Proof of concept challenge

One of the key challenges researchers face when looking to advance an early-stage project is the need to test if the concept is commercially viable.

The Research and Innovation Proof of Concept (POC) Fund aims to fast-track research with the potential for commercial application by providing the support and investment needed at this crucial early stage.

The scheme will guide projects through to the next stage of investment-readiness, ensuring they are fit to move on to secure external investment (grant-funding or commercial investment), attract new partners, and generate impact.

As well as awarding funding of £5000 (on average) per project, successful applications will be supported by the University of Plymouth Intellectual Property team, who will test your idea and technology, and help prepare it (and the academic team involved) for market. By the end of the process researchers will be aware of the full commercial potential of their work, and have the tools necessary to move forward.

The fund is limited, so recipients and award amount will be chosen on merit, but even projects that have not been selected can benefit from advice and guidance from Research and Innovation to help them move forward.

Dr Mohammed Zaki Ahmed is Associate Professor in Information Technology at the University of Plymouth, and Technical Director at PulsiV Solar – a University spin-out company. Dr Ahmed’s research received POC funding and support to register patents and develop the business, ready for further investment.

“Funding and time are always an issue at the start, so access to POC funding and time to apply yourself to making the most of the funding is key. “Working with an experienced team, and being prepared to hear constructive comments on how to apply your research and lead the commercial case has been vital.”

Mohammed Zaki Ahmed

Who can apply?

The Research and Innovation Proof of Concept Fund is available to staff members of the University of Plymouth (full-time or part-time).

Research from any sector and any stage will be considered, and the scheme can support projects with a wide range of activities. See below.

No prior commercial experience is required, and prior registered intellectual property protection is not a requirement.

Projects should be completed within 2020-21, and so only those working within this time frame should apply.

Activities eligible for POC funding:

  • research and development activities such as development of a prototype, validating early stage results that could have commercial value, buying services from outside the University to provide data to support a proposition or increase the capacity of an academic to offer consultancy service, etc
  • costs associated with compliance, quality control, or regulatory approvals for commercialisation of technology, etc
  • business development and market assessment activities, for example acquiring marketing reports to validate need, etc. 

Activities not-eligible for POC funding include:

  • access to University-owned intellectual property, facilities or equipment to further develop IP
  • co-contribution of funds required under commercial/government grant schemes
  • basic research activities

Application process

In the first instance, applicants should contact the University’s Intellectual Property Managers Justin Rigdenand David Mozleyto discuss their project idea.

The IP Managers will provide initial feedback on the suitability of the project and how best to proceed.

Deadline for application submissions is open, but as money must be spent in this financial year, early application is advised.

The decision to fund POC applications will be made by UoPEL, but projects put forward will require the endorsement of a Faculty Intellectual Property Commercialisation Committee (IPCC) if there is one.

All applications will require the approval of the relevant Head of School.

All successful applicants will be required to enter into a funding agreement detailing the conditions of funding for the project including requirements for reporting and evidence of impact.

Projects will be assessed on:

  • Potential to deliver commercial impact
    Examples of impact include, but are not limited to: de-risking early stage research to determine if the opportunity is commercially relevant; providing data to enable and expand the claims of a patent application; validating a study or prototype to enable further funding or industrial links; demonstrating cost-savings or other efficiencies, job creation, increased sales or profitability to support arguments of commercial relevance.
  • Deliverability
    The project must be achievable in this financial year and the costs must cover the proposed work. If the costs are to be used to buy out time of an academic, this has to be approved by the Faculty. The project must be core to the academics ongoing research and it is the intention that the results of the POC will enhance the ongoing work within the University.


Dr Ian Howard, Associate Professor Computational Neuroscience, has worked with the Intellectual Property team on a number of commercial projects (including developing a prototype robotic larynx), and has used POC funding to get his ideas off the ground.

“Clearly you need to get proof of concept to get further project support from companies or grant authorities. Ideas are cheap and people want to see real working systems to convince them that you do actually know what you are talking about.

“The POC scheme provides a very good source of capital which you can be used to buy equipment (for example) without which you can’t tackle real-world engineering problems. In my case for example I couldn’t have built an EtherCAT controller without having the components associated with it. So, for me it’s been a massive help having this proof of concept funding.”

Dr Charles Affourtit, Associate Professor (Reader) in Mitochondrial Biology, has worked with Research and Innovation previously, and has used POC funding to test the commercial potential of his research.

“POC funding has allowed us to develop the concept of a novel bioenergetics-based (XF-pacing) assay. The funding and interaction with Research and Innovation has enabled steps in the right direction that we would otherwise not have made. If anything, our interaction has triggered engagement with various industrial players that has made us aware what will be required to achieve the commercial potential of our ongoing and future projects.
“I would encourage researchers to discuss their work with the R&I team at an early stage, as there may be commercial or translational value in it that is not immediately obvious to us scientists.”

Dr Alyson Norman, Associate Professor of Clinical and Health Psychology developed the FaceIT programme to help those with visible differences such as scars and burns manage appearance-related distress and anxiety.

The tool has been warmly welcomed by a major charity and those living with visible differences, and is now being trialled online under the supervision of clinical psychologists.

“As an academic, I want to be able to focus on the area of speciality that I am familiar with. That is not commercialisation. The IP team at University of Plymouth have supported the FaceIT@home project all the way along the line and have provided the input needed to get the programme out there to the wider community. They have supported with costs for development and managed contracts with web developers and interested parties. They have also offered ideas and suggestions for directions of the project. Without this input the FaceIT@home project would not be at the point of being released to the public.”