NSF Innovation Corps Hubs Program (I-Corps Hubs)

Please see the full solicitation for complete information about the funding opportunity. Below is a summary assembled by the Research & Innovation Office (RIO).

Program Summary 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to further develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that guides the output of scientific discoveries closer to the development of technologies, products, processes, and services that benefit society. The goal of the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, created in 2011, is to reduce the time and risk associated with translating promising ideas and technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace, to increase the economic competitiveness of the United States, to encourage collaboration between academia and industry, and to train NSF-funded faculty, students, post-docs, and other researchers in innovation and entrepreneurship skills. The I-Corps program utilizes experiential learning of customer and industry discovery, coupled with first-hand investigation of industrial problems and processes, to quickly assess the translational potential of inventions. The I-Corps program is designed to support the commercialization of so-called "deep technologies," i.e., those based on fundamental discoveries in science and engineering. The I-Corps program addresses the skills and knowledge gaps associated with the transformation of promising basic research outcomes into deep technology ventures (DTVs).

In the I-Corps program's initial phase, I-Corps Nodes and Sites were funded separately to serve as the backbone of the National Innovation Network (NIN). Previous solicitations for NSF I-Corps Nodes and NSF I-Corps Sites now have been archived. A solicitation for a new operational model, the I-Corps Hubs program, was introduced initially in 2020 and revised in 2022. The I-Corps Hubs model replaced the I-Corps Nodes and Sites. This updated I-Corps Hubs solicitation has been informed by feedback received from the community and lessons learned since the start of the I-Corps Hubs program.

In 2017, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA, Public Law 114-329, Sec. 601) formally authorized and directed the expansion of the NSF I-Corps program. Through this solicitation, NSF seeks to continue to evolve the current structure toward a more integrated operational model capable of sustained operation at the scope and scale required to support the expansion of the NSF I-Corps program as directed by AICA. In this more integrated model, I-Corps Hubs, comprising a Lead and initially seven Partner institutions, form the operational backbone of the NIN. Each Hub is funded through a single award, and the term "Hub" refers to a consortium of institutions identified in a proposal responding to this solicitation, including the Lead and Partner institutions.

The I-Corps Hubs program will support proposals from former Nodes and Sites (Track 1) and institutions new to I-Corps (Track 2).The I-Corps Hubs program seeks to build and sustain a diverse and inclusive innovation network across the country.

In order to build and sustain a diverse and inclusive innovation network, strengthen research and education in the sciences and engineering throughout the United States, and avoid undue concentration of such research and education in one region or state, NSF encourages proposers to develop partnerships that cover geographic areas that have not been previously included in current NSF I-Corps Hubs awards (Hub Map). NSF especially encourages Hub proposals that are led by institutions in EPSCoR jurisdictions as per Section 10325 of CHIPS and Science (42 USC 19014).

I-Corps Hubs are consortia of institutions of higher education with common goals and challenges that collaborate to provide entrepreneurial training to members of the scientific community (students, postdocs, faculty, and other researchers). These collaborating institutions span geographic areas and participate in a Hub to achieve operational excellence and to facilitate interactions with stakeholders in their entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem. Each Hub has a Lead institution to oversee operational management of the consortium and seven initial Partner institutions that contribute to the success of the Hub objectives, activities, and expected outcomes. A Lead institution may be a current or former I-Corps Node or Site (Track 1), or they may be entirely new to the I-Corps program (Track 2).

Hubs are expected to add one New Partner Institution (NPI) annually. NPIs are institutions of higher education that seek to join an existing Hub. Funding for NPIs will be provided through supplemental funding, however, Hubs are allowed to provide funding from their award budgets. NPIs are expected to collaborate with the Hub and demonstrate that the proposed activities of the NPI are coordinated with the Hub's objectives and expected outcomes. A NPI may be a current or former I-Corps Node or Site, or they may be entirely new to the I-Corps program.

It is expected that a process for Hub Renewals will be announced at a later date and may provide up to five additional years of funding for existing Hubs that are able to demonstrate their regional and national impact on the innovation ecosystem.

The I-Corps Hubs program will continue to support two types of awards: I-Corps Hub awards for Track 1 and Track 2.

The addition of New Partner Institutions (NPIs) to the Hub will continue to take place through supplemental funding. A NPI may be a current or former I-Corps Node or Site, or they may be entirely new to the I-Corps program.

Deadlines

CU Internal Deadline: 11:59pm MST March 4, 2024

Sponsor Full Proposal Deadline: 5:00pm MST April 25, 2024

Internal Application Requirements (all in PDF format)

  • Project Description (3 pages maximum): Please include 1) the vision for the hub; 2) a strategic plan; and 3) address all the following activities and reference NSF solicitation Section V for full details about components to include:
    • Activity 1: Team expansion
    • Activity 2: I-Corps training
    • Activity 3: Institutional expansion of the Hub
    • Activity 4: Evaluation of Hubs
    • Activity 5: Entrepreneurial research
    • Activity 6: Broadening Participation
  • Hub Team (2 pages maximum): Please specify the Hub Director, Lead and Partner Institution Faculty Leads, Lead Instructor and Hub Coordinator, and brief description of how each team member’s experience will benefit the hub. 
  • Budget Overview (1 page maximum): A basic budget outlining project costs is sufficient; detailed OCG budgets are not required.

To access the online application, visit: https://cuboulderovcr.secure-platform.com/a/solicitations/6958/home

Eligibility

The PI must be in a senior academic administrative role, at the level of Dean or higher, at the Lead (defined in Section II: Program Description) institution. Each Partner (defined in Section II: Program Description) institution must identify a senior academic administrator at the level of Dean or higher to be included as Senior/Key Personnel.

An Individual may be PI, co-PI, or Senior/Key Personnel of only one NSF I-Corps Hub proposal per deadline identified in this solicitation.

Limited Submission Guidelines

Organizations only may be a participant (Lead or Partner) in one proposal per deadline identified in this solicitation.

New Partner Institutions may only be named in one such supplemental funding request per deadline.

Award Information

Award Amount: Up to $3,000,000 per year

Award Duration: Up to 5 years

Estimated Number of Awards: 2

Review Criteria

In addition to the standard review criteria, these additional specific review criteria will be evaluated:

  • A demonstrated command of the currently deployed I-Corps curriculum.
  • Appropriate mixture of geographically distributed personnel and institutions that provide diverse and complementary capabilities to support current and anticipated needs for fostering innovation across a broad spectrum of science and engineering domains.
  • A robust plan to broaden participation among students, faculty, staff, management, training, selection, and outreach activities.
  • Methods for assessment and metrics of Hub/network performance and impacts.
  • Planning processes to accommodate emerging areas and future growth, including the requirement of adding at least one New Partner Institution annually.