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New programme aims to bridge the gap between academia and business

The innovation programme SPARK Denmark will also help to strengthen Denmark’s talent pipeline and provides a major career boost for individual researchers and innovators.

SPARK Denmark is being established at Denmark’s five largest universities based on a grant of 44 million DKK from the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

SPARK aims to improve the translation of promising academic projects, thus increasing the chances that they end up as solutions and products that benefit patients and society. The programme will enable researchers to commercialize their research or innovative ideas and to attract investors.

A major career boost for researchers and innovators

SPARK was originally established at Stanford University in the United States 2006. Since then, SPARK has become a global programme that has been rolled out at 40 research institutions, including hubs in northern Europe in Germany, Norway and Finland. SPARK researchers join an international SPARK network that provides access to a wide range of industry experts serving as mentors, start-up capital, training seminars and international SPARK Summits.

“SPARK will help to strengthen Denmark’s talent pipeline so that companies can also recruit the most talented experts in their field in the future. In addition, SPARK provides a major career boost for individual researchers and innovators.”

“Experience from abroad shows that the gap between academia and business needs to be bridged. Academic researchers obtaining access to development and commercial expertise from industry ensures that more new innovative inventions and solutions reach the market. In addition to giving the individual projects a boost, SPARK will help to strengthen Denmark’s talent pipeline so that companies can also recruit the most talented experts in their field in the future. In addition, SPARK provides a major career boost for individual researchers and innovators,” says Mikkel Skovborg, Senior Vice President, Innovation, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Translating research from universities into benefits for society

The target group for SPARK Denmark ranges from PhD students to experienced professors from all universities and hospitals in Denmark. With the University of Copenhagen taking the lead and Aarhus University, Aalborg University, the University of Southern Denmark and the Technical University of Denmark affiliated, SPARK Denmark is expected to have a broad impact, both throughout Denmark and scientifically. During the first 5 years, up to 45 projects will receive SPARK grants.

“SPARK Denmark is delivering the very first links in the long value chain leading to commercially valuable products.”

“For many years, Denmark’s universities have lacked this direct link to get industry specialists into the research laboratories and help to define what a relevant proof-of-concept study entails – and thus fulfil the challenge of translating more research from universities into benefits for society. SPARK Denmark is delivering the very first links in the long value chain leading to commercially valuable products, and we very much look forward to collaborating with universities in Denmark and the collaboration with life science experts from industry,” says Trine Winterø, Vice-Dean for Innovation and External Relations at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences of the University of Copenhagen.

Already proved its value in other countries

During the first 5 years, applicants with projects within the life sciences will be eligible for SPARK Denmark grants. Specifically, these are early-stage projects in pharmaceuticals, medical technology, healthcare technology and industrial biotechnology. Once the researchers have successfully completed a SPARK Denmark course with their project, the aim is to ensure that the project has reached a stage that makes it attractive for further funding.

“Since Denmark has a unique position with many experienced and skilled people in life-science companies, we have every reason to think that it will also work here.”

“One of the greatest challenges for a successful biotechnology industry in Denmark is that too little of the top-class research at universities is translated into new companies and new products. The SPARK system has already proved its value in other countries, and since Denmark has a unique position with many experienced and skilled people in life-science companies, we have every reason to think that it will also work here. Giving university researchers access to tailor-made mentors who can provide both advice and guidance and also spot the commercial opportunities in the research is a really good idea,” says Hans Schambye, Chairman, DANSK BIOTEK, and CEO, Galecto.

“Giving university researchers access to tailor-made mentors who can provide both advice and guidance and also spot the commercial opportunities in the research is a really good idea.”

The first round of applications will take place in May and June 2022, and the projects receiving a grant will be announced in the autumn.

Photo: The BioInnovation Institute/Novo Nordisk Foundation