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Nature, Merck Establish Science Entrepreneur Prize

Test tubes in a lab

(Martin Lopez, Pexels)

2 Dec. 2019. The scientific publisher Springer Nature and drug maker Merck are creating an annual award for early-stage companies spun-off from academic research. The Spinoff Prize will award €30,000 ($US 33,200) to the first-place winner, with applications due by 28 February 2020.

The Spinoff Prize seeks to encourage and highlight companies that emerge from scientific research in academic labs, including those at universities and research institutes. The judges — editors at Nature Research and executives from Merck and M Ventures, its corporate venture capital division — are seeking entries from businesses started after 30 November 2016 and their founders, which translate original research into marketable products and services making a positive impact on society.

For this first competition, entries should be limited to companies creating products or services in four categories: agriculture and food technology, chemicals and advanced materials, digital technologies, and pharmaceuticals, which includes biotechnology and medical technology. Participants are asked to provide details of the science behind their innovations, business needs they expect to fulfill, key elements of the company’s proposed business model, skills and experience of the team assembled by the company, and an estimate of the impact their innovations could have on the larger society.

Companies based on ideas from sources other than research conducted at universities or research institutes are not eligible for the Spinoff Prize, nor are spin-off enterprises from established businesses. Companies taking part in the competition do not need to own the intellectual property created by the research, nor do they need to have a completed product or service on the market. In addition, the original research behind the enterprises can be financed by any funding source.

“The formation of spinoffs by universities drives local and national economic growth, and provides solutions to real-world problems,” says Richard Hughes, vice-president for publishing at Nature Research in a company statement. “Yet for the benefits that spinoffs bring, there is currently no widely recognized, international showcase of spinoff excellence, and we would like to build one.”

The first round of applications are due by 28 February 2020. The journal Nature plans to produce a special report about the contest entries, and a short-list of finalists will be asked to pitch their enterprises at the 2020 Curious Future Insight Conference, 13-15 July in Darmstadt, Germany, from which a winner will be selected. Companies listed in the special report and on the short-list of finalists will be informed in April 2020, then announced publicly in early July. All winners are expected to be announced at the conference.

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