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Blog: From workshop to working together: Getting to a new NSF jointly-funded solicitation

By Tony Boccanfuso, President and CEO, UIDP

It’s not often that we get to see tangible evidence of the value of our work. But earlier this month, UIDP celebrated a new U.S. National Science Foundation solicitation that has its roots in a UIDP-convened November 2022 NSF workshop, “Aligning Interests in Support of Chemistry Research.”

Molecular Foundations for Sustainability: Sustainable Polymers Enabled by Emerging Data Analytics (MFS-SPEED) is a combined effort of the NSF mathematical and physical science directorates and co-funded by five industry partners: Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, BASF, Dow, and IBM. Representatives from these member companies attended the UIDP-led 2022 workshop, specifically convened to identify barriers to public-private partnerships like this and the topics high on the list for potential co-funded programs. Over the next year, and driven in large part by the persistence of Pete Ellingson of Procter & Gamble and Peter Dorhout of Iowa State University, these companies formed a coalition of the willing and worked with NSF to craft the solicitation.

It is a long and complex process to bring a co-funded solicitation to fruition. Undeniably, new modalities are needed to accelerate pathways for discovery that involve more players than traditional university-industry sponsored research. UIDP’s mission is to develop new approaches for working together, and we’ve been honored to play a role in these discussions, facilitating activities that aim to catalyze a new era of collaboration engaging universities, industries, government, and nonprofits.

In April 2023, NSF’s Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Directorate, which works across all NSF divisions, invited UIDP to convene a second meeting with representatives from 49 companies across all sectors to discuss strategies for partnering. Key findings from the NSF Industry Partnership Summit include an urgent interest in moving faster, improving communication, and working more closely with NSF program officers to align research interests for future solicitations (see the report here).

MFS-SPEED focuses on basic research, but we see a trend in U.S. federal science and technology dollars going toward translational and technology development aims as well. This is why we hope our industry members will engage early as new translational research programs take shape. The interest in translational science and technology development, as well as workforce development and attendant economic prosperity, is clearly evident in the mission of the U.S. Economic Development Administration Tech Hubs program.

NSF is also interested in seeing use-inspired research leveraged to develop new technology that benefits society. UIDP has curated a list of NSF programs that include opportunities for companies to engage as collaborators or, in some cases, as project leads.

Last week, UIDP again played a convening and facilitation role on behalf of four NSF directorates in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute. The Translating Molecular Science Innovations into Biotechnology Solutions workshop brought together grant awardees with corporate and government representatives to share key research outcomes and to consider commercial potential for additional investment. It was exciting to hear researchers from industry and academia discussing the potential for future biotechnology products based on this groundbreaking work.

UIDP is deeply committed to facilitating new approaches to partner. We see tremendous potential for our member organizations to benefit from these multi-sector collaborations—from the companies who co-invest to the universities and other research organizations that receive the research funding. If you are interested in learning more, please email us.