UNHInnovation Fund Awards $50,000 Grants for Cucurbit Seeds and Smart Insoles

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Cucurbit seeds and smart insole sensors were selected as the winning proposals for the newly launched UNHInnovation Fund during the final round presentations on April 17, 2023. The fund awarded two $50,000 grants to help UNH faculty researchers move their innovations closer to licensing and commercialization. Congratulations to recipients Dr. Christopher Hernandez, assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Food Systems, and Dr. Diliang Chen, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Dr. Christopher Hernandez works in the pumpkin field as part of UNH's cucurbit breeding program

Dr. Christopher Hernandez works in the pumpkin fields, furthering research on UNH's cucurbit breeding program.

Dr. Hernandez’s proposed use of funds centered on expanding commercialization opportunities for UNH’s cucurbit breeding program by developing new varieties of squash, pumpkins and melons with improved characteristics such as increased market yield, disease resistance and nutritional quality. The funds will also support collection of genetic data via DNA sequencing at UNH’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies and collecting field data on key UNH breeding lines. In addition to preserving a vast collection of seeds and historical genetic information, the funds will allow for consolidation of data into digestible product profiles for cataloging UNH’s licensable breeding lines for commercial stakeholders. The product catalogue is critical to facilitating the transfer of new varieties and expanding the university’s licensing partnerships, ultimately making breeding lines available for license to farmers in New Hampshire and worldwide.

Dr. Diliang Chen (pictured in headshot) was awarded funds to continue development of smart insole sensors.

Dr. Chen's funding award will help further development of smart insole sensors.

Dr. Chen’s presentation focused on utilizing funds for further development of an auto-calibrated smart insole measuring ground reaction force (GRF), which has a range of commercial applications including healthcare, occupational safety and sports performance. Unlike current smart insole technologies that require manual calibration before each use, this novel innovation achieves automatic calibration through a unique insole design and proprietary algorithms. The funds will allow for further market research, identification of potential customers and development of a comprehensive prototype to showcase the technology in a range of applications. Data collected as part of the UNHInnovation Fund grant will bolster pursuit of future external funding to continue developing commercial potential for this innovation.

The review panel was comprised of internal and external commercialization experts and headed by Marian McCord, senior vice provost for Research, Economic Engagement, Outreach (REEO), whose office was instrumental in the creation of this fund. Each proposal was evaluated based on the criteria of rationale, effort, funding impact, outcome, plan, and budget. To provide additional value to the competitors, the review committee offered feedback to all finalists on how to strengthen their proposals for future grant cycles and innovators who were not awarded grants are encouraged to apply again.

“We’re very excited to see Dr. Chen and Dr. Hernandez put these funds to use, furthering the commercial potential of their innovation. We look forward to watching their progress through the coming year,” said Marc Eichenberger, UNHInnovation’s associate vice president and chief business development and innovation officer. Added Maithili Shroff, UNHInnovation Fund manager and licensing manager for sciences and engineering, “the UNH community responded positively for the first UNHInnovation Fund allocation and we look forward to the second cycle this fall.”

The UNHInnovation Fund will reopen for proposals in August and will award up to two grants during both the fall and spring competition cycles. More information is available at https://innovation.unh.edu/fund.