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Idea to Innovation Grants

Please note that the review of market assessment projects will now be carried out by NSERC staff according to the selection criteria listed in the program description below.

Duration Market assessment – up to one year
Phase I – up to one year
Phase IIa – from 6 to 18 months
Phase IIb – up to two years
Application deadlines January 5, 2021
March 29, 2021
June 28, 2021
September 27, 2021
How to apply See below
Application forms Form 100 – Personal Data Form
Form 101 – Application for a Grant
Form 183A – Information Required from Organizations
Participating in Research Partnerships Programs - Phase II only

To create or access online applications, select On-line System Login. To view instructions, select PDF Forms and Instructions.
For more information Consult the Contact List.

Important information

Frequently asked questions (including basic principles for I2I grants and eligibility for college-based researchers).


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.

Market assessment

Market assessment projects are designed to enable institutions to do a market study for a product, process or technology they plan to develop. Understanding market potential is crucial when developing a new technology. The market assessment funding option is a tool to help gain impartial market opportunity information and validate important business elements before embarking the team in the development process of a technology. It can be used to better position a proposed technology in an I2I application (providing the reviewers with a better understanding of the market for a given technology) or identify the appropriate NSERC program.

The market assessment should precede a phase I proposal, if the applicant and ILO or its equivalent have not yet developed an understanding of the potential market. In certain instances, like development of a platform technology, requests for a market assessment can be submitted as a standalone proposal at the same time as a phase I application.

The market assessment should objectively establish the size of addressable market segments and present a clear portrait of the competitive landscape.

The market assessment proposed should focus on This link will take you to another Web site primary research used to enter in a discussion with potential customers and/or partners (identified with the researcher and ILO) to flesh out their thoughts about the new technology. Essential questions such as the following can be addressed: What would be the required specific features a potential customer would need? How is the technology substantially different (better) than existing solutions? What do they currently pay to meet the same need? As potential customers, would they buy the technology? What is the approximate number they might need? What is the estimated value of the technology for the buyers?  What barriers exist? Why will someone choose the proposed solution? Applicants may wish to consider other relevant questions and can outline these in the proposal.

The application should demonstrate what approach, activities and tools (i.e., interviews, surveys, SWOT analysis, PEST) are planned to address the above questions. These studies are to be conducted by an experienced professional such as an outside consulting firm. A tender of service from the consultant listing the scope, deliverables and other relevant elements is required.

NSERC will co-support up to three-quarters of the costs of the project contracted out to a consultant, with the institution providing the balance in cash (a person employed part-time or full-time at an ILO or its equivalent cannot act as an external consultant on an I2I market assessment project). Funding is available for up to 12 months, with a maximum contribution from NSERC of $15,000.

Funding is non-renewable.

Phase I reduction-to-practice stage

Phase I reduction-to-practice projects are designed to advance promising technologies in order to attract early-stage investment and/or to build valuable intellectual property (e.g., strengthening the commercial value of the technology, broadening patent claims or strengthening licensing opportunities) in anticipation of transferring the technology to a new or established company.

One of the main reasons why phase I proposals are rejected is that the technology is at too early a stage to be eligible for the I2I grants. Phase I proposals must be based on strong scientific evidence and present the following elements:

  • The technology must be sufficiently mature. The basic parameters of the concept must have already been explored, and sufficient testing should have been done to assess the potential of the innovation to work in a “product” environment or for its intended purpose.
  • There must be a clearly identified and well-described potential market. Meaningful letters of support from potential receptors, end-users/clients and industrial value-chain players may be very useful.
  • The content of the technology transfer section should address the essential questions asked through the market assessment portion.
  • Involvement of experienced business mentors is recommended when the team is planning to spin off a new company.

A company may be involved as a testing bed for the technology (i.e., potential client). However, when a collaborating company is the intended receptor for the technology (i.e., the company that will market the end product), the cost of the project should be shared with this partner and the application submitted as a phase IIb proposal.

Funding is available for up to 12 months, at a maximum of $125,000, and is non-renewable. NSERC will assume 100 percent of the direct costs of research for phase I projects.

Each project is expected to have a “go/no-go” decision point, representing the achievement of a predefined scientific or engineering milestone, at the end of phase I when either seed funding will be provided by an early-stage investment entity or the technology will be further developed with an established or start-up company.

All phase I proposals require a plan describing how a partnership will be established with a Canadian company that has the capacity to commercialize the research results. Although a business partner is not a prerequisite for phase I applications, a demonstration of interest may strengthen the proposal. It is expected that technologies, implicitly or explicitly committed to a specific receptor organization or industrial partner, will be submitted as phase II applications. This may not apply if the intention is to create a spin-off company.

NSERC offers an I2I phase Ib supplement. This funding, up to $60,000 for six months, can be made available for successfully completed phase I projects with high promise to secure an investor or a licensing company. ILOs or their equivalent should contact their NSERC staff for more information.

Phase II technology enhancement

Phase II projects are designed to provide scientific or engineering evidence establishing the technical feasibility and market definition of the technology, process or product. Phase II projects require an early-stage investment entity (phase IIa) or a company (phase IIb) to share the costs of the project. The supporting organization is expected to participate actively in the planning of the project. The proposals fall into two categories according to the partner involved as described below.

Phase IIa early-stage investment partner

Proposals with an early-stage investment entity must be designed with a “go/no-go” decision point, after 6 to 18 months, representing the achievement of a predefined scientific or engineering milestone that justifies moving forward by further developing the technology either through a new (i.e., start-up) or established company. NSERC can support up to two-thirds of the costs of the project with the early-stage investment entity providing the balance in cash. Funding requested from NSERC should not exceed an average of $125,000 per year.

  • The partnering firm must lead the preparation of the technology transfer plan and contribute at least a third of the funds required for the project.
  • It is expected that the collaborator has the financial strength to carry the project into phase IIb or directly to market. If this seed funding will support a spin-off or entrepreneurial start-up, the financial standing of the firm will be closely scrutinized in the evaluation.
  • The technology transfer terms must be disclosed.
  • The science has to be substantiated to the point that its end product is easily identifiable.
  • Thorough market research is required and potential buyers/markets must be specified. Meaningful letters of support from potential receptors, end-users/clients, industrial value-chain players are very useful.
  • Well-justified budgets are a prerequisite, and indications of future financial requirements, as well as the plan to secure these funds, should be provided.
  • Involvement of experienced business mentors is required when the team is planning to spin off a new company.

Projects that achieve critical milestones may be pursued during another 6- to 24-month period with either the newly created company or an established Canadian company, provided the cost-sharing arrangements for phase IIb projects are met.

Phase IIb partnership with a Canadian company

Most of the requirements for phase IIa listed above also apply to phase IIb applications. As well, if the development of the technology was supported by a previous I2I phase, proof that the objectives of the earlier project were achieved must be provided, specifically:

  • The “prototype” must already be in existence;
  • a strong business plan is required;
  • involvement of experienced business mentors is required when the team is planning to spin off a new company;
  • the receptor capacity to manufacture, distribute, license, etc. must be substantiated;
  • adequate budgets are required to show that the product will be at the marketing/manufacturing stage at the end of the phase IIb grant; and
  • the “in-kind” contributions should be fully justified as they will be carefully scrutinized.

Phase IIb proposals with a Canadian company are expected to be completed within two years, and funding requested should not exceed $350,000 for the duration of the project. NSERC may fund up to half the cost of the project, with the company providing the other half through a combination of cash and in-kind contributions. Each case will be evaluated on its merits; however, it is expected that the cash component should equal at least 40 percent of the amount requested from NSERC.

The industrial partner must have, or be able to acquire by the end of the project, the technical capability to undertake any further development necessary to take the product or process to market. The company receiving the technology should be prepared to carry out a market study, product/process development, engineering, and sales and marketing planning required to establish that a technology is viable, and to enter the market successfully.

The ILO or its equivalent is expected to work with the applicant(s) and the partner in developing proposals and negotiating licensing or other such arrangements.

Summary of Application Requirements by Phase
  Market Assessment Phase I Phase Ib Phase IIa Phase IIb
Form 100 required Principal applicant only Principal applicant and co-applicants
Duration (non-renewable) Up to 12 months Up to 12 months Up to 6 months 6 to 18 months Up to 24 months
Maximum amount requested from NSERC (% of project costs) $15,000
Technology transfer activities: additional funds needed from ILO or its equivalent $5,000
Half the cost supported by NSERC up to a maximum of 10% of the award. Institution or partner must cover the other half.
Additional funds needed from partner (cost/risk sharing) N/A N/A N/A $62,500
50% of direct costs through in-kind and at least 40% cash

Equity, diversity and inclusion

NSERC is acting on the evidence that equity, diversity and inclusion strengthen the scientific and engineering communities and the quality, social relevance and impact of research. Increasing diversity and gender equity in the research enterprise are key priorities in our current strategic plan, NSERC 2020, and are highlighted in the strategic goal, “Build a Diversified and Competitive Research Base.”

Application procedures

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.