The National Science Foundation has named 34 semifinalists in the first round of its Regional Innovation Engine program. Five winners will be named this fall to share $15 million over two years, then split another $145 million.
The $160-million kitty is being used to broaden the agency’s focus from basic research, which is the mandate of the NSF’s new technology directorate.
The awards will fund innovations that are likely to create new industries, new companies, and training programs for high-tech workers who qualify for well-paid jobs.
Just as important, the grants are being directed toward areas of the U.S. “that have not fully participated in the technology boom of the past several decades,” the grant program’s announcement said.
The directorate and its new funding initiative are responses to data showing that about 40 percent of federal science and tech research dollars went to institutions in just five states.
Each proposal is required to include a plan to commercialize research and train a local workforce in relevant skills. Each also must include a plan to maximize diversity and equity among the research team and resulting training programs and commercial operations.
The tech teams doing the research can spin out commercial ventures or work with local companies to transform discoveries into products.
TRENDPOST: China has become a tech powerhouse because the central government directs resources—research money, venture capital, worker training, and so on—to specific industries and has created entire cities as centers of particular technologies.
This NSF program is part of the U.S. government’s attempt to match China’s ability to turn technology into broad economic development. While it won’t work as fast as China’s centralized mandates, it will continue the agency’s long-term plan to spread the wealth technological development creates more evenly around the country.