Frequently Asked Questions

General Program Questions

There are several compelling arguments for basic science researchers to be interested in translational work:

  1. Social obligation: Much of the money to fund basic science research and clinical services comes from public funds, so it makes sense that researchers and clinicians should try to help their discoveries improve public health if translational opportunities exist
  2. Foster culture of innovation: Academics are risk-takers, in that they are not afraid to embark on big high-risk research questions if they have potential for a high impact. Industry tends to be more risk-averse, as corporate heads have investors to please. Given the escalating costs and timelines associated with drug development, the field needs more innovative people tackling challenges in order to meet medical needs.
  3. Champion the science: Even promising therapies need champions to promote their development across the “Valley of Death” described by Elias Zerhouni, former director of the National Institutes of Health. If not you, then who?
  4. Financial and business development reasons: There is a real challenge in getting early stage healthtech and life science projects funded by private investors. That is a global phenomenon and it prohibits introducing new and better solutions for treating patients. For getting more into this topic see Professor Andrew Lo’s (Head of MIT Financial Engineering Lab) presentation at SPARK 10th anniversary event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doLvjy7v4JQ

In surveys of SPARK participants, the most cited benefit of SPARK is access to the expert advisors. Many participants also report that SPARK funding was critical to keep the project moving towards the next value point; highlighting the gap in available funding for experiments in this “Valley of Death.” SPARK also acts as a matchmaker between projects and interested investors. Overall, SPARK’s efforts help reduce the barriers to translational research at our partner institutions.

We recognize that not every location has the density of potential R&D and business mentors as they have in the Bay Area. While geographical spread may force some virtual meetings, occasional in-person meetings are very important. Advisors are more invested when they can look researchers in the eye and see the excitement. The informal networking before and after SPARK meetings helps build the sense of community and has resulted in multiple collaborations between SPARK Scholars. In-person meetings hold everyone accountable and engaged—if a researcher hears a great presentation from another team, they are driven to make their own presentation just as impressive. The same goes for advisors—everyone wants to make the great suggestion that gets the team over the next hurdle.

SPARK Stanford now has over 100 advisors, about 30-40 who attend any given SPARK session. But they started with only 5 advisors. SPARK Finland starts with more than 20 advisors.

Because the technology transfer office (TTO) negotiates all licenses and decides what patents to file, SPARK does not track royalty revenues or patents filed as metrics of our success. SPARK also does not receive any fraction of royalties generated from SPARK programs.

Although, the funding may initially have drawn participants to SPARK, the access to education, experience and advice has grown to be the biggest motivations for participation in SPARK.

SPARK can investigate with the help of TTO offices to determine how to proceed.

This is a difficult balance. Hopefully the SPARK project is closely associated with your research and they can be done in parallel.

Selection Questions

SPARK has a wide range of projects in each class, from early ideas to a preliminary solutions. We don’t require patents applied in before hand, but many of the projects will apply patents during the process.

Why focus on unmet medical need? Wouldn’t second in class be commercially viable?

SPARK is driven to address unmet medical need, not generate money. As such, the potential market earnings for a project do not factor heavily into project selection. Also, we feel the best way to utilize the innovation occurring in academia is to focus on novel approaches to treat disease.

Teams must be actively participating in SPARK: attending the evening sessions, meeting periodically with their project manager, and giving quarterly updates to the whole SPARK group. We understand that experiments can take longer than anticipated, but the SPARK management must feel that the team has made adequate progress in order to be invited to continue for a second year.

We are accepting applications from all academic and clinical areas – at this stage – in Helsinki capital region and Tampere region. We will accept applications associated with the calls sent out. Applications can be accepted for funding and or mentoring. If you are not accepted into SPARK the first please try again.

SPARK initiative is looking for all innovative, novel projects. As long as the projects meet the requirements for SPARK they can be accepted into the program.

Corporate Relations

SPARK will often speak with contacts at pharma, biotech, healthtech, health IT or venture capital (VC) groups to try to match SPARK projects to potential licensees. These discussions are always done as an initial contact without project full disclosure.

No, SPARK Finland does not receive industry funding to support the SPARK program or fund certain teams.

You can find their current numbers from their web pages http://med.stanford.edu/sparkmed/spark/Success.html.

Yes, but only with the consent of the team leader. SPARK Finland will maintain a list of non-confidential two-line summaries for all unlicensed projects, which we share with interested potential licensees. When a project has reached a new value point, we will also schedule phone calls with venture capital groups and pharma partners to promote the technology. Occasionally, a SPARK Scholar will ask us not to promote their project for a period of time. This is fairly rare.

Not at the moment.