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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 or explore the digiSPARK program.

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 a SPARK Award provide to accepted projects?

SPARK Awards provide 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?

For our fifth cohort, SPARK|REACH will grant no more than 5 awards to new SPARK projects.

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

Projects will receive up to $200,000 for no more than two years. Applicants will work with the SPARK|REACH team to develop a milestone-based funding plan. The program reserves the right to provide different dollar amounts to selected projects depending on their need for product development.

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|REACH 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|REACH Funding application for additional details on the budget restrictions and timeline.


8- What is the application process?

  • Application period opens on August 2, 2021 and closes September 28, 2021 at 5pm
  • 3 Rounds of Review with cuts made after each round
    • Round 1: External Review Board Feedback: October 2021
    • Round 2: NIH REACH Technology Guidance Committee Review: November 2021
    • Round 3: Pitch Presentations: January 28, 2022
  • OEDIT AIA Application Preparation: February and March 2022
  • Anticipated Award Start Date: May 1, 2022

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

The external review board will be comprised of successful life science entrepreneurs, industry experts, and CU Innovations’ Entrepreneurs in Residence. The review board 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 SPARK Awards?

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

13- What are the expectations from SPARK Fellows?

Successful applicants will have a strong desire and willingness to learn, receive guidance from industry experts, and commit the time necessary to translate their technology from the lab to the marketplace. Teams should expect to commit a minimum of 10 hours per month to commercial development activities, meetings, and events, in addition to lab-based product development/ideation. The program will also require the faculty to work closely with the CU Innovations team, unlike a traditional grant.

SPARK Fellows will:

  • Work with the SPARK and CU Innovations teams to develop and hit commercially relevant milestones,
  • Attend monthly 1:1 meetings with a SPARK Project Manager and ad hoc meetings with advisors, service providers, industry providers, or investors,
  • Attend monthly SPARK community and education sessions,
  • Provide quarterly updates to the SPARK community, and
  • Commit time to commercial development activities, collateral development, and translational story building.

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. The SPARK|REACH program is designed to help faculty learn about product development. We do, however, expect applicants to do research, utilize the commercialization resources available on our website, and reach out to our team to help you fill out the application. We 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 the SPARK|REACH website.

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?

For more information about SPARK Awards and SPARK|REACH Colorado at the University of Colorado Anschutz, visit the SPARK|REACH website. Interested applicants are encouraged to reach out to Claire McDonald or your CU Innovations case manager to discuss eligibility, program requirements, and application preparation.

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