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NSERC Idea to Innovation Grants

Research Admin Offices:

  • MILO

Funding Type:



  • Natural Sciences and Engineering



Internal Deadline:


Sponsor Deadline:

June 22, 2020


The objective of the Idea to Innovation (I2I) grants is to accelerate the pre-competitive development of promising technology originating from the university and college sector and promote its transfer to a new or established Canadian company. The I2I grants provide funding to college and university faculty members to support research and development projects with recognized technology transfer potential. This is achieved through defined phases by providing crucial assistance in the early stages of technology validation and market connection.

Four distinct funding options are proposed, which are characterized by the maturity of the technology or the involvement of an early-stage investment entity or an industrial partner (see Partner eligibility for definitions). In the market assessment, NSERC will share costs of an independent and professional market study with the institutions (including the industry liaison office [ILO] or its equivalent). In phase I, the direct costs of research will be entirely supported by NSERC; in phase II, they will be shared with a private partner. The technology development may begin with a phase I project (reduction-to-practice stage), followed by a phase II project (technology enhancement) or, if the development is at a later stage, it can start directly with a phase II project. In any case, the combination of phase I and phase II will be limited to a maximum of three years of funding for any given project.

Eligible research and development activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Refining and implementing designs;
  • verifying application;
  • conducting field studies;
  • preparing demonstrations;
  • building prototypes; and
  • performing beta trials.

Certain expenditures related to project management are now eligible as a direct cost of research in phase IIb projects, up to a maximum of ten percent of the total direct costs (see the Guidelines for Research Partnerships Programs Project Management Expenses).

The discoveries must be disclosed by the investigators according to institution policy and the IP must be managed by the ILO or its equivalent. The ILO must work on each new proposal (see below). To comply with the I2I program requirements, which includes matching cash contributions, IP protection, market promotion, etc., the assignment of IP rights to the institution/ILO is expected. The ILO will be in a position to fulfill its commercialization mandate.

For all phases except the market assessment, the projects must describe the strategy to protect the commercial value of the technology and relate it to the commercialization strategy. In consideration of an intellectual property (IP) strategy, it will be beneficial to demonstrate how the IP strategy and execution will contribute to the technology transfer or future business the technology may support. For more information on developing an IP strategy, consider the following resources:

  • The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) massive open online course “ This link will take you to another Web site Foundations of IP Strategy” outlines the basic principles relating to the protection and strategic uses of intellectual property for competitive advantage.
  • Canadian Intellectual Patent Office (CIPO) offers This link will take you to another Web site IP for Business advice, via their IP Advisors.
  • Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) in partnership with CIPO offers a free IP assessment tool.
  • This link will take you to another Web site IP Handbook offers several detailed chapters and sub-chapters on topics that may be relevant to your IP strategy.

All proposals must include a technology transfer plan, appropriate to the maturity of the technology, that describes how the work will proceed through the next stages in the validation process up to eventual market entry. The ILO or its equivalent works with the applicant(s) in evaluating and protecting the new technology, service or process; developing proposals; preparing a technology transfer approach; making business contacts; and negotiating licensing or other such arrangements with potential partners. A portion of the award may be used to co-support some of the activities undertaken by the ILO or its equivalent.

Eligible technology transfer activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Consulting fees to develop the strategy to protect the technology’s commercial value;
  • market investigations;
  • consulting fees for business plan, market survey, etc.;
  • business mentoring by experienced entrepreneurs;
  • sharing of patenting expenses; and
  • expenses associated with creating a partnership (such as travel, etc.).

The institution must justify these technology transfer activities expenses and commit itself to bear at least half of their cost. NSERC may provide support up to a maximum of ten percent of the total requested amount (i.e., the NSERC contribution will be no more than $12,500 for a $125,000 requested budget). Staff activities are not considered an eligible expense and cannot be used to leverage NSERC funds. Technology transfer expenses related to the proposed technology and incurred previously will not be considered in the cost-sharing of proposed activities.

Application/Nomination Process:

Application forms, guidelines and application instructions for the I2I grants are available.

Applications are submitted by a college or university researcher (or research group) and, for phase II projects, in association with an eligible partner. In the latter case, the institution and early-stage investment partner or company should have in place, prior to application, a licensing (or similar) agreement relating to the right to exploit the invention or discovery. All new proposals are expected to be developed in close collaboration with the institution’s ILO or its equivalent. The ILO or its equivalent involved in the application must be identified at the beginning of the technology transfer section of the proposal.

NSERC staff is willing to review draft proposals submitted sufficiently in advance of the application deadline.


Since I2I projects are focused on the rapid realization of well-defined objectives, it is expected that all budget items are for costs directly related to achieving these objectives. Therefore, any request for expenses, such as publications, attendance and/or travel to conferences are not expected in the budget. If some activities are deemed necessary, they must be justified according to the objectives.


Since projects submitted for I2I grants are clearly time-limited and for applied work, they may not be appropriate for graduate students. Personnel should be chosen in view of their ability to deliver on the objectives.

Review procedures

All proposals are reviewed by a selection committee with input from external reviewers, as required. The selection committee is composed of individuals with expertise in business areas such as academic and industrial project management, early-stage investing, marketing, and technology transfer. External reviewers are chosen for their scientific/technical knowledge and/or practical experience in the research field.

Selection criteria

Phase I and phase II applications will be evaluated against the following criteria. Note that the selection committee will use a subset of the selection criteria, plus additional ones specifically related to market assessment, to review the market assessment applications.

  • Scientific/technical merit
    • Scientific basis for the expected commercial application
    • Clarity and focus of research objectives
    • Novelty, technical complexity, technical risk and feasibility
    • Appropriateness of work plan, milestones, deliverables and decision points
  • Team expertise and project management
    • Breadth and depth of team expertise in the proposed fields of activity
    • Adequacy of personnel and material resources allocated for research and technology transfer activities
    • Quality of project management
  • Potential for technology transfer and commercial benefits
    • Commitment of the institution through its technology transfer office (or equivalent)
    • Appropriateness of the technology management and transfer plan
    • Anticipated benefits for a Canadian company
    • Justification of the benefits of NSERC financing
  • Market assessment
    • Need for a market assessment
    • Appropriateness of the deliverables
    • Suitability of the proposed plan
    • Justification of the benefits of NSERC financing

Criteria specific to each phase are detailed further in the application instructions.

Partner eligibility

NSERC will evaluate the eligibility of sponsors before accepting proposals for review. The following organizations may be considered as eligible partners:

Early-stage investment group: This term refers to either venture capital, a seed capital funding entity, angel investors, university technology transfer corporations, incubators or other similar funding or technology transfer organizations. Organizations that have received public funds as seed funding, but are functioning in a competitive environment and are required to achieve self-sufficiency within a pre-determined time period, may be considered as equivalent to industry.

Companies: Normally, participating companies must be Canadian. Companies outside Canada may also be considered as partners provided they can demonstrate that there will be clear and direct benefits to the Canadian economy as a result of their participation. As partners, companies must demonstrate that they have, or have the potential to acquire, the capability to commercialize the technology under development.

Researcher-owned companies: A researcher’s own consulting company or sole proprietorship is not eligible to collaborate on a project in which the researcher is the applicant or co-investigator. Situations where the researcher is a part owner are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and the company’s stage of development will be taken into consideration in determining the eligibility. The commercial activity must conform to the institution’s established policies relating to the disclosure of commercial interest and conflict of interest.


A report to assess the practical and financial outcomes of funded projects will be required at the end of all projects. The report requires the input of the technology transfer office. For market assessment projects, NSERC will request a copy of the market assessment prepared by the consultant. NSERC is aware that market studies may contain proprietary and confidential information. Documents submitted to NSERC become subject to the Access to Information Act. Note that, if an Access to Information request for a market assessment is received, the applicant/institution will be consulted and provided the opportunity to make representations in accordance with section 20(1) of the Act. Financial, commercial, scientific and technical information that is confidential information supplied to NSERC by a third party (consultant) and is treated consistently in a confidential manner by the third party can be protected.

For phase II projects, the amount of the second installment is negotiable; consequently, the applicant(s) must provide an interim report as well as statements of actual expenditures and of anticipated future costs. Based on the results obtained or problems encountered, grantees may propose amendments to the project objectives, milestones or budget. The next installment will not be released until the partner has confirmed that it has met its current year’s commitment and that it intends to support the project in the next year.


An applicant wishing to resubmit a project that was previously rejected must contact NSERC staff to discuss the matter. It should be understood that the final recommendation is made to NSERC by the selection committee. Since the selection committee will consider not only the technical merit of a project, but also its soundness from a business perspective, the committee’s recommendations may not be consistent with the opinions expressed by external reviewers. The main reasons for a rejected project are provided in the decision letter and must be adequately addressed before a project is sent again to the selection committee for evaluation. If a project is considered to be at a stage that is too early, a resubmission would not be possible unless significant technical progress has been achieved. A cover letter documenting improvements to the application will be required.



For support, please contact, Glen Crossley, MILO.