Acorn Innovation Grants


Applications open October 2, 2023

The Acorn Innovation Grant supports principal investigators at Massachusetts research universities who seek to demonstrate the viability of their technology. Awards could be used to: 1) further develop a prototype, 2) gather additional data to demonstrate proof of concept, or 3) obtain data to compare the technology to existing technologies and show its competitive advantages.

Acorn Awards are designed to fund small, rapidly accomplishable projects that will enable researchers to obtain further funding for additional proof of concept or commercialization. Applicants must be Principal Investigators at a Massachusetts research university, with the technology disclosed to their institution.  As the awards are small, no overhead can be applied for in the budget. Up to 6 awards ($32,500 each) will be granted.

Read the January 2022 press release ​on last fall's winners.


Case Study: HayStack Diagnostics

Haystack Diagnostics, Inc., a medical technology device company spun out of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center,  has developed a diagnostic solution to improve the diagnosis, monitoring, and therapeutic treatment of patients with nerve and muscle disorders. These disorders affect the quality of life of more than 100 million people in the world.

 Haystack Diagnostics’ technology, “iEMG needle,” builds upon, and improves the precision and reliability of the clinical standard electromyography (EMG) needle. It’s a big technological advance in electrodiagnostic medicine. 

 In 2020, MassVentures awarded Haystack Diagnostics’ co-founders Dr. Benjamin Sanchez and Mai Le Libman with an Acorn Award, to help them accomplish key activities to move closer to commercialization: designing and defining device requirements, selecting a manufacturing partner, and completing the development of ten versions of the iEMG needle using different manufacturing methods.

 “The seed fund allowed us to not only further prove out the concept through a rapid development process, but it also helped us accelerate our preparation to take our technology through FDA and pave a clearer roadmap of our commercialization plan,” say Sanchez and Libman.


Case Study: Benjamin Woolston, PhD, Northeastern University

Fermentation of waste industrial gas streams is a promising method for producing renewable biofuels and biochemicals, that also cuts greenhouse gas emissions. The microorganisms required for the process are limited by their sensitivity to oxygen, necessitating expensive gas pre-treatment to reduce oxygen to tolerable levels. They also produce a limited scope of products, such as low-value acetic acid and ethanol.

 Benjamin Woolston, PhD, Northeastern University, is developing a symbiotic co-culture approach that uses two microbes to overcomes these issues.  The method takes advantage of the unique capabilities of each microbe to provide an elegant, simple, and cheap solution to a challenge that has limited the widespread adoption of gas fermentation technology.

MassVentures awarded Dr. Woolston an Acorn Innovation grant earlier this year to collect data to prove the co-culture concept and move closer to commercialization.

 “This has been a very exciting project to work on, and the data we have obtained have significantly de-risked the concept and allowed us to take the next steps in seeking sustained follow-on funding from the DOE and NSF—which we wouldn’t have been able to without this initial investment from MassVentures,” says Woolston, adding that the support for his research team has been vital “at this very early and critical phase of my independent career.”

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