The NSF Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) program is designed to increase the incidence of commercializing innovative unproven technologies in historically underfunded/underrepresented areas. NSF Engines does this by accelerating emerging technologies to drive regional economic growth while addressing key societal challenges in the regions it serves.
The program accomplishes this by funding regional coalitions of partnering organizations to establish NSF Engines that will catalyze technology and science-based regional innovation ecosystems. There are two types of proposals, Type-1, and Type-2.
Type-2 awards are for regions and proposing teams that already have a potential network, team, and programming overview in place and are prepared to launch an NSF Engine by the expected award date.
Only up to five Type-2 awards (compared to 50 Type-1) will be issued through this funding opportunity. Unlike Type-1 proposals, which have published due dates for the remaining two application steps, the due dates for the LOI and full proposal have yet to be published for Type-2 and are not anticipated until FY 2023. At a limit of 30 pages, Type-2 awards have double the page limit for the Project Description compared to a Type-1.
Type-2 awards offer a sizeable budget of $160M (compared to >1M for Type-1) over a period
of up to ten years (compared to only 24 months for Type-1). The initial two years of funding will support a ramp-up period. Continued support for the Engine will be contingent upon the Engine’s overall
performance based on a comprehensive assessment of the Engine’s performance, which will inform subsequent-year funding. A determination by NSF that the Engine has failed to perform during the annual review may result in termination of the award. During the ramp-up period, the Engine can be funded for a total of $15,000,000 over two years, funded at $15,000,000 per year in Years 3-5 and $20,000,000 per year in Years 6-10.
Merit review criteria
Additional Review Criteria also exist for Type-2 Proposals. In addition to intellectual merit and broader impacts, Type-2 proposals will be evaluated on how well or completely they address the following questions:
- Regional Importance and Impact: To what extent is the proposed work driven by societal and/or economic challenge(s) that are important to the regional economy, and is there a credible plan to move research to practice? To what extent are the potential innovations that result from the proposed work likely to lead to translational efforts that will strengthen the regional economy?
- Leadership Team: Does the proposal describe an experienced and visionary leadership team, including the CEO, capable of managing the Engine? Does the proposed leadership structure provide sufficient authority for making necessary culture change, adapting to changing conditions, or pivoting from efforts that are not having desired results? Does the proposal describe a well-informed process by which all necessary disciplines, skills, perspectives, and capabilities will be brought together to form an interdependent, multidisciplinary, and diverse leadership team that can work and communicate effectively?
- Partnerships: Is the set of partners identified appropriate for addressing the proposed work? Are the partners relevant to the region and topic of choice, and is their role in the economic development of the region well-described? Do these partners span an appropriate diversity of sectors (e.g., industry including small businesses, academia, federal, state, local, and tribal governments, and/or non-profits) as well as an appropriate diversity of organizational types (e.g., minority-serving institutions, primarily undergraduate institutions, community colleges)? Are the core partners fully engaged at all levels, from leadership to technical and workforce development efforts? Is it clear that all partners are contributing to and benefiting from the partnership? Have the partners made significant contributions to resources and people? Is there a well-developed plan to grow the set of partners to address the goals of the Engine? How well does the proposed Engine outline plans for strategic engagement of stakeholders (e.g., industry, practitioners, regulatory, and non-profits)?
- Workforce Development: Does the workforce development plan address regional needs relevant to the Engine mission? For example, will the plan lead to a well-justified balance of technicians, practitioners, researchers, and entrepreneurs? Is there a process in place to ensure that it will engage a fully diverse set of candidates? Is it sufficiently resourced? Are multiple partners actively engaged in workforce development, and also in the co-design of the plan?
- Existing and New Resources: Is there a well-structured and executable plan to raise additional outside funds, beyond NSF funding, to launch and scale the proposed Engine’s efforts? Does the region show a diverse coalition of local (and potentially national) funders that span local government, philanthropy, and industry investment to support the growth of the region? Has the proposed Engine brought in new funding commitments as a part of the coalition-building that is required at this maturity level?
- Risk Identification and Adaptability: How well does the proposal address the opportunities, risks, and the competitive landscape for the proposed Engine, including existing efforts funded under other government programs? Is the proposed structure able to move quickly at speed and scale, and is it capable of adapting in real-time?
- Effectiveness and Sustainability: How realistic and complete is the potential for the long-term sustainability of the Engine? Does the Evaluation Plan include the relevant metrics for success appropriate to the various phases of the Engine?
Additional evaluation criteria
While NSF may elect to appoint an external assessment team to assist NSF with monitoring and
assessment of any Engine awardee’s performance regardless of type, site visits are mandatory for all Type-2 awardees. Formal, in-person assessments of the Engine’s operations will occur at the end of Years 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 9 from the start date of the award. The review will assess progress relative to the goals specified in the cooperative agreement. Additional Engine funding for the years after an assessment is contingent upon the Engine’s performance. Be advised that resource commitments made by participating organizations and other partners of an Engine and the utilization of such resources will be a factor in the assessment process.
Your external evaluator should
- Be an experienced evaluator or evaluation firm (FYI – we are);
- Be committed to creating regional-scale, technology-driven innovation ecosystems throughout every region of the United States, accelerating emerging technologies, driving economic growth, addressing key societal challenges, and maintaining national competitiveness (FYI – we do) ;
- Have a working knowledge of all (not just the Innovation Engine program) NSF guidelines, protocols, processes, and evaluation requirements (FYI – we totally do).
Got questions on how to find an External Evaluator? We have you covered. Check out this post from August of 2020. https://www.ebhoward.com/choosing-the-right-external-evaluator/
Want to know a little bit more about our Evaluation Services? We have you covered. See more here. https://www.ebhoward.com/evaluation-4/
Want to talk with us about how we serve as your External Evaluator for the NSF Regional Innovations Engines proposal? Schedule a consult call today. https://calendly.com/ebhoward/15min