European Research Council makes move to promote commercialisation

25 Jun 2019 | News

An online shop window aims to link recipients of proof of concept grants with business angels interested in adding cash and expertise to take projects forward

The European Research Council (ERC) is stepping up efforts to promote the commercialisation of research its funds, setting up a website to link holders of its €150,000 proof of concept grant with potential investors.

To date, 26 proof of concept grant holders have joined the Virtual Venture Fair, which is intended as a shop window for investors. The first invitations to investors to look at the technologies on offer are going out this week via the European Business Angels Network.

Among the first PoC grantees to join the platform is HeartRater, a spin out from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the UK, which has developed a heart monitor for patients and athletes.

Psychiatry professor Hugo Critchley, one of the people leading HeartRater, has pioneered research into interoception, the ability to recognise and respond to the signals the body sends to the brain. The research shows that people with stronger interoceptive abilities, particularly awareness of their own heart rate, respond better to stressful or high pressure situations. HeartRater is designed as an interoception trainer, to help users reduce anxiety, to make better intuitive decisions, or maximise physical capabilities.

Critchley said the hope is to find an investor who will help ensure the monitor is “ready to run” as a commercial product once clinical trials are complete. “We’ve been trying to build up stuff through the innovation centre at the university,” Critchley said. The realities of academic life made that difficult. “We haven’t had the people to take it further.” Now he wants to attract an investor with business expertise “to take leadership of this, to turn it from where we are now into a business.”

Investor interest

The ERC decided to set up the Virtual Venture Fair following demand from investors scouting for longer term technology and science investments.

Rather than venture capitalists looking for ready made deals, the ERC wants to attract angel investors with experience to shape projects and make them more investible. The emphasis is on long-term, high-risk investments.

The ERC has previously tried to attract private financing to the research it funds in one-off pitching competitions, where grantees present their plans to a room full of investors. The Virtual Venture Fair is the first attempt at a permanent channel for connecting researchers to investors.

The pilot phase will run for about two years, after which ERC will decide whether to take it further.

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