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Applying the Innovation Toolkit to Bring Cancer Nanotechnology Inventions to Market

The Nanotechnology Startup Challenge for Cancer employs a range of innovative strategies to bring cancer nanotechnology inventions to market.

To support the United States as a nation of innovators, the Administration has introduced many tools to the Federal government’s innovation toolkit. As described in the Strategy for American Innovation, these tools are aimed at uncovering the best ideas, wherever they may lie, and creating opportunities for those ideas to find their way to the marketplace. It is rare to find a program that opens that toolbox as wide as the Nanotechnology Startup Challenge for Cancer (NSC2) — an open-innovation competition designed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the non-profit Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI) to bring promising cancer nanotechnology inventions to market.

This competition creatively combines some of the most powerful tools in the innovation toolbox to bring teams together and launch them on a path to success, while integrating multiple scientific and economic priorities of the Administration:

  • Through the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the Federal government has invested over $22 billion over the past 15 years in R&D to understand and control matter at the nanoscale and develop applications that benefit society. Some of the most exciting discoveries and applications are aimed at diagnosing and treating cancer.
  • The Precision Medicine Initiative is developing innovative approaches to disease prevention and treatment that take into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles to better predict which treatments will be most effective. The NSC2 Challenge offers contestants the opportunity to create a start-up to commercialize nanotechnology inventions designed to address these individual differences, including a device to analyze DNA, and nanoparticles that can precisely target cancer cells based on their specific mutations.
  • The Administration is committed to accelerating the transfer of Federally funded research from the laboratory to the commercial marketplace as an important contributor to economic growth.  The NSC2 challenge helps to overcome two critical Lab-to-Market barriers: matching entrepreneurs to inventions, and making sure the entrepreneurs have the skills and resources to succeed.
  • Incentive prizes are a great way to reach beyond the “usual suspects” to increase the number of citizen solvers and entrepreneurs tackling a problem. The NSC2 challenge offers each winning start-up team a license to one of NCI’s nanotechnology inventions, as well as support and training to help winning teams raise seed funding. Business or research teams can also bring their own inventions to the competition, broadening the reach of the challenge. In addition, recognizing that creating a successful start-up requires individuals with a range of knowledge and talent and that the proper combination of skills may not reside within a single network of colleagues or collaborators, the NSC2 Challenge provides a tool that aspiring contestants can use to identify additional team members or find an established team to join.
  • To maintain America’s lead as the best place in the world to start and scale a great enterprise, the Administration is working to ensure that all Americans have a fair shot at entrepreneurial success.  Not only does the NSC2 challenge encourage entrepreneurship through a start-up challenge, but it also acknowledges that budding entrepreneurs may not yet have the skills needed to launch a successful business. The challenge therefore offers each team accelerator training similar to the training provided through the Federal I-Corps program. This training covers all sorts of topics to facilitate entrepreneurial success, ranging from business-plan development to finding investors.
  • Finally, collaborative approaches between government and nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector are an essential element of the Administration’s innovation agenda. Tapping expertise outside the government can be a great way to bring a fresh approach to managing new programs. For the NSC2 challenge, the NCI is again working with the CAI, building upon successful collaborations between the two institutions on the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge and Neuro Startup Challenge.

We look forward to meeting the winners of the NSC2 challenge and seeing the new nanotechnology-based products they will bring to market for the benefit of cancer patients.

Lloyd Whitman is Assistant Director for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Jenn Gustetic is Assistant Director for Open Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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