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NSF enginesBy: Brian Darmody, Chief Strategy Officer, AURP: Building Communities of Innovation

May, 10,2022

Sometime this September, the US Economic and Development Agency (EDA) will announce its Phase 2 awardees for the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge award winners.

Thirty or so lucky jurisdictions from across the U.S will receive between $25M -$100 M in EDA funding, although actual funding levels will be smaller to support projects on a regional basis for an industry cluster. These programs will develop or scale regional economies and devote funding to workforce training and support equitable development, including science parks and accelerators.

Thirty other finalists though will not be winners though as EDA only has funds to support thirty awards, much less the hundreds of jurisdictions from across the U.S. that applied for the program. (Five hundred and twenty-nine applicants were received by the EDA.)

But as they say on late night TV: Wait, There’s More

The National Science Foundation (NSF) last week announced its own regional funding initiative: the NSF Regional Innovation Engines Program. This program has some similarities but other major differences from the EDA regional program. The NSF program might be a fit for those that applied to the EDA program and did not win or those jurisdictions looking for new federal funding to support regional technology development.

The NSF Engines program encourages the creation of regional coalitions of industry, academia, government, nonprofits, civil society, and communities of practice to form partnerships, boost technological innovation, and support regional economies. The NSF is looking to support regions that historically have not had major innovation or technology ecosystems.

Funding for five regional ecosystems of up to $160 million over a ten-year period is expected with fifty regions receiving $1 million planning grants for a two-year period.

There are a couple of differences in the EDA program versus the NSF Regional Innovation Program. For one, EDA restricted grant recipients to nonprofit organizations. The NSF regional program explicitly allows for-profit organizations and even national labs and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC) as secondary partners. Only 20% of the NSF awards may go to “infrastructure” construction of new facilities.

The most critical aspect of the NSF program is the timelines: a Concept Outline response by June 30, 2022 is needed to compete for the program with a series of other deadlines to submit full proposals, as outlined below on the NSF website:

KEY DEADLINES (by 5 p.m., submitter’s local time on the dates specified below). Failure to meet the established deadline date will result in the proposal not being reviewed.

  • Type-1 and Type-2 Concept Outlines: Due June 30, 2022
  • Type-1 Letters of Intent: Due August 31, 2022
  • Type-1 Full Proposals: Due September 29, 2022

NSF anticipates accepting full proposals for Type-2 awards in FY23, on a date to be announced soon.

NSF has a series of webinars and outreach to explain the program. It is important to know that NSF is technology-agnostic for the clusters. The aerospace community usually looks to DOD and the bio community to NIH, but both should look at NSF for this opportunity.

The NSF clusters may be in any area from biotechnology to quantum computing to advanced manufacturing to precision agriculture. Also, the definition of regions is quite broad and can mean two states can join to compete for funding.

See this link for deadlines and information on webinars and details on the NSF funding opportunity: Other aspects of the NSF Regional Innovation Engines Program are quite different from previous NSF opportunities.

AURP will be discussing the NSF Regional Engines Program from a biotechnology perspective and other federal funding opportunities for bio research and bio facilities, such as ARPA-H, along with best state bio tech ecosystem practices at its Bio Health Caucus meeting June 12-13, 2022, in San Diego (right before the BIO International Convention opens). See this link to register:

Good luck to the NSF applicants!