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Cyber Acceleration (Catapult) Fund 2023

Letter of Intent Due Feb. 14; Applications Due March 1

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The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), which works with academic, government, and industry partners to accelerate the translation of cybersecurity innovations to the marketplace, will run a cohort of teams supported by its Cyber Acceleration, Translation, and Advanced Prototyping for University Linked Technology (CATAPULT) Fund to advance translational research projects among faculty and partners.

This is a market-discovery and commercialization grant, not a research-focused fund.

This fund, an important part of CCl's innovation toolbox, provides funding critical to advance the maturity of cyber discoveries during the critical “Valley of Death” phase of commercialization defined by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

During this phase, innovators prepare for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Commonwealth Commercialization Fund (CCF) grants to assist in product development and market testing, but are not yet ready for outside investment. 

The CATAPULT Fund grant requires recipients' participation in the Commonwealth Cyber Incubator + Accelerator Program (CCl+A) to support development of a commercializable product. 

During the 16-week CCI+A program (which will run from mid-May through early November 2023), teams will attend business development workshops and engage with prospective customers, partners, experienced tech mentors, serial entrepreneurs, and others in the ecosystem to evaluate the commercial potential to turn their technologies into successful products, processes, and services.

The CATAPULT Fund will support six to nine awards of up to $50,000 each, with funding increments’ release predicated on achievement of the agreed milestones during the program.

Program Stages

  • Part One: Teams will participate in the July cohort of the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), modeled after the NSF’s I-Corps lean startup methodology
  • Part Two: Teams will participate in a series of workshops, roundtables, and panel discussions specifically designed for the cohort with members of the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia cybersecurity ecosystem. 
  • Part Three: The CCI+A program will culminate with a pitch presentation to cybersecurity investors and industry experts in October. 
  • Part Four: Teams that are considered ready will win the opportunity to pitch to investors at the annual regional tech Accelerate Investor event, held in early November in Arlington.

Application Process

Eligibility: Applications must be submitted by a Virginia-based innovation team. For example, this could include faculty at a Virginia public institution of higher education and other team members such as graduate research assistants (GRAs) or partner faculty; or a team comprised of a faculty member at a Virginia institution of higher education (to serve as Principal Investigator, or PI) and team members from a Virginia early-stage startup. 

A faculty member from a Virginia public institution of higher education must serve as the PI; however, the rest of the innovation team can be students, other faculty, or members of a Virginia-based startup. 

Researchers and faculty members at public institutions of higher education in Virginia, who are deemed eligible by their home institution to serve as a Pl on an external grant are eligible to apply as PI.

Number of Applications per Institution: No restrictions or limits.

Number of Applications per Pl: An eligible researcher serving as Pl can participate in only one proposal submission.

Information Session: Interested PIs are required to attend one virtual 30-minute information session before submitting an application. The session will outline the participation expectations and address any questions. 

Attendance at one of these sessions is mandatory; failure to attend means applicants will forfeit consideration of their application.

You will have five opportunities to attend one of these 30-minute Zoom sessions, which will all be held at 1 p.m. ET:

 

Meeting Dates
January 17, 2023 January 24, 2023 January 31, 2023
February 8, 2023 February 13, 2023  

You can access the sessions through Zoom. Be sure to update Zoom several minutes before the session start time. For any issues with the Zoom link, email novacci@gmu.edu.

Letter of Intent Guidelines

Principal investigators (PIs) intending to submit a proposal must send a brief email expression of intent to submit proposal to novacci@gmu.edu by February 14, 2023 (preferred date, but accepted on rolling basis until proposal due date). This email expression of intent should contain:

  • The name and affiliation of the Pl, contact information (name, phone, email), the title of the innovation team, a title of the project concept, and a very brief description of the intellectual property (IP) or research that is expected to be used in the planned proposal (50 to 100 words). 
  • The name, phone numbers, and email of each current team member. Additional team members can be added after submission of Letter of Intent.

Application Requirements

Applications should use a 12-point font and 1-inch margins and must include these sections:

Title page (one page): Title of the proposed project, and the name, affiliation, and contact information for the Pl (for example, faculty member of a Virginia public research institution) and each team member

Summary (limit one page): Provide a brief, high-level description of the IP or research concepts to be applied and the project purpose. 

  • Describe the market need or problem to be solved, shortcoming of current solutions, expected outcomes of the proposed project and how these outcomes will add value to the technology and to business outcomes.
  • Identify the next steps toward commercialization if this phase is successful and potential sources for additional funding.

Commercialization Potential (limit one page): List all commercial and paid government uses for the cyber innovation, define the market size, and the potential advantages over existing products. 

  • Describe how the new technology would support and drive business outcomes for customers. 
  • Describe how the company expects to engage funders and potential customers. 
  • Provide information on potential partners for commercialization and how the startup to be funded would engage such partners effectively. 
  • Describe the status of the IP or research concepts being utilized and — if IP is to be licensed or acquired — provide a plan for doing so. Explain how the content of this program will be of benefit to you.

Project Plan (limit two pages): Describe in detail the proposed work plan to take the technology from research to market, including the overall strategy, key milestones, and expected product outcomes.

Provide citations to existing research and applications that have already been tested and validated. 

Include a timetable with detailed milestones (including the key milestones noted previously) that can be used to evaluate progress throughout the project towards commercialization, as well as anticipated results for each milestone and an explanation of how meeting each milestone will move the project toward commercialization. 

Emphasize any novel aspects associated with the project and identify and flag key risks associated with the project. Provide specific references to any key literature.

List any industry conferences you plan to attend where you can interview potential customers. Attending such conferences is key to understanding the market.

Budget (limit one page): Provide a detailed budget for the proposed work. You cannot charge indirect costs. 

Note all resources will be awarded to the faculty Pl who can then make sub-awards to partners, Virginia-based startups, etc., as applicable.

Evaluate travel and other expenses related to your market research, including mileage and accommodation. 

Budgets should be submitted to your institution's Office of Sponsored Programs and approved by your academic institution according to the institution's policies and procedures in advance of submission of the application.

Proposals will be reviewed by a group of corporate executives and innovation investment experts working with the NoVA Node of the CCI to evaluate the commercial potential of the related cyber innovations. 

The committee will review proposals against appropriate criteria and recommend awardees to the CCl+A leadership team.

Awards

Total Program Funding: $450,000

Maximum Award Amount: $50,000 per proposal

Award Conditions: Successful applicant teams are expected to participate fully in CCI activities, including providing materials needed for reports, participation in CCI meetings, and responding to data collection requests by the CCI. 

All publications and presentations resulting from the grant should acknowledge support from the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.

Frequently Asked Questions

Applications must be submitted by a Virginia-based innovation team (e.g. faculty at Virginia public institution of higher education and other team members such as GRAs or partner faculty, or a team comprised of a faculty member at a Virginia institution of higher education (to serve as PI) and team members from a Virginia early-stage startup. 

A faculty member from a Virginia public institution of higher education must serve as the PI. The rest of the innovation team can be students, other faculty, or members of a Virginia-based startup.

Action Date(s)
Request for Applications Released January 2023
Virtual Information Sessions (30 minutes). Applicants must attend one session Jan. 17; Jan. 24; Jan. 31; Feb. 8; Feb.  13. All meetings held at 1 p.m. ET in 2023
Letter of Intent due Feb. 14, 2023 (preferred but accepted on rolling basis)
Applications Due March 1, 2023
Award Notification April 1, 2023
Team Acceptance Due April 15, 2023
Project Period of Performance May 12, 2023, to May 31, 2024

The program will cover key aspects of investigating the commercialization phase and launching and funding a startup. The process features:

  • A bootcamp-style program to rapidly move new technologies forward.
  • Support for customer discovery efforts.
  • Opportunities for cyber startups to engage with potential industry and government partners and D.C.-Maryland-Virginia and Commonwealth-based customers.
  • Opportunities for customer engagement.
  • Opportunities to bring university innovation to industry and government for feedback and collaboration.
  • Industry and government collaboration opportunities for cyber faculty on technical work and product testing.
  • Opportunities for training students to work in cyber startups (CCI + A awardees will have access to subsidized college interns at no cost).
  • Cybersecurity-focused workshops, meetings and collider events with government agencies, industry, and investors.
  • Opportunities to engage with seed and venture capital including an opportunity for exposure to investors and for potential prize money at George Mason's annual Accelerate innovation competition.

CCl+A will leverage the knowledge base and experience of Mason’s comprehensive entrepreneurship support programs including the Mason Enterprise Centers, the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC)

The program will provide mentorship from industry experts who have deep knowledge and experience in the cybersecurity and technology domains, resources, startup services (including free legal and business consulting), investment-based funding, access to rent-free physical space in the Digital Innovation Pilot facility on the Mason Square (Arlington) campus of George Mason University if desired, and a set of educational programs for each cohort.

The CATAPULT Fund will help innovation teams pay for critical resources to advance development of their product, personnel, and time to test products, travel expenses, and participation in the CCI+A program. The program’s objective is to get initial market feedback, a critical first step in obtaining seed or angel funding.

Release of three installments of funds will be predicated upon attendance at five in-person required sessions, participation in as many virtual sessions as possible by at least one team member, and completion of customer interviews. 

The successful commercialization of the team’s IP will correlate with the team’s deep engagement in all aspects of the program.

Researchers and faculty members at public institutions of higher education in Virginia, who are deemed eligible by their home institutions to serve as a Principal Investigator (Pl) on an external grant are eligible to apply as PI.

The team should define member roles based on their expertise and personal interests. For example, a faculty member might be focused on technical aspects of product development. 

At least one member should serve as the entrepreneurial lead and pay special attention to customer discovery and development of the business aspects of the budding commercial entity.

In some cases, the faculty PI can serve as entrepreneurial lead. In other instances, the team might be more effective if the entrepreneurial lead is a PhD student, other faculty member, or in the case of a partnership with a Virginia-based startup, the lead from the startup could serve as entrepreneurial lead.

Due to the amount of work involved during the first phase of the program, which requires teams to conduct a minimum of 20 customer interviews, we strongly advise PIs to form a team with post-docs, PhD students, or fellow PIs to assist with the groundwork necessary to obtain and perform these interviews. 

A PhD student or post-doc team member can take on the responsibility of leading the effort to investigate commercialization opportunities for the research as long as the PI is kept fully involved with the process and is debriefed on the key findings from the interviews and customer feedback. 

Alternatively, if faculty PIs are collaborating with a Virginia-based startup, a team member from the startup should be engaged in customer interviews.

If the IP is sourced from the faculty PI, the faculty member must complete or already have completed an invention disclosure with the relevant technology transfer office at their home academic institutions by the time the application to CATAPULT is submitted. 

If the IP is sourced from a Virginia-based startup, the startup team retains all rights to the IP, but the faculty PI is expected to actively contribute technical expertise to further product development in a meaningful way. 

Failure of the faculty PI to be engaged in product development and/or CCI+A activities could lead to withdrawal of funding. The partnership between a faculty PI and a Virginia-based startup should be meaningful and beneficial to both.

  • Twenty customer interviews. Complete a minimum of 20 potential customer interviews during the 16-week commercialization program, preferably during the ICAP portion of the program.
  • In-person session attendance. Full team (defined as PI faculty member and entrepreneurial lead, if not a faculty member, and additional personnel as desired) attend the kick-off meeting, federal government customer mixer, bootcamp day, Virginia Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) day, and closing pitch-day sessions, for a total of five in-person sessions at Mason Square (Arlington Campus).
  • Virtual session attendance. The PI and/or entrepreneurial lead are expected to participate in virtual sessions and mentor office hours. Other team members are encouraged to attend as many as possible to ensure continuity of learning.
  • ICAP sessions. The PI and/or the entrepreneurial lead, should attend all ICAP sessions. Other team members are encouraged to attend as many as possible to ensure continuity of learning.
  • Customer discovery. Follow the customer discovery process and other guidance provided by instructors and mentors.
  • Explore commercialization. Commit to exploring the commercialization potential of your technology.

Attendance to the five in-person sessions in Arlington is mandatory for the PIs and the entrepreneurial lead. Grant funds can be used to cover travel and accommodation expenses related to these in-person sessions.

Expectations

The CCI+A program is divided into two phases:

  • The ICAP program, which follows the NSF’s I-Corps lean startup model and requires teams to try to obtain 20 customer interviews during the program. Completing this goal is time-consuming, and necessitates the PI and their teams to actively network and reach out to the ecosystem who will use/adopt their innovation.

  • The CCI+A program, comprised of a series of workshops, roundtables, and panel discussions specifically tailored to the cybersecurity industry, in which teams will have the opportunity to interact with industry leaders, potential customers, and investors.

An ICAP mentor will be assigned to each team and considered the team’s primary mentor; however, other counselors, technical advisors and experienced serial entrepreneurs will be available for support and consultation with the teams throughout the program and beyond. Connection with these advisors and tech mentors is enabled even after the conclusion of the program.

Attendance to the five in-person sessions, held in Arlington, is mandatory for the PIs and the entrepreneurial lead. Grant funds may be used to cover the travel and accommodation expenses related to these in-person sessions. Please ensure you are available during the in-person dates (see schedule) before submitting an application.

Module Topic Date and Time Location
CCI+A Introductory session, orientation, lunch (in-person event) May 12, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. George Mason University,  Mason Square's Fuse Pilot Space, Arlington, Va.
ICAP ICAP Introductory session – Introduction to tech mentors June 28, 6 to 8 p.m.  Virtual
ICAP ICAP Session One July 11,  8 a.m. to noon Virtual
ICAP ICAP Session Two July 12,  8 a.m. to noon Virtual
ICAP ICAP Session Three July 13,  8 a.m. to noon Virtual
ICAP ICAP Session Four July 20, 8 a.m. to noon Virtual
ICAP ICAP Session Five July 27,  8 a.m. to noon Virtual
ICAP Independent customer discovery August Meetings with tech mentors as needed
CCI+A Check-in, Session  One Aug. 10, 20-minute blocks from 4 to 8 p.m. Virtual
CCI+A SBDC: Launching and Running a New Business Entity Aug. 17,  6 to 8 p.m. Virtual
CCI+A Check-in, Session Two Aug. 24, 20-minute blocks from 4 to 8 p.m. Virtual
CCI+A Tech Transfer (David Grossman) and IP Protections (Michael Mort) Aug. 31, 6 to 8 p.m. Virtual
CCI+A Mixer with federal government agency (User Ecosystem) (in-person event) September, date TBD, 9 to 11 a.m. George Mason University,  Mason Square, Arlington, Va.
CCI+A Meet with Sean Mallon and Hina Mehta of the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) Sept. 4, 6 to 7 p.m. Virtual
CCI+A How to write an SBIR/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Proposal Sept. 6, 6 to 7 p.m. Virtual
CCI+A How to Develop a Pitch Workshop Sept. 13, 6 to 7 p.m. Virtual
CCI+A  Bootcamp with CEOs, investors, customers + CEO Roundtable (in-person event) Sept. 15, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. George Mason University,  Mason Square's Fuse Pilot Space, Arlington, Va.
CCI+A Pitch practice session with SBDC and ICAP mentors Sept. 18 (one-on-one scheduled sessions) Virtual
CCI+A CCI + PTAC Industry Day Department of Defense (DOD)/Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (TBC) (in-person event) Sept. 28, time TBD George Mason University,  Mason Square's Fuse Pilot Space, Arlington, Va.
CCI+A Pitch Rehearsal One-on-One with Dan Woolley (Mitre) Oct. 4, (one-on-one scheduled sessions from 4 to 7 p.m.) Virtual
CCI+A Pitch event with stakeholders, investors (in-person event) Oct. 11,  4 to 8 p.m. George Mason University,  Mason Square's Fuse Pilot Space, Arlington, Va.
Accelerate Event 2023 In-person event Nov. 1-2 Army-Navy Club, Arlington, Va.

Direct questions to novacci@gmu.edu.