The Horn Program in Entrepreneurship is partnering with the College of Engineering to pioneer an innovative model for the new Proof of Concept Fund that will allow University of Delaware technologists, including students, faculty, post-docs and staff, to build their prototypes based on meeting customers’ needs and wants.

Through the integration of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corp (NSF I-CorpsTM) program, our researchers will learn to identify the market opportunity and develop initial market penetration strategies that will ensure a successful path to commercialization is taken. This unique approach will decrease the probability of startup failure, increase the probability of follow-on funding from federal and subsequently leverage the POCC fund’s contribution by nearly 5 times through external federal grant mechanisms designed to foster entrepreneurial success.


  • Experiential training proven to increase the likelihood of startup success
  • Toolset to evaluate the societal impact and commercial relevance of the research or technology
  • Grants of up to $75,000 to build a prototype and learn about market opportunities
  • Access to the $50,000 NSF I-Corps grant for customer discovery training
  • A 4x increase in possibility of receiving a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) grant from the federal government
  • Engagement with investors, guest lecturers and experts in various sectors
  • Access to resources, facilities, consulting and mentoring
  • Increased competency in presentation skills, communication, teamwork & collaboration, problem solving and adapting to the unknown
  • A deeper understanding of the commercialization pipeline

Program Components

Business Training

The team will undergo an intensive training program to develop skills in business leadership and understanding of the market potential of the technology. The team will learn how to identify their early evangelists, the technology’s value propositions, the revenue models and more.

Market Exposure

The team will meet with many potential customers during their training to develop their business model. This necessary engagement will greatly increase the team’s network within their market sector which will lead to their first customers, letters of support for grants and recommendations.

Gap Funding

Depending upon which fund the team is eligible for, gap funds will be available at a maximum of $10,000 or $75,000. These funds should be used to build and test the validated minimum viable product (MVP) or prototype for which customers would pay. These funds should also be used to drive towards the next funding opportunity, especially through the SBIR and STTR programs.


All University of Delaware faculty, research scientists, research engineers, associates, staff members, undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows are eligible to apply, regardless of their technology sector.

A team of 2-3 is ideal. One team member, the Entrepreneurial Lead (EL), should be able to move the project forward and start the company, if it is formed. The other team member, the Principal Investigator (PI), might be less able to join the company but could participate in an advisory role. Both team members should have an understanding of the technology and be willing to adapt it based on customer feedback. Lastly, if the team can identify a mentor who has industry or startup experience, they should be included on the application.

The technology should be at a Technology Readiness Level of or around 3. This means active R&D is initiated which includes analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate the analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology. No products or prototypes should be made yet and no sales or investment should have been received at the point of application submission.

Fund 1: A university-affiliated team working on technology which has Intellectual Property owned by the University of Delaware OR a post-doctoral fellow who is interested in commercializing his or her thesis research. The team must disclose the invention to the Technology Transfer Office. In each year a maximum of 12 awards of $75,000 maximum will be given.

Fund 2: A university-affiliated team working on a project, technology or idea that has no Intellectual Property owned by the university. This fund will primarily serve students. In each year a maximum of 10 awards of $10,000 maximum will be given.

Application Process

There are 4 submission cycles per year.

Step 1: Form team
Step 2: Submit application
Step 3: Team interview
Step 4: Notification


Applications accepted 12/1/16
Application deadline 1/13/17
Governing Board evaluations 2/3/17
Notifications of decisions 2/7/17
Apply to NSF I-Corps 2/10/17

NSF I-Corps Cohorts

If accepted, teams must be able to travel to on-site activities and participate in online web sessions at one of the following locations:

  1. Location: Atlanta, GA
    Kickoff (on-site): March (Arrive 28) 29-31
    Web sessions (online): Thursdays 1-4 Eastern – April 6, 13, 20, 27, May 4
    Lessons Learned (on-site): May (Arrive 10) 11-12
  2. Location: Boston, MA
    Kickoff (on-site): April (Arrive 2nd) 3-5
    Web sessions (online): Mondays 1-4 Eastern – April 10, 17, 24, May 1, 8
    Lessons Learned (on-site): May (Arrive 14) 15-16
  3. Location: Orlando, FL
    Kickoff (on-site): April (Arrive 18) 19-21
    Web sessions (online): Wednesdays 1-4 Eastern – April 26, May 3, 10, 17, 24
    Lessons Learned (on-site): May (Arrive 31) June 1-2
  4. Location: San Diego, CA
    Kickoff (on-site): April (Arrive 23) 24-26
    Web sessions (online): Tuesdays 1-4 Eastern – May 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
    Lessons Learned (on-site): June (Arrive 4) 5-6