Vanderbilt launches Innovation Catalyst Fund to propel translational research and innovation

A hand reaches out to shake a virtual hand, which is emerging from a laptop computer.

Vanderbilt is introducing the Innovation Catalyst Fund, a new internal funding program sponsored by Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs C. Cybele Raver and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Information Technology Brett Sweet. The program is aimed at moving translational research and innovation into real-world solutions more quickly. 

Inspired by the university’s growing innovation capacity, faculty entrepreneurship and record commercialization output, as well as by recent feedback gathered from faculty, the Innovation Catalyst Fund offers pre-seed funding to faculty from all disciplines across VU and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The money is to be used to assess and mature their ideas for the market and communities of practice, including proof of concept for commercialization, advancement of nascent projects with strong innovation potential and development of research projects with civic and social relevance. 

“This new fund is just the latest launch in an ongoing effort to foster our culture of innovation as One Vanderbilt. We are growing resources for our faculty to take the products of their research out into the communities, where they can drive impact through commercialization; new ventures; partnerships with nonprofits, industry and government; and more,” said Vice Provost for Research and Innovation Padma Raghavan. “I look forward to seeing how faculty leverage this fund to enhance their research impact on society through new technologies, practices and policies.”  

The new program is managed by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation in consultation with Vanderbilt University Medical Center Office of Research and academic leadership in the Vanderbilt schools and colleges. The Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization will manage the proposal submission and review process and coordinate with deans on related initiatives across the university’s schools and colleges. 

“The Innovation Catalyst Fund is a shared effort across VU and VUMC to provide faculty with a glide path to innovation,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, chief scientific and strategy officer and executive vice president for research at VUMC, as well as the head of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, and professor of biochemistry and otolaryngology. “With the funds and expert advice faculty receive through this program, they can amplify the outcomes of their potentially life-changing discoveries.” 

With a focus on advancing basic research programs with commercial potential, the Innovation Catalyst Fund will offer: 

  • Expert evaluations by Vanderbilt faculty 
  • Accelerated feedback and decisions 
  • Emphasis on research with commercial and social impact 
  • Milestone-based funding distribution 

The Innovation Catalyst Fund application portal will be on the Innovation Catalyst Fund website. The portal will open for the inaugural cycle of proposal submissions on Sunday, Oct. 1; proposals will be due by Tuesday, Oct. 31. Application cycles in 2024 will be in February, June and October. 

All full-time faculty at VU and VUMC across all colleges and disciplines are eligible to apply. All submitted proposals will receive review and feedback from the Innovation Catalyst Fund Review Committee, a group of peer faculty from the university and medical center with expertise ranging from social sciences, arts and humanities to physical sciences, medicine and engineering. In addition to faculty reviewers, an Innovation Catalyst Fund Council of Vanderbilt experts in innovation and commercialization from the CTTC, Wond’ry, Brock Center, finance and other relevant offices, in consultation with deans and VUMC leaders in research and innovation, will provide further insight on applications to support final funding decisions. 

For more information, including use of funds, visit the Innovation Catalyst Fund website or contact The Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation will also host a virtual faculty town hall on Monday, Sept. 18, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. to share more information and answer questions from faculty about the new fund.