Europe Nudges Top Scientists to Market

Some of Europe's top scientists will get financial help to see whether the results of their research could succeed in the marketplace. The European Research Council (ERC), the European Union's funding program for frontier research, said today that it will offer the individual scientists it already funds the chance to apply for €150,000 "Proof of Concept" grants to give potential innovations a boost on their way to the marketplace.

Researchers can use the funds to clarify intellectual property questions, do market research, or investigate commercial opportunities, according to today's announcement. The aim is to enable ERC-chosen scientists to present their ideas to venture capitalist or companies that could then take their ideas to market.

The idea grew out of the ERC Scientific Council's efforts to build better relations with industry, says ERC President and Scientific Council Chair Helga Nowotny. Although ERC grants are open to company scientists, "We have very, very few apply," she says—no ERC grants have yet been awarded to an industry researcher. Industry representatives have been "curious but reluctant" about applying for ERC funds, Nowotny says. The Proof of Concept grants "came up as something we could offer to our ERC grantees, and hopefully where the potential is there, someone [from industry] will pick up on it," she says.

"Some people might wonder if this is mission creep for the ERC," says Peter Tindemans, a Dutch physicist and E.U. science policy expert. "But I don't think it is," he says. The money set aside for the program is roughly 1% of the ERC's budget, he notes. "The combination of the ERC focusing on very high scientific originality and quality—and stimulating people to think about what it might mean for society? I think it's a very good development."