NSF TIP Directorate and Regional Innovation Engines
A Conversation with NSF TIP Assistant Director Erwin Gianchandani
During UIDP’s spring 2022 conference, Erwin Gianchandani sat down with UIDP for a conversation about his new role as assistant director of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships–the agency’s first new directorate in 30 years. He shared his views about university-industry-government partnerships and the changes to current practices needed to catalyze stronger collaborations.
Advancing Societal Interests through Strategic Collaborations
Gianchandani also presented a forward-looking session about the new directorate and the vision for its work during the 2022 UIDP spring conference. He describes plans for the Regional Innovation Engines, a new program designed to catalyze and foster innovation ecosystems across the U.S. 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.
Watch the recording and download the presentation slides.
NSF’s Daniel Goetzel on Regional Innovation Engines
Innovation Engines program] is to expand the geography of innovation to more places, more communities across the country, and really create a pathway for breakthrough technologies to be commercialized and also do all the economic growth, economic development, and capacity building work around that. So, it’s very flexible capital.
“I previously headed up corporate partnerships and started ecosystem building efforts at Columbia University. I worked on a $100 million public partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation focused on ownership. Before that, I was the director of innovation at Johns Hopkins university. But I started my career in government and in politics working for a governor, a senator, and on the presidential campaign, so this is kind of a return to the public sector for me, which I’m very excited about….”
“We are looking to fund innovative models to drive economic growth in regions across the country that have not fully participated in the technology the past couple decades. We are thinking about this in a number of different ways, and we are thinking about it in terms of a much broader set of stakeholders. For-profits, non-profits, federal labs, stakeholder governments, agencies focused on economic development, innovation and workforce development are all eligible to play a meaningful role and receive funding from these small-group proposals.
“We break it down into two types. There’s a type one, which we call an early stage, development stage grant. It’s $1 million for up to 18 months. That is for early stage ecosystems, for early-stage topic areas that are not ready yet to apply for type two, which is the larger $160 million award. For the type two, we’re focused on ecosystems that are growing but hot at full maturity yet. So, they have the potential and the assets to do really incredible things and are working towards that.
“The unique thing about our model is we really want to encourage regional collaboration, and we’re not just saying that. We’ve hopefully put together a model that will actually encourage that. So, concept papers are due on June 30th  as kind of the first step in this process. And if you’re applying for a type one or a type two, you have to submit a concept paper, and then we’re going to publish all these concept papers so you can see what everyone is putting in, in terms of their idea, what that region looks like, and the goal is for you all to work together and collaborate and build even stronger applications before the application deadline later in the fall.
“So, a couple things that I’ve been getting questions about, I’m just kind of proactively addressing something that I’ve run over time again. One is we allow the regions to determine their region. We don’t say it has to be defined by census tracts or by zip code. Come to us, you can involve stakeholders from outside of the region, but the benefit of the work needs to inure to the region as it’s defined. So that’s really important. When it can cross state lines, it can involve metro areas, it can involve rural areas, but right size it to the funding that we’re providing. You know, $160 million, if you’re crossing 12-13 states, we might say that’s hard to do. If you’re saying it’s only this one specific town and we’re going to absorb it all, we might say give it some more thought.
“The last thing I’ll say is, how does this fit into other programs? You heard about fantastic programs that others are already doing and we recognize we’re coming into a universe of stakeholders who review a lot incredible work already. The way we think about it is kind of like a tree. NSF has historically been very focused at the bottom of the tree, at the roots: foundational research, basic research. And then you have the trunk of the tree, and then you have branches coming off of it. The branches could be specific programs DOE is doing for commercialization in or DOD, it could be an accelerator incubator, venture capital for an investment. And then you have kind of the trunk of the tree. What we want to do is work on that root part and act as a connector serving the trunk of the tree with commerce and SBA and others to connect these networks in and to think really intentionally about where we fit into that economic development ecosystem, what we can do to drive pre-technologies that are in areas of national competitiveness, and how we can be a feeder to other programs that are already doing fantastic work, and also as a way to build on some of the things that are smaller scale that this could hopefully help supercharge and catalyze those efforts.
“So, I’m really excited about this. I hope that many of you are excited about it as well. I started my career working in Kentucky, I spent a long time working in Baltimore, I fully understand and appreciate that we need to do more to expand geography and innovation, and I’m passionate about working together with those of you in this room and many others who are trying to drive that way.”
Further Resources: NSF Regional Innovation Engines
The (NSF Engines) program and funding opportunity is committed to creating technology-driven innovation ecosystems throughout every region of the U.S., driving economic growth, addressing key societal challenges, and advancing national competitiveness. .
The NSF Engines program provides up to $160 million in funding for up to 10+ years to establish each Engine. This funding opportunity is a unique way to drive economic growth in regions that have not fully participated in the technology boom of the past few decades. The concept is rooted in regional teams. Researchers and innovators from industry, academia, government, nonprofits, civil society, and communities of practice are encouraged to form regional coalitions and submit proposals. The deadline for the first round of concept outlines is June 30, 2022.