Case study: NSF Engines development award

The Opportunity: The Regional Innovation Engines program is the first major funding initiative launched by the newly established Technology, Innovation and Partnerships directorate at NSF. The goal of the two-year development award from this program is to create connections and establish local innovation ecosystems that can prepare teams to tackle a full-scale proposal for an NSF Regional Innovation Engine.

The Stakeholders: Craig Arnold, Princeton’s Vice Dean for Innovation, is leading the effort along with Robert Chimenti from Rowan University. Ten additional universities, a dozen local companies, several state economic development agencies, as well as local incubators and accelerators also participate in this collaboration.

The Challenge: A large, complex collaboration to drive economic and technological advancements in photonics – a branch of science that includes lasers, optical fibers, and other light-based innovations. Engaging with non-academic partners with experience in regional workforce training and development created new challenges, but also new relationships to develop a strong proposal.

The Process: The agency hosted multiple “roadshows” and informational sessions where attendees were encouraged to brainstorm ideas in breakout sessions with fellow attendees interested in similar topics. The unconventional submission process included an initial concept outline that was submitted to NSF and competitively reviewed. Selected proposers were invited to meet with program staff and fellow proposers to exchange ideas and explore new collaborations. The proposal development process required a complex team effort involving many non-traditional stakeholders. The experienced research development staff in the Office of the Dean for Research shepherded and supported this process every step of the way.

The Outcome: The two-year $1M award will lay the groundwork for a multistate, regional collaboration called Advancing Photonics Technologies that will advance use-inspired research, translate discoveries into the market, and build the region’s technological workforce. The awards enable teams to prepare competitive proposals for becoming future NSF Engines, which will each have the opportunity to receive up to $160M to implement their plans. Read more about this exciting new initiative in the NSF Engines Development Awards announcement and the Princeton University announcement.