Until recently, the United States was a leader in technology and science. In 1969, we put the first humans on the moon. We’ve invented vaccines to prevent deadly diseases, developed nuclear power, and advanced technologies from the lightbulb to the internet.
Sadly, the United States now falls behind most developed countries in the world in our academic achievements. U.S. students are consistently ranked as average in science and reading and below average in mathematics compared to other industrialized nations. Funding for STEM programs and education has been systematically stripped away over the past few decades.
Every election cycle, a standard campaign promise revolves around job creation and strengthening the middle class. While unemployment in 2021 was down to 6.3% nationally, the number of individuals employed part-time due to economic reasons increased from 295,000 in February 2020 to 4.3 million in May 2022. At the same time, urbanization continues to send the population to cities and suburbs, while whole swaths of the country that once held industry have been all but forgotten.
Recently, the National Science Foundation has created a way to address these challenges productively.
Their new funding initiative - Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines - is designed to assist geographic areas in creating innovation ecosystems to "advance critical technologies; address national and societal challenges; foster partnerships across industry, academia, government, nonprofits, civil society, and communities of practice; promote and stimulate economic growth and job creation; and spur regional innovation and talent".
After determining their current strengths and the desired future of their regions, a Regional Innovation Engine is a coalition meant to pull together a region’s resources, untapped talent potential, and leaders to create a plan for the future. Driven by the need to make the United States competitive on the world stage again, the NSF Engines program has the potential to create solid regional economic ecosystems geared toward STEM advancement.
What is considered a “Region”?
The NSF Engines program funding prioritizes U.S. geographic regions that do not have well-established innovation ecosystems.
While participating organizations in a given Engine should primarily consist of organizations within the proposed service region, the Engine can also bring in partners outside the geographical area. Regions can include large areas, such as a collection of states, or a smaller area, such as a county or a city, and simply requires an explanation of why this area should be considered a “Region.” All included partners must be aligned with the defined goals of the Engine, and their roles in the economic development of the region of service must be justified. It is expected that Engines will leverage appropriate partnerships across the country to achieve its goals in a way that complements other ongoing efforts by NSF and other federal agencies, state governments, and private sector organizations.
The NSF Engines program describes the growth of an innovation ecosystem with a five-phase model:
Type-1 - Up to $1 Million and for a duration of up to 2 Years
Type 1 awards will support the development phase - the initial organization of a region’s engine. All stakeholders involved will need to agree on a vision, and an executive director from the stakeholders will need to be selected to apply.
Type-2 - Up to $160 Million and for up to 10 years
Type 2 awards will support the nascent, emergent, and growth phases once the engine is up and running. The NSF intends to see Type 1 awards apply for Type 2 funding as a natural progression in the engine’s development.
Though NSF funding typically goes to support university-led projects, NSF will consider non-university affiliated entities for this funding, and encourages submissions from non-profit and for-profit organizations.
Deadlines and Dates
Submissions must be received by 5 p.m., submitter’s local time, on the dates specified below:
Type-1 and Type-2 Concept Outlines: Due Thursday, June 30, 2022 (a two page document)
Type-1 Letters of Intent: Due Wednesday, August 31, 2022
Type-1 Full Proposals: Due Thursday, September 29, 2022
Type-2 Letters of Intent: Due in Fiscal Year 2023 at a date to be announced.
Type-2 Full Proposals: Due in Fiscal Year 2023 at a date to be announced.
The Concept Outline, Letters of Intent, and full proposals in response to the BAA should be submitted via the NSF Submission Portal for the BAA.
For more information, register for the “Q&A about the NSF Engines Program (Session 2)” Webinar
Tuesday, June 21, 2022 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (EDT)
Full details for the Regional Innovation Engines initiative can be found here.