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NSF Partnerships for Innovation Offers Unique Funding for TBED Efforts

March 20, 2006

Universities play a central role in supporting regional technology-based economic development and only one small federal grant program focuses each funding cycle toward new models for improving university-centered collaborative innovation strategies. The Partnership for Innovations (PFI) Program within the National Science Foundation (NSF) opened a new round of competition last week, offering funding of up to $600,000 for 10-15 successful proposals.

Created in 2000, the PFI program "seeks to stimulate and capitalize on innovation by catalyzing partnerships among colleges and universities, the private sector, and federal, state and local governments." While each PFI grant must be awarded to a lead university, the role of collaborations and partnerships extending outside the recipient institution is an important component of the program.

Partnerships - both domestic and global - are increasingly critical to accelerating the development and growth of knowledge-based economies. This is perhaps most true when it comes to the academic institution's role in innovation. It takes private companies - whether university spin-offs or existing firms - to commercialize university-generated research. To contribute most significantly to an innovation economy, students of higher education have to become graduates and then active members of the workforce. NSF strives to support all of these relationships and improve the quality of innovative activities through the PFI program.

Throughout the history of the program, a broad range of innovative projects have been selected for funding. These partnerships are designed to speed the transformation of new knowledge into products, create new jobs, and establish the infrastructure to enable innovation. Examples of past projects funded by PFI include formation of an associate's degree to train the workforce in nanotechnology, biology and medicine for the biomedical industry; creation of gene encyclopedias and bioinformatic infrastructure to identify diversity of potential value to bio-based industries; creation of a series of technology entrepreneurship education modules to be integrated into science, math and engineering subjects; launching start-up companies based on intellectual property derived from agricultural research programs; and the creation of new knowledge in the area of broadband wireless communications, development and commercialization.

Last year, NSF funded 12 projects under the PFI program, including a technology incubator at the University of Louisiana and a biotechnology career center at the University of Florida. A list of projects that have been funded can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/pfi/

Proposals for fiscal year 2006 must be submitted by U.S. academic institutions. Partners may include other academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, private sector organizations, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, state and local government entities, trade and professional associations, and federal laboratories. International collaborations also are encouraged. Optional letters of intent are due June 28, 2006, and full proposals are due Aug. 30, 2006. More information is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsf06550