Overview of Grants Program

NCInnovation (NCI) unlocks the innovative potential of North Carolina’s worldclass universities. We provide grant funding and support services to public university applied researchers working on discoveries that have commercial promise. NCInnovation helps inventions advance towards commercialization – accelerating the transition from academia to industry – by supporting university applied research through the critical R&D phase between proof concept and readiness for the private market.

How it Works

State and federal dollars already fund early-stage applied research; NCInnovation supports the critical leg of the university R&D sequence after proof of concept has been achieved, but before a technology is mature enough to attract industry interest or private investment. Resourcing at this phase maximizes the probability a promising research initiative can commercialize right here in North Carolina rather than dying on the vine or being exported to another state with a stronger innovation ecosystem.

NCInnovation is a national model for fiscally responsible research support, re-deploying state reserves through an endowment to fund grants for North Carolina university researchers. Interest and investment income from NCInnovation’s actively managed endowment funds grants without relying on annual taxpayer allocations. Administrative costs are covered by private contributions, ensuring that program funding directly benefits researchers.

Protection of State Funds

Companies or commercial activities supported in whole or in part by NCInnovation funding and services must be legally incorporated in North Carolina and maintain their headquarters and main place of business in the state for a minimum of five years.

NCInnovation grants support proof-of-concept to commercial readiness. NCInnovation does not fund private companies. NCInnovation grants support researchers by:

Building capacity in applied research

Bolstering technology development, support, and licensing

Supporting IP development and patent protection

Advancing R&D toward commercial viability

How it Helps

North Carolina spends more than $145 million per year supporting research at regional universities across the state. NCInnovation grants help the successes of those investments advance toward commercialization so that more companies form out of university research and create jobs with a higher probability of staying in the community that birthed them.

North Carolina is a current and prospective home to major corporations, and it benefits our state when those corporations turn to North Carolina university innovations to feed their growth. Right now, North Carolina is losing researchers, intellectual property and revenue as commercialization opportunities flee to other states with better entrepreneurial ecosystems or die on the vine. NCInnovation proves funding and support to mature innovations that meet market needs to be licensed to existing corporations in North Carolina or create new businesses. 

Much of North Carolina’s innovation ecosystem is concentrated in Research Triangle Park. NCInnovation’s regional approach taps into the unique strengths of each region and provides critical funding and support to researchers state-wide. NCInnovation operates four regional innovation networks located in the East, West, North Central and South Central regions of the state to pursue balanced growth, support projects that have the potential to meet regional market needs, and drive job growth in rural areas.

Where We Are Now

NCInnovation approved eight North Carolina public university research projects with commercial potential to receive initial pilot grant funding. The grants support applied research that has already achieved proof of concept in areas from power grid efficiency to lithium processing to cancer research.

This strategic initiative allows the organization to support promising research while optimizing grant management software, policies, and operational procedures with a small group of university researchers.

NCInnovation expects to release a statewide call for applications in the second half of 2024 following the initial release of pilot grants. For more information and updates on the statewide RFP, please sign up for the NCInnovation newsletter and follow NCInnovation on LinkedIn.

Learn More

Learn more about the eight applied research projects approved for initial NCInnovation pilot grant funding.

N.C. A&T State University

Neuro Drug Delivery System


The blood-brain barrier prevents many drugs from effectively
treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Kristen Dellinger, Ph.D., Assistant Professor,
Nanoengineering, has led the development of a novel method to carry therapeutic agents across the blood-brain barrier,
improving the delivery of therapies. This technology has the
potential to be transformative for the delivery of neurological
therapy with broad economic and societal impacts.

Dr. Dellinger has received a two-year grant from
NCInnovation to further develop the technology and engage
industry partners.

Appalachian State University 

Beehive Improvement and Monitoring System


The Beemon system, developed by Rahman Tashakkori, Ph.D., Lowe’s Distinguished Professor, Computer Science, presents a unique and innovative tool for decreasing honeybee hive die-off and increasing hive production. This project aims to produce turnkey products for commercial and amateur beekeepers to monitor hives while providing data that can be used to preserve the health of honeybees more efficiently and accurately. A recent study found honeybee colonies, which are vital to agriculture and the food supply, have been dying at staggering rates.

Dr. Tashakkori has received a two-year grant from NCInnovation to scale the technology, develop IP, and identify
industry partners.

UNC Charlotte

Drinking Water Purification


Jordan Poler, Ph.D., Professor, Chemistry, has developed patented materials that remove PFAS, otherwise known as forever chemicals and other compounds of concern such as
pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products,
from drinking water more effectively than solutions currently available in the marketplace. These compounds are monitored or prohibited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who has also funded Dr. Poler’s research in the past.

Dr. Poler has received a one-year grant from NCInnovation to continue the development of an affordable solution for
the end user and secure investment from the private sector to bring patented technology to the marketplace.

UNC Charlotte

Power-Grid Efficiency


Grid Ancillary services with Uninterruptible Power Supply (“GAUPS”), developed by Sukumar Kamalasadan, Ph.D., Duke Energy Distinguished Professor, Electric Power
Engineering, provides uninterrupted, pristine power quality to sensitive load customers, such as commercial or industrial companies where prolonged power outages could cause economic, health, environment, or public safety problems. The technology simultaneously delivers reserve capacity and essential ancillary services to utilities to
address unexpected faults and improve reliability.

Dr. Kamalasadan has received a one-year grant from NCInnovation to continue technology development and develop use case information for specific customers in preparation for engagement with private investors.

East Carolina University

Melanoma Treatment


Rukiyah Van Dross-Anderson, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Pharmacology, is developing a first-of-its kind cancer immunotherapy for melanoma patients
to eliminate the cancer cell and prompt the immune system to seek out and destroy other cancer cells. The immunotherapy is for melanoma patients who
do not respond to current treatments. Dr. Van Dross-Anderson hopes her work will increase survivability
and reduce melanoma recurrence.

Dr. Van Dross-Anderson has been awarded a two-year grant from NCInnovation to continue developing
the treatment, attract quality outside investment, and prepare for clinical trials.

UNC Greensboro 

Lithium Purification


Hemali Rathnayake, Ph.D., Professor, Nanoscience, has led
the development of a cost-effective and efficient lithium refining process for converting lithium into battery-grade lithium carbonate (LCE). The global demand for lithium is experiencing substantial growth for its primary role in energy
storage, electronic bikes, electrification of tools, and other battery-intense applications. Right now, China controls
approximately 65% of the world’s lithium refining capacity.
North Carolina has a large and growing lithium and battery
industry. Dr. Rathnayake’s refining technology has the
potential to boost a sustainable domestic supply chain for
lithium-based products.

Dr. Rathnayake has received a two-year grant from NCInnovation to scale the refining technology for mass production and secure additional industry partnerships.

Western Carolina University

Mosquito-Borne Infectious Disease Identification and Risk Assessment


Brian Byrd, Ph.D., Professor, Environmental Health Sciences and Scott Huffman, Ph.D., Professor, Chemistry and Physics are developing diagnostic methods that will allow researchers
to draw conclusions in a matter of minutes about species, sex, infection status, and more from a sample of mosquitoes
in the wild – work that currently takes days or weeks. Dr. Byrd’s and Dr. Huffman’s research has applications for tracking mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and Zika.

Dr. Byrd and Dr. Huffman have received a two-year grant from NCInnovation to scale the technology for mass-market global
use and formalize support from an industry partner.

UNC Wilmington

Multi-Year Vaccine Development


Ying Wang, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Chemistry, has crafted a groundbreaking vaccine platform he hopes will result in a universal and longer-lasting flu vaccine. Right now, flu vaccines do not target every strain, and they must be given every flu season – a reality Dr. Wang hopes to change.

Dr. Wang has been awarded a two-year grant from NCInnovation to support pre-clinical studies and position the technology to attract private investment.

Frequently Asked Questions