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June 14, 2023 | Tom Ballard

NSF names 34 semifinalists for the big bucks “Regional Innovation Engines” program

Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia have one semifinalist, North Carolina claims two.

If you are old enough, you may recall the slogan, “You can see seven states from Rock City,” the tourist attraction on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga.

Well, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced June 14 that organizations from five of those seven states were among 34 semifinalists competing for one of the Type-2 “NSF Regional Innovation Engines” awards. South Carolina and the Volunteer State were the only two that were not named as semifinalists. We had reported last July that two Tennessee universities – the University of Memphis and Tennessee Tech – had submitted concept papers, based on data from the State Science and Technology Institute.

“Each of these ‘NSF Engines’ semifinalists represents an emerging hub of innovation and lends their talents and resources to form the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These teams will spring ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”

During the next stage in the multi-step process, NSF will interview each team to assess its proposed leadership’s ability to rapidly mobilize in the first two years, the team’s competitive advantages, and budget and resources for its planned research and development, translation and workforce development efforts. Those selected to move to the final round in July will be interviewed in person to assess risks and committed resources, as well as the team’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The latest announcement followed by just a little more than a month one in May when a team led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) was one of 44 organizations that received up to $1 million each in the first-ever “NSF Regional Innovation Engines Development Awards” program, referred to as a Type-1 submission (see article here). The UTK-led group was the only Type-1 awardee in Tennessee and received full funding for an effort in advanced mobility.

Funded under the “CHIPS and Science Act of 2022,” each of the NSF Engines, regardless of type, will be led by universities, nonprofits, businesses and other organizations from across U.S. states and territories. The semifinalists named June 14 are competing for up to $160 million over a 10-year period to help ensure the U.S. remains globally competitive in key technology areas for decades to come. The Type-1 development awards are designed to help prepare grantees for the next round of the significant dollars.

According to the NSF announcement, here are the semifinalists from states that you can see from Rock City:

  • Alabama – The University of Alabama at Birmingham for the “Birmingham BIG PITCH: Biotechnology and Innovation for Growth – Post-Industrial Transition to a Commercialization Hub”;
  • Georgia – The Georgia Biomedical Partnership for the “I-20 EAAST Biomanufacturing Corridor: Equitable Access to Advanced and Sustainable Therapies” program;
  • Kentucky – Kentucky Science & Technology Corporation for the “Additive Manufacturing Forward Engine”;
  • North Carolina – Wake Forest University School of Medicine for the “Central Carolina Engine for Innovation in Regenerative Medicine Clinical Manufacturing” initiative and The Industrial Commons for “Creating a Modern, Green and Inclusive Textile Sector;”
  • Virginia – Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for “Driving America’s Future Supply Chain for Resiliency and Equity from Dock to Door” program;

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