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1- What is the SPARK Colorado Program?

SPARK is a biotechnology accelerator program to support promising academic discoveries towards commercialization and/or entering into the clinic. The program specifically focuses on technologies addressing unmet clinical needs in drugsmedical devices, and diagnostics.

If you have a digital solution please reach out to CU Innovations. We might have alternative support mechanisms that you can benefit from.

2- What is REACH Colorado? 

NIH has been funding the establishment of Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs (REACH) across the country which is designed to accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into commercial products that improve health of patients. CU Innovations, by using the SPARK Colorado program as the ‘preliminary data’ applied for the NIH REACH grant and was selected to be one of the five new REACH Hubs funded in 2019. Hence, part of the funding for the SPARK program is coming from NIH funds.  

You can find more information about REACH Hubs through this webpage https://ncai.nhlbi.nih.gov/ncai/

3- What does the SPARK program provide to accepted projects?

The SPARK program provides funding, mentorship, education, opportunities for networking and resources to further develop accepted projects. This is NOT a traditional grant mechanism, the aim of the program is product development and moving your discovery from the lab to patients and the SPARK team will be highly engaged in your success and product development process, which will require an equal time commitment from you should you get selected.

4- How many applications do you accept per year?

Traditionally SPARK Colorado has been admitting up to 10 projects each year and provide $100,000 per project. This year we plan to provide higher dollar amount and select up to 8 projects. The program reserves the right to provide different dollar amounts to selected project depending on their need for product development.

5- How much funding is provided and how is it distributed?

The funding will be up to $200,000 over two-years. The budgets of selected projects will be review by the hub leadership which might recommend alterations. The program is milestone-based where funding is dispersed as your research program progresses.

6- What is the source of funding? 

Funding for SPARK Colorado comes from the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade’s (COEDIT) Advanced Industries Accelerator (AIA) program, CU Innovations and the NIH REACH grant.  Hence, NIH post-award procedures and university policies regarding NIH funding will be applicable.

7- Are there restrictions for the use of SPARK funds?

Yes, since part of the source of funding is coming through NIH, all NIH budgetary rules as well as university rules applies. For further details please see the SPARK Colorado application for additional details on the budget restrictions and timeline.


8- What is the application process?

  • Applications open on September 10th, 2020.
  • Full Application Closes at 5:00pm October 21st, 2020
  • Selection for the Pitch Round Notification: End of December 2020
  • Pitch Presentations: Times TBD but will be held over two days in January 2021
  • Final Selection Notification: End of January-early February

9- Who will be evaluating the applications and pitch presentations?

The review committee will be comprised of successful life science entrepreneurs, industry experts, and CU Innovations’ Entrepreneurs in Residence. The committee 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.

10- Who is eligible for the program?

The applicant must be an eligible principal investigator from CU Anschutz. To check for eligibility: https://research.cuanschutz.edu/ogc/home/award-lifecycle/pre-award/resources-/principal-investigator-eligibility

11-  Can a PI submit more than one application?

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.

12- Can solo PI’s apply?

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 Colorado program would work with faculty in identifying skills gap for the project and build a strong team.

13- What are the expectations from SPARK teams?

Faculty admitted to the program will be expected to commit certain time to programmatic components such as participating in educational seminars, certain business meetings etc. The program will also require the faculty to work closely with the CU Innovations team, unlike a traditional grant.

We provide industry advisors which you’ll meet as needed. Additionally, you’ll be expected to attend bi-weekly evening educational seminar series (Wednesdays 5pm-7pm). You’ll also meet with the CU Innovations team quarterly to discuss your milestone progress and any resources you need. Since funding is provided in part by the State of Colorado, some additional paperwork will be required after acceptance into the program to ensure your funding. The CU Innovations team will be assisting you and facilitating all stages of product development throughout the program.

14- What elements are important for the application?

  • Does the proposal address a significant unmet need?
  • How solid is the scientific rationale (theory and available data?)
  • How well-differentiated is the proposed approach vs. standard of care and competition in industry and academia?
  • Is there a clear path forward to de-risk the proposal?
  • How engaged is the team behind the proposal?
  • Does the proposal have IP and commercial potential? If not, what would be a possible development path to make the product available to patients?


15- Does CU Innovations provide help in filling out parts of the form such as regulatory process or reimbursement questions?

 Yes. SPARK Colorado program has a huge emphasis, similar to the NIH REACH program, in helping faculty learn about the product development process. We are not expecting you to have clear answers to questions like regulatory and reimbursement but we expect you to do some research and reach out to our team to help you fill those sections out.

This year, SPARK program is organizing a bootcamp with CU Denver Business school in October and some of these topics will be covered during these trainings. SPARK Colorado program will also organize office hours to answer any question you might have during the application process. The exact dates of these events will be announced on CU Innovations and SPARK webpages.

16- Do I get help if I decide to set up a company?

Absolutely! CU Innovations already offers this help to all faculty on the campus.

16- Who should I ask if I have questions?

You can e-mail the SPARK Program e-mail (sparkcu@ucdenver.edu) or the SPARK team at andrew.hadd@cuanschutz.edu and cigdem.benam@cuanschutz.edu

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