Evaluation of the EDA Regional Innovation Strategies Program 2014 to 2017
The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) operates two primary initiatives that focus on scaling innovation and supporting high-growth entrepreneurship. These competitive initiatives operate under the Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Program, a national grant program focused on increasing the capacity of regions to translate innovation into jobs for regions across the country. The two competitive opportunities, the i6 Challenge and the Seed Fund Support Program, are available to a variety of organizations that support innovators and entrepreneurs.
The EDA wanted to analyze the RIS Program’s effectiveness and economic impacts to determine:
Whether the program was achieving its goals;
How the program could be improved; and
Whether the program should be continued or terminated.
Fourth Economy Consulting was selected through a competitive review process to conduct an evaluation of the Seed Fund Support (SFS) and the i6 Challenge (i6) projects awarded between 2014 - 2017. The evaluation included analysis of the performance metrics and outcomes of the participants, as well as creation of case studies illustrating the variety of approaches used by the participants, to review the overall function of the RIS Program, how well the component programs (SFS and i6) work together, and how the individual programs progressed toward their specific goals and metrics.
The RIS Program is highly competitive. The budget for the program has grown since 2014, but the requests greatly exceed the amount available. Even with budget increases, the program only has enough funding to support 20 percent of the requests. The RIS Program serves the continuum of communities that want to develop their innovation capacity - from small, rural communities to dense, urban communities - and is not focused solely on established innovation hubs. The RIS program allows for flexible approaches so that regions can define a strategy and scope of work that is tailored to their specific needs and unique assets.
Since our report, the RIS program has been revamped and rebranded as the Build to Scale (B2S) program. Per our recommendations, B2S has implemented a pre-application review process to ease the burden on applicants, and other critical aspects of the program have been retained. Demand for the program remains high.