European Research Council Tangling With the Valley of Death

A common way of distinguishing innovation from invention is to describe innovation as a new product or service successfully commercialized or otherwise disseminated to the public.  One of the challenges in making inventions into innovations is that gap from bench to market.  In the U.S. this is typically, and almost ideologically, considered the proper responsibility of the private sector.  Even so, programs like the Advanced Technology Program or its current cousin, the Technology Innovation Program, were developed to help companies and researchers bridge this gap.  Note that the agency responsible for these programs in the U.S. has been the National Institute of Standards and Technology rather than any of the more traditional research agencies.  The U.S. is still stovepiped around the oversimplified linear model articulated by Vannevar Bush in the 1940s – handing off fundamental research to other parties for more applied research and/or development.

Europe is looking to try and bridge this gap – often called the Valley of Death, but with an important difference.  The European Research Council has announced Proof of Concept funding (H/T ScienceInsider).  The first deadline for proposals is June 15.  The grants would be for 150,000 Euros over one year, and researchers currently receiving an ERC grant, or who have finished one within the previous 12 months, would be eligible.  So we have a research funding agency which would help assist some of its grantees in commercializing their research.  As the U.S. has trouble supporting a similar program within its Commerce Department, I can’t see something similar lasting too long at the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health (though its emerging National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences might be able to get away with it).