Innovation Resources

National Science Foundation Commits $75 Million To University Innovation Hubs

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced this week that, as part of its Innovation Corps, (I-Corps™) program, it will establish five I-Corps Hubs. Each hub, funded at $3 million a year for five years for a total of $15 million per hub, will be headed by a lead university and involve an alliance of at least eight universities. While most of the participating institutions are large research universities, two of the hubs also include a Historically Black College and University.

The goal of the hubs is to scale up the National Innovation Network and provide experiential entrepreneurial training to academic researchers across all fields of science and engineering. The hubs will enable researchers to translate basic research results into products that can be brought to the marketplace. According to the NSF news release, the hubs are also expected to “work collaboratively to build and sustain a diverse and inclusive innovation ecosystem throughout the U.S.” 

“For 10 years, the NSF I-Corps program has been critical to fostering the creative spirit and entrepreneurship that enables NSF-funded research to be translated into new products and services and contribute to the nation’s economy,” said NSF Deputy Assistant Director for Engineering Linda Blevins. “I am delighted to launch the first of our I-Corps Hubs, which will form the foundation for strengthening and scaling this innovation ecosystem. The I-Corps Hubs will bring together diverse scientists and engineers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry partners from every part of our country, providing everyone with an opportunity to solve key challenges and spur economic growth, including new startups and new jobs.”

The I-Corps program was established in 2011. It is intended to connect NSF-funded university researchers in science and engineering with the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities via the National Innovation Network. A main objective of the Network is the commercialization of deep technologies that come from basic discoveries in science and engineering.

The I-Corps Hubs will serve national needs through five areas of responsibility, defined by NSF to be: 

  • Create and implement tools, resources and training activities that enhance the nation’s innovation capacity.
  • Identify, develop, and support promising research that can generate economic value. 
  • Gather, analyze, evaluate, and utilize the data and insights resulting from the experiences of those participating in local, regional, and national I-Corps programs.
  • Provide opportunities to diverse communities of innovators.
  • Share and leverage effective innovation practices on a national scale to improve quality of life throughout the nation.

The five I-Corps Hubs announced this week are as follows:

NSF I-Corps Hub: Great Lakes region

  • University of Michigan — Lead 
  • Iowa State University
  • Michigan Technological University
  • Missouri University of Science & Technology
  • Purdue University
  • The University of Akron
  • University of Chicago 
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  • The University of Toledo
  • University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee 

NSF I-Corps Hub: Mid-Atlantic region

  • University of Maryland, College Park — Lead
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • The George Washington University
  • Howard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • North Carolina State University 
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

NSF I-Corps Hub: New York region

  • The City University of New York — Lead 
  • Columbia University 
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • New York University
  • Rockefeller University 
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Stony Brook University
  • University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • University at Albany

NSF I-Corps Hub: Northeast region

  • Princeton University — Lead 
  • Delaware State University
  • Lehigh University 
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Rowan University 
  • Rutgers University
  • Temple University
  • University of Delaware

NSF I-Corps Hub: West region

  • University of Southern California — Lead 
  • California Institute of Technology 
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, Riverside
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • The University of New Mexico
  • The University of Utah

Ultimately, the value of the hubs will be found in the extent to which they accelerate the economic impacts and social benefits of federally funded research. Will they improve health care, solve environmental problems, advance computing, create useful technologies, and lead to the development of new materials and engineered products? Will they create more opportunities for researchers to start up businesses based on their discoveries? Will they allow scientists, including those from backgrounds historically underrepresented in science and engineering, to flourish as entrepreneurs.

NSF indicated that it plans to issue another I-Corps Hubs solicitation in Fall 2021 to continue to expand opportunities for entrepreneurship education and technology translation throughout the United States.