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ICURe - Northern Ireland, Scotland and the North of England

North by Northwest (NxNW) ICURe Programme –Open for applications

The ICURe (“Innovation-to-Commercialisation of University Research”) Programme trains, funds and supports teams led by university early-career researchers (ECRs) to determine whether there is a market for products or services that utilise their research, science or technology. Up to £35,000 of funding is available to ‘get out of the lab’ and validate these commercially-promising ideas in the marketplace.

In the year to 31 March 2020, Queens University Belfast and the University of Warwick, supported by Innovate UK, will work alongside the programme’s original delivery partner SETsquared Partnership to run and grow the programme across the UK. The NxNW ICURe programme, led by QUB, is open to all universities, but with a regional emphasis covering Northern Ireland, Scotland and the north of England. Further background from Innovate UK is here.

The NxNW ICURe programme will support 34 projects in two cohorts. Projects which emerge through the ICURe process and have the potential to form new start-up companies will be eligible to receive additionally up to £15,000 to develop their business plans.

“I thought I knew my target market for my technology. But this programme has helped our team gain real feedback from potential customers and is dramatically changing the way we view our approach to research commercialisation.” – SETsquared ICURe Pilot Programme Participant.

Guidance for Applicants

NxNW ICURe will fund selected proposals to prove market demand for research with funding of up to £35k for the 3-month Market Validation stage. And if approved an additional up to £15k for business plan development. The funding is to support intense market assessment with the Early Career Researchers (ECR) taking on the role of the Entrepreneurial Lead to have meaningful conversations with at least 100 prospective customers, regulators, suppliers, partners and competitors to validate the commercial potential of their research. 

Applications for the funding should be made by a team of 3 consisting of:

  • Post Doc Junior Researcher/Entrepreneurial Lead - must be an early career researcher and be able to commit full-time for 3 months on the programme and MUST be employed by the university for the length of the programme.
  • Senior Researcher, MUST be able to attend the bootcamp, options roundabout and support the programme throughout the 3-month period.
  • Business Adviser, motivated to offer expert guidance and support. Teams are encouraged to name an adviser in their application, however, if needed, we will help the team recruit a business adviser from a relevant industrial sector as a third team member.

Technology Transfer staff (TTO) are encouraged to be a proactive part of the team as a “shadow” member. Their skills and expertise regarding understanding university process and policy are essential to getting the best out of the programme. We will support them centrally to attend the residential boot camp and options roundabout with their teams. Please see the TTO guidance for lessons learnt and helpful hints created by previous TTO staff.


NxNW ICURe has four stages in its process:

1. Business Model Generation

NxNW ICURe kicks off with a 3-day residential bootcamp for the teams during which the academics are helped in forming a hypothetical business model for the commercialisation of their research. The team also has to produce a budget and action plan for the next stage, Market Validation.
Each team comprises the ECR as “Entrepreneurial Lead”, his or her Senior Researcher and a business adviser. Technology Transfer Office (TTO) staff are encouraged to be a proactive part of the team as a “shadow” member. Their skills and expertise regarding understanding university process and policy are essential to getting the best out of the programme.

2. Market Validation

The next step is for the ECR Entrepreneurial Lead to spend approximately three months intensively testing the business model by having meaningful conversations with at least 100 prospective customers, regulators, suppliers, partners and competitors to validate the commercial potential of their research. NxNW ICURe funding buys out the ECR’s time and provides sufficient funds for the ECR to travel to tradeshows or key target markets to meet with companies and experts who can help validate the business model. It does not provide any funding for the Senior Researcher to carry out market validation visits.

3. Options Roundabout

On completion of this first-hand market research, the team presents to a panel of experts and investors on the results of the Market Validation stage and what the ECR learned about the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for the business model. The panel feeds back on the opportunity based on the market evidence and their expertise and assesses the development options for the next stage.
The options proposed can include carrying out public or private sponsored research, exploring licensing opportunities or seeking public or private funding for spin-out for those projects that have demonstrated strong market potential by the end of the market validation.
All ECRs should have benefited from the training, the industry network they have established and the feedback they have gained that can shape the next stage in developing their research.

4. Business Planning

Those teams with the potential for licensing or spin-out may get up to £15k of additional funding to take part in a business planning training and then three months of preparing a business plan they can use with investors and to apply for translational grant funding including from ring fenced funds from Innovate UK.

If there is a strong case, commercialisation staff from the universities and university incubators, will work with each team so that they can be fast-tracked into creating a start-up company.

Successful applicants to the NxNW ICURe programme will receive a budget of up to £35k for Stages 1 through 3.
This funding is not a grant, and there is no money paid up front. Money will be drawn down against expenditure through your university’s research commercialisation office. If this is not agreed then the team will not progress on the programme.
Eligible expenses covered by the programme are:

  • Up to £15k towards Early Career Researcher (Entrepreneurial Lead) salary costs (including on costs, i.e. university pension and NI contributions). Salary provided will match the Early Career Researcher’s current salary. There is no additional amount paid.
  • Entrepreneurial Lead’s travel, subsistence and accommodation required to conduct face-to-face interviews and attend trade shows during Stage 2 - Market Validation
  • Travel costs and accommodation for team members to attend ICURe events (bootcamp, training days/support and Options Roundabout Presentation).

Those teams going on to prepare business plans will receive a budget of up to £15k for Stage 4. This will be for buying out the Entrepreneurial lead’s time for three months.

Applying to join the NxNW ICURe Programme

The NxNW ICURe programme will accept applications from teams based at all UK universities. The ICURe delivery partners will actively recruit from their regions, but where timings or other factors dictate will accept applications from other regions, your local delivery partner can advise. Therefore you should in the first instance contact the ICURe delivery team most conveniently located to you, northern UK (Queens University Belfast), the Midlands (University of Warwick) or southern UK (SETsquared University of Southampton), There are no restrictions upon which discipline, HE institution or part of the UK that can apply as long as they have the correct team members.

NxNW ICURe Cohort D - Expectations

The NxNW ICURe Cohort D competition is now open. Application date now extended to noon on Monday 29th July 2019. If you are successful with your application and are offered a place on the programme, your team will be required to meet the following expectations:

  1. Notification of successful applicants – 16th August 2019
  2. 3-day residential Cohort D bootcamp – 9-12th September 2019.
    The Entrepreneurial Lead will be required to attend across all days. The Senior Researcher and Business Adviser must join at later points over the 3 days. Please note, due to the venue and delivery arrangements for the bootcamp, we are not able to accept additional team members to attend. Also, please note that the Entrepreneurial Lead and Senior Researcher roles can only be undertaken by one person per role (i.e. time cannot be split between two staff).
  3. The Entrepreneurial Lead will have bi-weekly teleconferences with the Programme Manager and other programme teams and monthly reporting is required.
  4. The Team will attend a Cohort D Options Roundabout Training day 26th November 2019 at a venue to be confirmed which supports the preparation of the final presentation to the panel.
  5. The Team will deliver their ‘ICURe Journey’ final presentation to the Cohort D Options Roundabout Panel 3rd-4th December 2019 (each team will be allocated a slot on one of 2 days). The Options Roundabout panel will make a recommendation to the team on commercialisation options they feel are most appropriate for the project/team at that stage.

Application Process

Please complete the application form clearly and concisely, remembering that the review panel may not be experts in the field of your technology. Please register and complete your application at

Before submitting in your application, please ensure all members of the team are available on the dates of the cohort bootcamp. You will hear whether your application has been successful only a very short time before the bootcamp. See the Timeline below.

Once the application is submitted, the ICURe application review panel will consider all applications and identify the projects that best meet the ICURe programme requirements.

NxNW ICURe Cohort D Programme Timeline*

  • 29th July 2019 – Extended Application deadline (at 12 noon)
  • 16th August 2019 - Notification of successful applicants 
  • 9th-12th September 2019 - 3-Day Residential Bootcamp
  • 26th November 2019 - Options Roundabout training day 
  • 3rd-4th December 2019 - Options Roundabout 
  • * may be subject to change

For more information, contact 

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