Calling All Innovators: Apply for Seed Grants from the Duke Incubation Fund

Incubation Fund.

Deadline: April 23, 2021

I. Purpose

The Duke Incubation Fund (the “Fund”) supports idea-stage projects at Duke University. The Fund makes a number of awards each year to teams and companies to support novel ideas, applied research, potential products, nascent services, and creative projects that, if successful, will lead to new opportunities in the market.  To receive funding, projects must demonstrate a potential path to subsequent financial support, new company formation, licensing, partnering, or other channels to enable translation.

The Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative, which administers the Fund, is interested in innovative projects that could lead to new products or services that will have a positive impact on society, including:

  • Demonstrating the feasibility of an idea or innovation for a commercial or social venture
  • Developing a working software or device prototype
  • Obtaining supporting evidence or proof-of-concept for new ideas
  • Developing new applications or markets for a technology under development
  • Creative projects that might lead to professionally produced content

Applications are welcome from all fields of inquiry.  At least one member of any team must be employed at  Duke in a faculty or staff capacity (including graduate students and postdoctoral researchers). Projects with a high likelihood of commercialization  and/or with existing Duke intellectual property or potential to generate new Duke intellectual property are highly encouraged to apply. Proposals submitted by undergraduates as the primary applicant will not be considered.

Awards will be contingent on the innovator or company representative entering into a Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) with Duke.

II. Key Dates

  • Application Submission Deadline*: Friday, April 23, 2021, 5:00 p.m. EST
  • Final Selection and Notices of Award: mid- to late May, 2021
  • Funding Period: July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022

*Award Cycles will typically occur twice per year (Fall & Spring).

III. Eligibility

  • Proposals may be submitted by Duke faculty (tenure and non-tenure track), graduate students, staff (including postdoctoral researchers), and medical residents and fellows with approval of the appropriate mentor or unit coordinator.
  • Proposals submitted by undergraduates as the primary applicant will not be considered, though undergraduates may be a part of a project team for a proposal submitted by an eligible primary applicant as outlined above.
  • Individuals may submit more than one proposal, but are only eligible to receive one award per cycle. Promising projects that are not selected will be encouraged to reapply.

IV. Funding

Each award will consist of up to $40,000 (direct costs only). Preference will be given to applications with high potential for significant advancement. Funds may be spent within Duke or within a start-up company formed to commercialize the innovation. For projects without a company, one team member must establish a dedicated, project-specific cost object (WBS Fund) within their department to accept award.  No funds can be distributed directly to individuals.

Funding will be in the form a Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) with Duke (see FAQ for SAFE details). Proceeds from the sales of the equity obtained through these agreements will be used to finance future awards. Note: This award is internally funded and does not need to be routed through the Duke Office of Research Administration (ORA).

VI. Application Procedure

The Duke Incubation Fund Award uses the MyResearchProposal online application software to submit applications.

  • To apply visit, click on “Create New User” (or log in if you already have an account). Proposals must be submitted under the Principal Investigator’s name.
  • A step-by-step user’s guide for applying via the MyResearchProposal software is available – Please review this document.
  • Enter Access Code I&E then select the “Duke Incubation Fund Spring 2021” funding opportunity and follow the instructions.
  • For any questions concerning MyResearchProposal passwords or system issues, please contact Anita Grissom or Kara McKelvey at

Applicants will enter general project information via the web-based form:

  1. Project Title, Brief Description, and Amount Requested
  2. Primary Contact Name, Department/Company, phone, email
  3. General Project Information: Applicants will be asked to answer general questions regarding the project (e.g. type of business, relationship to Duke, stage of development, ongoing sources of funding).
  4. Intellectual Property (IP) Status (Character Limit: 500; list submitted Invention Disclosure Forms (IDF), pending patent applications, issued patents, copyright, trademarks, and intent to file patent applications or maintain trade secrecy; if no anticipated IP, indicate “none”)
  5. Compliance Plan as appropriate for adhering to IRB, IACUC, privacy, and confidentiality standards (Character Limit: 500)

Some proposal sections will be uploaded as individual PDF files. The application sections are:

  1. Intellectual Property: Summarize intellectual property, including any know-how, invention disclosure numbers, patent filings, copyrighted material, etc.
  2. Budget: Upload a one-year spending plan including a brief budget justification using the I&E Budget Form.
  3. Team Experience: Include a resume or NIH Biosketches for each key member of the research team (as a single PDF). Each individual resume may not exceed 5 pages.
  4. Project Description: The Project Description should include: Idea, Background, Justification, Problem-Being-Solved, Preliminary/Supporting Data, Methods, Quarterly Milestones to be achieved during the year, and a plan for follow-on funding (5-Page limit, including tables and figures; and shorter applications are welcome). References do not count toward the 5-page limit; single spacing, font no smaller than Arial 11 and margins greater than 0.5”. The follow-on funding plan may include  plans to apply for other sources of non-dilutive funding such as federal or foundation grants, internal funding, equity raises, licensing, selling product, or strategic partnerships.

VII. Budget Guidelines

Any requested funds should directly support the progress of the Incubation Fund project.

Grant funds may be budgeted for:

  • Salary support for the PI or collaborators; research support personnel
  • Research supplies and core lab costs, and
  • Travel and other purposes deemed necessary for the successful execution of the proposed project

Grant funds may not be budgeted for:

  • Company G&A, legal, or IP expenses
  • Capital equipment, overhead, or
  • Student tuition and fees

VIII. Terms of the Award

  1. Approvals Required Prior to Funding Start Date: Prior to receiving funds, research involving human subjects must have appropriate approvals from the Duke IRB. If the research includes animals, the appropriate IACUC animal research forms must also be approved before the project’s start date. Failure to submit documents in the requested timeframe may result in cancellation of funding.
  2. SAFE Agreement: Prior to receiving funds, applicants must complete a Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) with Duke.
  3. Project Execution: Investigators agree to work in collaboration with Duke I&E and report the findings of their work at six months and twelve months. Duke I&E may terminate and reallocate residual funds for any team failing to submit required written reports in a timely manner. Proposed aims of funded projects may be changed, added or deleted during the funding period, pending Investigator and Duke I&E review and agreement. Any awardee who leaves his or her position should contact Duke I&E to discuss future plans for the project.
  4. Post-Award Reporting. When requested, all awardees will be expected to provide updates that they achieved as a result of the award. Awardees will contact Duke I&E when an equity financing triggers conversion of the SAFE to equity.

Contact Information

For additional information on this funding opportunity, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page or contact Andrew Lerner.

Learn more and apply.