University of Chicago grant opportunities for Fermilab inventors

Cherri J Schmidt

Cherri J Schmidt

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation drives venture creation and technology commercialization within the University of Chicago and surrounding community. I encourage Fermilab employees and users to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the center, which, as a part of the university, is an excellent resource for taking your invention or innovation through the next steps.

Through education, partnerships, and venture support, the Polsky Center advances the knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship and accelerates the commercialization of research.

By leveraging the university’s distinctive strengths in research and a combined research budget of more than $1.5 billion from its three affiliates — Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab and the Marine Biological Laboratory — the Polsky Center paves the way for more ideas to have a meaningful impact on society.

Among its offerings is the top-ranked accelerator program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, which is where companies such as GrubHub and Braintree got their start.  Since 1996, the New Venture Challenge has helped launch more than 160 companies worldwide that have gone on to achieve more than $4 billion in mergers and exits and raised over $575 million in funding. The Polsky Center helps students, faculty, staff, alumni, researchers and local entrepreneurs navigate the complex process of creating and growing a startup. Its resources include a 34,000 square-foot, multidisciplinary co-working space called the Polsky Exchange; a $20 million Innovation Fund that invests in early-stage ventures; and a state-of-the-art Fabrication Lab for prototyping new products.

At the Polsky Exchange in Chicago’s Hyde Park, 1452 E. 53rd Street, you have:

  • Free access to working space in Chicago
  • Locations in close proximity to researchers on the University of Chicago campus

There are four main opportunities for funding via our partners at the University of Chicago.

  1. Innovation Fund – via the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  2. Polsky Incubator – via Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  3. Strategic Collaborative Initiative Seed Grants – via the University of Chicago’s Strategic Collaborative Initiative Program
  4. Lab-Corps – via Argonne National Laboratory


Innovation Fund

The University of Chicago Innovation Fund invests in early business development and proof-of-concept work for ventures created by faculty, students and staff.

The Innovation Fund is managed by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

The Innovation Fund, a $20 million investment fund focusing on commercializing early-stage research and supporting emerging companies at the university, awards grants and invests in promising technologies and start-ups created by current faculty, students and staff of the university and its affiliates, including Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Marine Biological Laboratory. The fund supports projects with high potential for societal and commercial impact, helping to bridge the gap between basic research funding and commercial investment. Fund applicants receive valuable feedback from a panel of internal and external business development experts – including distinguished angel and venture capital investors, scientists and entrepreneurs – to help move their projects forward.

The Innovation Fund also selects a multidisciplinary group of University of Chicago students (Ph.D.s, business school students, law students and undergrads) to serve as associates to help screen, research and support future Innovation Fund projects. The students act as venture capital associates, performing due diligence, validating market needs and helping prepare materials for the innovative projects entering the program.

To learn more about the Innovation Fund and to find out when the next opportunity is available, please visit the fund website.


Polsky Incubator

The Polsky Incubator provides space, mentorship and support to early-stage startups, helping them achieve critical milestones and grow into sustainable businesses.

The incubator is open to early-stage startups with a dedicated, full-time team. Current participants include entrepreneurs from the South Side, recent UChicago graduates, graduate school alumni, faculty and staff.

Benefits include:

  • Monthly mentoring sessions with experienced staff, focused on product development, goal setting and accountability
  • Customized introductions to experts in your field through the Polsky Center’s extensive network
  • Monthly training sessions on topics such as pitching investors or sales with expert speakers and coaches
  • Dedicated legal support through the UChicago Law School Innovation Clinic
  • Dedicated desk and storage space, mail and meeting rooms, as well as preferential access to all of the Polsky Center’s mentors, workshops, classes and events
  • Opportunities to network and learn from other incubator companies

Companies pay $200 per month per desk. The Polsky Center does not take equity in Incubator companies, but does reserve the right to invest in the next institutional round of funding.

Learn more about the Polsky Incubator.


Strategic Collaborative Initiative Seed Grants

The University of Chicago funds research projects to support collaborative research between the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab.

Awards are available for up to $75,000 (inclusive of indirect costs) for a period of 12 months.

Criteria for selection include:

  • the importance of the work to be accomplished.
  • the collaboration’s potential to create a more powerful research program than could be achieved by one institution independently.
  • the potential to achieve an ongoing collaboration between institutions.

Learn more about the Strategic Collaborative Initiative Seed Grants, please visit.



Lab-Corps is a U.S. Department of Energy program that provides a specialized training curriculum aimed at accelerating the transfer of clean energy technologies from national laboratories into the commercial marketplace. The program focuses on establishing a set of proven training methods that will equip DOE laboratory scientists with a better understanding of the commercialization process.

Lab-Corps is managed by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory with support from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. Argonne’s Office of Strategy and Innovation supports laboratory researchers who want to participate in Lab-Corps.

As part of the Lab-Corps program, laboratories will assemble, train and support entrepreneurial Lab-Corps teams to identify private sector opportunities for commercializing promising clean energy technologies. Each team gets access to a suite of commercialization resources and tools, including direct market feedback on technologies as well as perspective on the development of startup companies, industry partnerships, licensing agreements and other business opportunities.

Applicants apply to Lab-Corps as a team, composed of a principal investigator with a commercially relevant technology, an entrepreneurial lead and an industry mentor; it is not necessary to have a complete team at the time of the application.

Each team can be awarded up to $75,000. Funding for teams is subject to the availability of appropriations and congressional direction. In the past, these funds have been used for salaries, travel to training programs and customer meetings, technology maturation, training materials, and commercialization support services. Argonne and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation provide in-kind support, including assistance with business plan development, office and laboratory space, administrative and legal support, and access to networks of commercial and entrepreneurial resources.

To learn more about Lab-Corps, please visit the program’s website.


Staying informed

The Office of Partnerships and Technology announces these opportunities right here on Fermilab News as we become aware. Please continue to check Fermilab News regularly for your chance to apply or email Dawn Staszak to be added to our distribution list.

Cherri J Schmidt is the head of the Fermilab Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer.