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 by NSF, 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 skill and knowledge gap associated with the transformation of promising basic research outcomes into deep technology ventures (DTVs).
In the 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 Previous solicitations for NSF I-Corps Nodes and NSF I-Corps Sites have now been archived. A solicitation for a new operational model, the I-Corps Hubs Program, was introduced in 2020 and replaced funding for Nodes and Sites. This revised I-Corps Hubs Solicitation has been informed by feedback received from the community and lessons learned over the first ten years of the I-Corps 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, in which NSF I-Corps Teams, Nodes, and Sites are funded through separate programs, 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).
I-Corps Hubs are consortia of institutions of higher education spanning distinct geographic regions with common goals and challenges to collaborate to provide entrepreneurial training to members of the scientific community (students, postdocs, faculty, and other researchers). These collaborating institutions 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 required to add at least 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. 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.
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.
Ruth ShumanProgram Director