March 16, 2023 — One year ago, under the leadership of Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced the establishment of the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, or TIP, the agency’s first new directorate in more than 30 years. Just a few months later, Congress passed the “CHIPS and Science Act,” authorizing the establishment of the directorate and charging it with the critical mission of advancing U.S. competitiveness through investments that accelerate the development of key technologies and address pressing societal and economic challenges.
TIP is meeting this mission through advances in use-inspired research and innovation and the creation of new pathways for people of all backgrounds and perspectives to engage in the current and future science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce.
Innovation and Technology Ecosystems
A key focus for TIP has been fostering innovation and technology ecosystems throughout the nation, with the explicit goal of creating opportunities for everyone everywhere. In May, NSF launched the Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines, program, designed to drive research and development in critical technology areas, nurture a diverse and inclusive workforce, and foster economic development around important societal challenges across the U.S., particularly in regions that have not benefited fully from the recent technology boom. To open opportunities in this new program, NSF also launched the Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity program, designed to build capacity among research institutions in regional innovation ecosystems, with the hope that they will go on to participate in an NSF Engine or similar program.
The response from the community has exceeded even our own expectations: You all submitted nearly 700 concept outlines for NSF Engines awards spanning more than 500 organizations (including 40% that had not previously received funding from NSF) from every state and territory. Later this spring and fall, the Foundation will be announcing the first NSF Engines awards, including development and full awards.
At the same time, NSF has continued to accelerate use-inspired and translational research through the Convergence Accelerator, unleashing new investments in tracks ranging from next-generation wireless security and resiliency to the networked blue economy to enhanced opportunities for persons with disabilities. NSF also has launched investments in the key technology focus areas named in the “CHIPS and Science Act,” such as a privacy-enhancing technologies prize challenge (in collaboration with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and government of the United Kingdom) and the Visionary Interdisciplinary Teams Advancing Learning Prize Challenge (in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures and the Walton Family Foundation).
TIP has been carving out new translation pathways to help researchers prototype and develop new technologies and solutions. NSF has continued to build the longstanding Innovation Corps (NSF I-Corps) National Innovation Network, investing in five additional I-Corps Hubs across the U.S. Today the network spans 10 Hubs with more than 80 universities supporting entrepreneurial education. The Foundation also began working with Activate on NSF Entrepreneurial Fellowships, which provide scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds and regions across the U.S. with the resources and training needed to translate research breakthroughs into new products and services. And NSF announced a pilot with NobleReach Emerge, formerly IQT Emerge, to help guide NSF-funded research toward new biotechnologies and bio-inspired designs.
Researchers at NSF are also interested in new avenues for research to impact society. In the fall, the Foundation presented the first slate of Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems awards, enabling researchers to harness the power of open-source development to find new technology solutions to national and societal challenges.
In the coming months, TIP’s latest program, Accelerating Research Translation, or ART, will invest in building the infrastructure and capacity at universities to translate basic research outcomes into impactful solutions. ART specifically intends to support all forms of technology transfer, including commercialization, social entrepreneurship, educational innovation, local communities, data-informed policy, open-source ecosystems and more.
Beyond these new programs, TIP continues to support hundreds of startups through America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF. These companies are having a tremendous impact on the world, providing solutions like new devices for people with kidney failure, new ways of creating silicon and technology to combat human trafficking. In the last 10 years, more the 3,000 companies have received more than $25 billion of documented follow-on investment and 445 company exits, according to Pitchbook. TIP also nearly doubled the amount of support NSF-funded researchers can receive to build a prototype or proof of concept through the Partnerships for Innovation program. NSF looks forward to continuing to give awards through these programs to empower startups, small businesses and researchers to launch their use-inspired discoveries to benefit communities and industries across the U.S.
TIP has launched several efforts to strengthen workforce development and make STEM careers more interesting and accessible to individuals from all backgrounds throughout the U.S. A partnership with Micron, along with a similar endeavor with Intel Corporation, will support semiconductor design and manufacturing workforce development, with a particular focus on secondary schools, community colleges and minority-serving institutions. Using a cohort model and mentors, the Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies program will connect interested companies, governments and nonprofits with individuals looking for paid opportunities to explore STEM career paths and develop skills. NSF has partnered with Ericsson, IBM, Intel and Samsung to support science and engineering researchers — including graduate students — to co-design the next generation of semiconductors.
These are just a few of the exciting developments from TIP over the past year. NSF is grateful for the continued strong support from Congress that is making all these possibilities, and more, a reality. The U.S. National Science Foundation looks forward to sharing the impacts of these initial investments and new mechanisms that enhance the cycle of discovery and innovation, deliver solutions and technologies faster than ever to the American people, and engage the full breadth of talent from across the nation to create opportunities everywhere and unleash innovation anywhere.
To learn more, visit the TIP Updates page, and stay informed of upcoming TIP news by subscribing to the TIP email list.
Source: U.S. National Science Foundation