University Creates $1 Million Innovation Fund

Issue Date: 
May 16, 2016

The University of Pittsburgh has dedicated $1 million in gap funding over the next two years to assist Pitt innovators who want to commercialize their research discoveries.

Coordinated through the University’s Innovation Institute, the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds will assist faculty and students with Pitt discoveries in several ways: identifying unmet needs in the market for their innovations; developing prototypes; identifying potential commercial partners; or forming a new enterprise.

“The spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is flourishing at Pitt. We are excited to provide additional resources to our faculty and student innovators, helping them translate their innovations into products and services that positively impact society,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

Innovation Institute founding director Marc Malandro said the funds will enable the University to “meet the rising demand from our Pitt innovators and help them speed the path to market for their discoveries.” He added that more faculty and students are engaging with the Innovation Institute every year.

The methods for distributing the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds follow.

Pitt Ventures

Pitt Ventures is an Innovation Institute program that helps Pitt innovators move their ideas through multiple development stages toward commercialization. The new funding will provide $400,000 in additional support for this initiative over the next two years and will be targeted at innovators participating in the Pitt Ventures Gear Commercialization Program. This includes the upcoming Michael G. Wells Student Healthcare Entrepreneurship Competition and the Kuzneski Innovation Cup, which is focused on non-healthcare innovations.

The first Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds have been deployed to the following four teams that participated in Pitt Ventures’ latest “1st Gear” stage in April:

Manual Wheelchair Virtual Seating Coach

Innovators: Rory Cooper, the FISA/Paralyzed Veterans of America Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; and S. Andrea Sundaram, a graduate student in the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Description: Pressure sores result from individuals sitting in wheelchairs and not performing frequent-enough weight shifts due to reduced or absent nerve sensation. The resulting ulcers require expensive treatment and are a significant health concern with negative effects on quality of life. While the HERL team previously developed a tool to assist those in motorized wheelchairs, until now a solution for those in manual wheelchairs was not available.

VIP Wheelchair

Innovators: Dan Ding, a rehabilitation scientist in HERL; and Hyun Ka, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology

Description: The VIP Wheelchair is a control system to improve power wheelchair driving accessibility, independence, and safety for people with vision and mobility impairment. The wheelchair incorporates feedback and control mechanisms to help visually impaired users avoid obstacles and drop-offs.

Emotion Prosthetics

Innovator: Greg Siegle, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and director of the department’s Program in Cognitive Affective Neuroscience 

Description: Stress can negatively impact quality of life. The Emoto wearable device includes a mobile application interface that alerts users to stress-level changes. Users can use the Emoto to stimulate nerves in the head and neck that are known to relax the body or improve alertness.

Working for Kids: Building Skills

Innovators: Judy Cameron, director of science outreach for Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute; and Alexandra Miragaia de Oliveira, a developmental neuroscience researcher in Pitt’s Center for Neuroscience  

Description: The project is an educational platform to boost cognitive and social-emotional skills in children in their first five years of life through a neuroscience-based approach. 

Accelerated Licensing

For innovations that could be licensed to an industry partner or entrepreneur, funding will be available to strategically lower the risk of some projects based on industry/investor feedback. As much as $150,000 will be available per year in increments of up to $50,000.

Requests for Proposals

Two times during an academic year, the Innovation Institute will solicit proposals from Pitt faculty and students for innovations in key technology areas based on a demonstrated need by a potential commercialization partner. Each year, $75,000 will be available in increments of $25,000 and $12,500.

Collaborative Innovation Grants

This funding seeks to encourage collaborations between Pitt innovators and other regional institutions and local economic development groups. Each year, $75,000 will be awarded in increments of $25,000 or $12,500 for projects with commercial potential, provided the partner institution matches the Pitt funds dollar for dollar.

For more information on how to apply for Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds through the Pitt Ventures Gear program, or to register for one of the Pitt Ventures Student Challenge competitions, contact Jennifer Ireland at

For more information on the Accelerated Licensing program, or for industry partners and entrepreneurs interested in exploring a partnership or licensing Pitt discoveries, contact Alex Ducruet at