The concept of seed funding emerged from the world of investment finance, where investors commit an initial early-stage stake (seed) of funding to support the development of new concepts, products or companies. In higher education research, the term retains this idea of supporting original, bold and even risky projects and collaborations, which the Wellcome Trust says addresses a gap in traditional funding calls.
The Newton Fund, a fund dedicated to supporting innovation and scientific research project collaboration between the UK and developing countries, has recently announced that it will double in size by the end of the current UK government’s term. Seed funding is a major component of this extension of funding. Other leading research funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, and university consortiums including the African Partnership for Chronic Disease Research (APCDR), are also offering seed awards to encourage a new generation of innovative research.
These are only some examples that illustrate the growing interest in seed funding, as a method to catalyse new ideas. But how is this approach different from ‘the norm’ in the research-funding arena, and most importantly, could seed funding be the way forward for broadening exploratory research in global health?
For researchers early in their careers, winning funding and grants for research is seen as a key achievement for ascending in their professional field. In the event of scarce research funding in a particular field, and the necessity of preliminary data prior to applying for a more substantial multi-year grant award, seed funding allows emerging talented researchers access to initial funds to kick-start a larger project, whilst allowing them to build up a record of grant awards.
At the same time, seed funding, due to its entrepreneurial nature, also allows for creation and strengthening of partnerships and collaborations across institutions. In this way, seed funding is changing previously narrow opportunities for funding, by taking a more immediate and comprehensive approach to collaborative research, broadening options for more researchers across the globe.
The long term impact of seed funding in shaping the present research landscape is yet to be measured. However, in the current context, the increase in seed funding awards has thus far enabled the necessary dynamism and infrastructure to support the development of novel ideas, most of them in their infancy, allowing funders to extend their support further.
- Aglionby, J. (2015). Seed funding: Perseverance pays off for Africa’s entrepreneurs. The Financial Times Limited
- Gallardo, C. (2016). Newton Fund set to double by 2021. Research Fortnight, Research Professional
- Hollow, M. (2013). Crowdfunding and civic society in Europe: a profitable partnership? Vol. 4, issue 1, Open Citizenship
- Matthews, D. (2015). MIT and Imperial launch seed fund to support ‘risky’ research. Times Higher Education Supplement