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Spotlight on the Maturation Fund

June 25th 2020

Candice Leblanc

A team led by Professor Bruno André (IBBM) has just been granted access to the Maturation Fund: an opportunity for us to present this funding mechanism that helps bridge the gap between a laboratory discovery and its potential industrial applications.

Can a scientific breakthrough be exported and exploited outside of the laboratory in which it was made? This is the first crucial question that must be answered when looking into business applications of scientific research. Designing a prototype and identifying the therapeutic properties of a molecule is one thing; manufacturing on an industrial scale or producing entire kilograms of active ingredients is another altogether! ‘In order to help this transition, research teams can create a proof of concept’, explains Patrick Di Stefano, a Technology Transfer Officer at ULB. ‘This is where the Maturation Fund comes in. It was created in 2010 and enables researchers to determine whether their results could have industrial potential. The Maturation Fund is a tool intended to minimize industrial risks and, possibly, convince potential investors by supporting the creation of a spin-off company.’

 

From lab research to industrial production

Recently, five research projects from ULB and UMONS have been selected to benefit from the Maturation Fund. One of the projects was launched by the IBMM’s molecular physiology laboratory, and it illustrates how important a proof of concept is.

The initial project dealt with the bacterial contamination of fermentation vats used in the production of bioethanol from yeast. Obviously, this contamination reduces the yield of the production process. In order to grow, the lactic bacteria involved need amino acids produced by the yeast: Bruno André’s research team genetically modified yeast strains so that they would no longer excrete these specific amino acids. As a result, bacterial contamination decreased… in laboratory conditions, that is! The researchers must now check whether their method would also work with the yeast strains and the culture media used for industrial production.

 

Maturation Fund criteria and procedure

The Maturation Fund (Fonds de maturation) is a funding mechanism offered by Wallonia. In order to be eligible, projects must meet certain criteria:

  • The initial project must have been funded, in whole or in part, by Wallonia.
  • At the time when the project is submitted to the Maturation Fund, there must be no spin-off company exploiting the research results. The Fund’s goal is to help create such a spin-off if a valid proof of concept is presented.

Researchers interested in the Maturation Fund can reach out to ULB-TTO. ‘We regularly launch calls for projects’, explains Patrick Di Stefano. ‘The submissions are first reviewed by a selection committee (1). Then, the selected projects are sent to the Walloon Research Department (SPW Recherche). If a project is approved, its researchers are granted access to the funds necessary to develop a proof of concept.’

 

Notes

  1. The selection committee includes representatives of ULB and UMons’s TTOs, as well as of incubators and investment funds associated with the two universities.