Spark grants

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Spark grants aim to stimulate unusual collaborations to address societal challenges. The grants offer initial financial support to start building a committed project team and explore the potential of an idea and/or test whether it can be taken further and developed into a project application, for an Unusual Collaborations grant or another funding scheme.

Spark grants are thus a low-threshold stimulus to support connection with others outside one’s own disciplinary background, to initiate collaboration around a research idea, to share knowledge and best practices, and to develop something together.

Our Spark programme consists of two phases: a series of four half-day workshops (phase one) followed by a period of time in which a research topic can be explored with a team (phase two).

The call for applications for the September/October 2024 cohort is now open.

Spark phase 1: Developing interdisciplinary research competences and finding research team members 

The first step in the learning journey – what we call Spark phase 1 – comprises four half-day workshops that serve the dual purpose of interdisciplinary research competence development and of connecting researchers with one another as potential Spark collaborators. Participants enter Spark phase 1 with a couple of ‘unusual’ research interests that excite them and – while they may perhaps already have some team members in mind – they are open and keen to meet others within the Spark phase 1 training cohort and to explore developing a research idea together. The idea emerges within and through the interdisciplinary collaboration, rather than being the starting point.

Participation in these workshops is a mandatory step in the Spark grant process for at least two members of an eventual Spark team; the rest of the team is not required to take the workshops. The workshops for the September/October 2024 cohort will take place at CUCo’s Nest at the Utrecht Science Park from 13:00 – 17:00h CET on:

  • Monday, 16 September 2024
  • Monday, 23 September 2024
  • Monday, 30 September 2024
  • Monday, 7 October 2024

The dates for the spring 2025 cohort have already been set: Monday, 10, 17, 24, and 31 March 2025, all from 13:00 – 17:00h CET. If you’re interested in signing up, please let us know by email ( and we’ll send you a reminder when the call for applications opens.

Registering for entering Spark phase 1 can be done via completing the form below. We strive for participation that offers diversity in terms of disciplinary, epistemological and institutional backgrounds, gender and career stage. 

Eligibility criteria
The core team must include researchers from at least three of the alliance institutes (TU/e, Wageningen University, Utrecht University, and UMC Utrecht) that together form a truly interdisciplinary combination – Please note that CUCo encourages interaction between the humanities, social and natural sciences and everything that falls in between. The majority of the team members will be sought in the mid-career stage: they hold assistant or associate professor positions. The main applicant  is past the postdoc stage.

Diversity and inclusion
CUCo strives to achieve and contribute to an inclusive academic culture in which there is no place for conscious or unconscious barriers due to cultural, ethnic or religious background, gender, sexual orientation, health or age. CUCo encourages and trusts applicants to take additional effort to increase the diversity within research teams. If the team is having trouble with increasing diversity, please contact CUCo for support. 

Spark phase 2: Assembling a team and developing a research topic

After completing the four half-day workshops, participants can enter Spark phase 2, in which pairs of Spark phase 1 participants from different disciplines assemble a team and identify and develop a project topic for their project. Teams that have provided a proposal for a process for collaboration that meets the Spark criteria below can enter Spark phase 2 and compose a team. Upon meeting the eligibility criteria they will be supported with a € 9.000 grant, which can be used, for example, to finance meetings and events, assistants or other support, facilitators, field trips, etc.

Throughout Spark phase 2, teams, individually and collectively supported by CUCo-provided process coaches, will to be able to 1) together explore, ‘test’ and reflect on individual competences; 2) set individual intentions with the project; 3) co-create a common working language, with support from an external facilitator that can be covered by the Spark grant funds; 4) work towards a joint grant proposal and/or deliver an unusual project output that brings together topic- and/or process-specific insights acquired throughout the collaboration process. Additional members may be added to the team throughout  Spark phase 2 in line with the team’s needs. Once the proposal is approved, Spark phase 2 teams can start spending the funding.

Please note that funding is based on reimbursements of costs. Due to institutional requirements, expenses can be reimbursed for a maximum period of one year.

A Spark grant is a prerequisite for applying for the larger Unusual Collaborations grant: Spark teams may apply to an Unusual Collaborations call for proposals as soon as the Spark project has finalised by submitting an end report (which may be in written, video and/or visual formats, in a podcast, a training, a theater performance, or otherwise). Spark teams, however, are also encouraged to seek other funding sources if they should be available. Through the EWUU alliance support is available for exploring other funding sources, please contact CUCo if needed.

The deadline for a phase 2 proposal is Monday, 20 May 2024.

Spark phase 2 teams and the ideas they work on will be expected to meet the following criteria in order to fit the vision and aim of CUCo.

Prospect of the team

  • Unusual team composition – please note that CUCo encourages teams to include representation from the humanities, social and natural sciences and everything in between
  • Complementarity of disciplines: represented in the team
  • Fit of expertise with the proposed idea

Process for developing the idea

  • New, unique, unusual in terms of approach and methods 
  • Promising and adequate process for for getting to know one another and building trust amongst team members 
  • The envisioned outcomes of the process are clear and convincing

Interdisciplinary learning approach

  • the competences for interdisciplinary learning are reflected in the ambitions outlined in the proposal
  • adequate self-assessment of the availability, and approach for strengthening, of the required competences 
  • convincing strategy to embed reflection and learning throughout the Spark phase 2 process


Spark phase 2 teams will meet with the CUCo team and board during check-ins at the start and end of the duration of the grant. Spark teams are also asked to give an update about their progress at a CUCo event (ideally midway through the duration of the project). This is an opportunity to receive feedback, get new members on board, or ask for input. At the end stage of the project, process learnings and if available research results will be presented in a self-chosen format (e.g. blog, video, infographic, report) that can be made available at the CUCo website. 

The CUCo team and board will keep in touch with the project team to help them move forward with the collaboration and will organise support, training, etc. Teams are encouraged to approach CUCo about roadblocks, complications, and other issues hindering the process. Discontinuing projects that end up not being feasible is okay, as this will free up the budget for others to start new projects.

How are your interdisciplinary competences?
Use our self-assessment tool to find out!