protect and promote innovation and economic growth. Obtaining a patent allows you to fully exploit the commercial potential of your idea. For patentable inventions, it is difficult to protect your invention once you publish it via paper, website, or presentation at a conference.

How Public Disclosure Impacts IP Protection

Public disclosure may result in the potential loss of IP rights, including:

  • Loss of most foreign rights
  • Start of 1-year clock for U.S. patent filing
  • One year after the date of public disclosure, all patent rights are lost

Examples of public disclosure include:

  • Submission of a paper
  • Slides presented at a conference
  • Poster presentation

After filing a provisional patent application, you may exhibit or publish your work without the loss of patent protection for the inventions claimed in the application.

Patents provide a strong economic incentive for companies to license and develop UNC technology. Patents give UNC, to which you will have assigned your invention, the right to “exclude others from practicing the invention” for a period of 20 years from the patent application’s filing date. This period of exclusivity presents a barrier to entry to other companies, allowing the company that licenses the invention sufficient time to recoup its investment.

Commercialization process

Educational Resources for Inventors

  • Startup-UNC: Startup-UNC is a series of courses to empower UNC students, faculty, and staff to launch commercial businesses and social ventures.
  • Carolina Challenge: Student-led business competition designed to promote entrepreneurship at UNC.

Funding at UNC

  • Commercialization Award Program: The Carolina KickStart Commercialization Award Program provides funding and access to internal and external business experts to help early-stage faculty-founded companies meet commercial milestones either on the technical side (prototype development, animal studies) or the business side (regulatory pathway, freedom to operate). Requests for proposals (RFAs) are solicited on a quarterly basis from faculty founders. The awards range from $25,000 to $50,000 depending on the company’s needs.
  • Technology Enhancement Grant: Carolina KickStart is eligible to submit applications for the NC Biotechnology Center’s Technology Enhancement Grant program. Technology Enhancement Grants are up to $75,000 and are intended to fund commercially-focused research that will enhance university intellectual property not yet licensed to a third party.

4D Pilot Awards: 4D grants provide up to $50,000 to launch innovative drug discovery, medical device and diagnostic research towards a commercialization endpoint. Awardees also receive one-on-one mentoring from industry and technical advisors and referrals to both on- and off-campus resources. Submission of a pre-application is required to be eligible for 4D Pilot funding.

NC TraCS Translational Research Pilot Program: The Pilot Program was established to facilitate the transfer of research findings to clinical practice in order to improve the health of the people of North Carolina. Awards range from $2,000 to $50,000, and are intended to encourage and facilitate novel clinical and translational research in its many forms. Cross-disciplinary basic science research addressing the development of therapies, diagnostics or devices applicable to human disease, clinical research/trials, epidemiological studies, and/or community-based research are all considered eligible for these awards. TraCS $5,000-$50,000 grants require a match commitment.

Funding Beyond UNC

Federal SBIR/STTR Programs: The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are federal initiatives that provide more than $2.5 billion in grants and contracts each year to small businesses and startup companies to develop new products and services.

Participating agencies include: 

  • Department of Defense (DOD)
  • Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • Department of Energy (DOE)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) SBIR and STTR
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) SBIR

SBIR/STRR Phase I Matching Funds Program: The Phase I Matching Funds Program is designed to award matching funds to North Carolina businesses awarded an SBIR or STTR Phase I award. These awards will be 50% of an applicant’s Phase I award, not to exceed $65,000.

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center is the world’s first government-sponsored organization dedicated to developing the biotechnology industry and offers business loans and other business and technology development programs.

NCBiotech Research Grants: NCBC awards are designed to encourage innovation, support university infrastructure, and help to move technologies towards commercialization.

  • Biotechnology Innovation Grant (BIG): Provides up to $100,000 to support studies at NC research institutions that will enable the commercialization of early-stage university life science inventions.
  • Collaborative Funding Grant (CFG): University investigators and company collaborators apply jointly for the CFG. The grant provides up to $100,000 to fund a post-doctoral fellow or technician in an NC university lab to conduct research to advance the company’s technology towards the marketplace.
  • Institutional Development Grant (IDG): Provides up to $200,000 to purchase research equipment or core facilities serving multiple investigators at NC research institutions.
  • Technology Enhancement Grant (TEG): The TEG program awards up to $75,000 to fund commercially promising research to achieve key milestones as defined by potential licensees. Applications for the TEG program must be submitted by a technology transfer officer at an NC institution.

NCBiotech Business Loans: NCBC awards low-interest loans to promising emerging life science companies across the state via three loan programs:

  • Company Inception Loan (CIL): Provides up to $75,000 to support business inception and related activities that are critical in the early stages of establishing a startup company.
  • Small Business Research Loan (SRL): Provides companies up to $250,000 to fund applied research critical to the development of products, processes, or tools with clear commercial potential.
  • Strategic Growth Loan (SGL): Matches NCBC loan support with angel group or venture capital investments to provide up to $500,000 to fund corporate development in biotech companies with an established technical proof-of-concept.

NC IDEA Grant: NC IDEA provides grants of up to $50,000 to NC based startup companies to support business activities, validate potential markets, and reduce the risk of early failure. Companies operating in medical diagnostics and devices are eligible, however, pharmaceutical and biotechnology based companies are considered “out-of-scope” for this source of funding.

Faculty, students, and staff seeking assistance should contact us.