melchior cini fusion mcst

Malta’s top research fund is currently being revamped as it gears up to offer mentoring and financial support to the research and innovation community to develop their ideas for the benefit of society.

Since 2014, the Malta Council for Science and Technology’s FUSION programme has provided over €12 million in funding for research and innovation (R&I), thus raising the level and profile of the field in Malta and ingraining R&I at the heart of the Maltese economy.

The programme is set to develop further as part of the Malta Council for Science and Technology’s drive to support the local research community. caught up with the Malta Council for Science and Technology’s R&I Programmes Manager Melchior Cini to find out more about the opportunities offered through its FUSION programme.

Malta Council for Science and Technology premises at Villa Bighi

“FUSION is a locally funded national programme that drives and supports local R&I. It provides the necessary support for researchers to ultimately turn their innovative ideas into a market-ready reality,” says Dr Cini.

He describes FUSION projects as ones aimed at spurring knowledge and value added growth whilst sustaining improvements in the quality of life through the implementation of solutions that address research needs or market improvements.

Dr Cini believes that benefits can be achieved because research results and innovation have the potential of translating into commercial activities which generate a multiplier effect on the economy, increasing Malta’s competitiveness through the creation of high-value and knowledge-intensive employment opportunities in Malta’s priority industries.

FUSION funds research like this pocket-sized cooling technology

In fact, examples of such projects include the development of a better kind of brick with acoustic and thermal insulation properties, a prosthetic knee with a longer lifetime, a cooling technology small enough to fit inside portable electronic products, and a multi-drone system that can be used to improve the diving experience, featuring partnerships with firms in the construction, health, manufacturing and tourism industries.

Not happy to sit on its laurels, the MCST team is currently revamping the FUSION Programme to incorporate a wider portfolio of funding programmes which would accommodate a wider technology-readiness spectrum, open to locally registered entities.

Last year, MCST launched the Research Excellence Programme (REP) as a pilot scheme specifically intended to fund early-stage research through a bottom-up, non-thematic based approach.

Dr Cini says that the REP was very well-received by the research community, and it is now intended to become a regular feature in the FUSION portfolio. In fact, the REP call will be launched again in April 2021. Under this programme, Maltese registered entities can apply for a possible grant of € 50,000 to develop their innovative research idea.

If the innovation is at a more advanced technology readiness level (TRL), the researcher can tap into the Commercialisation Voucher Programme (CVP). The FUSION CVP aims at assisting inventors and researchers to assess the commercial and market potential of their ideas.

“Through the CVP, the inventors will ascertain whether anyone else possesses their same idea, verify whether their idea has higher chances of success on the international market, establish how much the final product/service will cost to the end customer, and ensure that they are competitive in the market with a good chance of success,” explains Dr Cini.

Villa Bighi at night

Since 2014, the CVP has provided €2 million worth of funding. Following a streamlining procedure to simplify the programme parameters, a new call is intended to be launched at the end of Q2 of this year.

The Technology Development Programme (TDP) has also been a staple of the FUSION Programme since 2014, with funding of up to € 10 million since 2014.

At this stage, the project builds on the outcomes of the CVP by providing financial support for research, development and innovation.

“Here the focus is on research, development, knowledge transfer and establishing collaborations between the public and industrial sectors with the intention of commercialising the technology developed,” says Dr Cini.

The grant provides up to €200,000 worth of funding for the actual technology development whilst also providing additional funds for commercial activities in the form of additional vouchers, namely for IP Registration, Development of a Business Plan and Preparation for meeting Investors.

This year, MCST will also be launching a special top-down research programme specifically designed to target pressing national needs. The intent for this year is to also launch a fast-track FUSION TDP programme that is better aimed to address the specific needs of the private sector.

Asked about the impact of the FUSION programme, Dr Cini highlights the relevance of the CVP to Maltese entities, as it is designed to assess the feasibility of the proposed R&I technology.

He says that, “Since FUSION’s inception, the CVP has supported numerous researchers from academia and other public as well as private entities to seek the commercial potential of their research or to start new or accelerate innovative activities that can lead to a better research venture.”

The optional vouchers for Intellectual Property Registration, Business Plan and Investors’ Meeting are also available for FUSION TDP consortia to further support them in achieving the end result of a commercialisable product or service.

Through the Intellectual Property Registration Voucher, the researchers have the opportunity to pursue intellectual property protection for the invention they have attained through R&D&I.

“The ultimate scope is to initiate and facilitate the process of intellectual property registration. During the past 3 years, we have witnessed a steady rise in the number of FUSION TDP consortia utilising this voucher, leading to several IP protection such as Priority date registration and subsequent EPO Patent filing, registering of trademarks and Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC).”

MCST also runs Malta’s interactive science centre – Esplora

Meanwhile, the Business Plan Voucher has helped FUSION TDP Consortia by clearly establishing which goals and objectives must be achieved in order for their business to succeed, whereas the Investors’ Meeting Optional Voucher has helped the beneficiaries of FUSION TDP to find the right opportunities through which the technology/product can be showcased, as well as preparing the beneficiary with the right tools when meeting potential investors.

Dr Cini notes that following the end of their project, a couple of FUSION TDP consortia went on to apply and receive further funding at EU level, and there have been occasions of new incorporations, spin-offs or further collaborations on other projects.

Local investors can keep updated on the latest R&I at Public Engagement Events, hosted at Esplora, where FUSION TDP consortia can engage with potential investors to seek further funding and/or launch a product to the market.

Dr Cini says that these events are very well received by the public, “both in attendance as well as through our MCST social media platforms”.

The development of FUSION is one example of how the Malta Council for Science and Technology is adapting and growing to better support the local research community. It is also embarking on other initiatives under the guidance of MCST Executive Chairman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, such as new offerings for internationalisation, space and support on EU funding. Such efforts have been supported through the Ministry for Research, Innovation and The Co-Ordination of Post COVID-19 Strategy, through further prioritising research in Malta.

Featured Image:

MCST Programmes Manager Melchior Cini


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