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Spotlight on TIP, the NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships

August 9, 2022

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, TIP, advances use-inspired and translational research in all fields of science and engineering, giving rise to new industries and engaging all Americans — regardless of background or location — in the pursuit of new, high-wage jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Every year, TIP programs fund about 400 startups and small businesses, 200 NSF Innovation Corps (NSF I-CorpsTM) Teams, and more than 1,100 institutions, not to mention countless students as part of those awards. Overall, NSF funds an estimated 11,300 awards each year.

TIP is also a WEPAN Change Agent Partner. Erwin Gianchandani, NSF Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, discusses TIP’s mission, goals, and programming.

Join the TIP email list to stay up-to-date on TIP programs and opportunities.

What is translational research, and why is it important?

Translational research is research that moves the findings of fundamental research, which the U.S. National Science Foundation leads, into tangible solutions, prototypes or proofs –of concept for broad application.

Translational research allows for the development of critical technologies -- those that are inspired by pressing national, societal and economic challenges. New technologies that could remediate climate change, create the quantum Internet, make more efficient semiconductors, ensure cybersecurity or eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels, among others.

What types of programs does TIP offer?

TIP programming has three primary foci — fostering innovation and technology ecosystems, establishing translational pathways, and partnering across sectors to engage the nation's diverse talent. Some examples of TIP programming include:

Fostering Innovation and Technology Ecosystems

  • The Convergence Accelerator builds upon NSF's investments in basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal impact. The program funds teams of researchers from multiple disciplines and with differing expertise to form crosscutting partnerships.
  • The Regional Innovation Program (NSF Engines) program supports the development of diverse, regional coalitions to engage in use-inspired research, drive research results to the market and society, promote workforce development, and ultimately stimulate the economy and create new jobs.

Establishing Translational Pathways

  • Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) provides NSF-funded researchers the opportunity to increase the impact of their research discoveries. PFI teaches researchers how to develop and implement a technology roadmap, create a business model, and develop their technology into a prototype or proof of concept.
  • The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) provides an experiential entrepreneurial education to further the nation's innovation ecosystem. I-Corps connects the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities —addressing skill and knowledge gaps to accelerate the transformation of basic research into deep technology ventures.

  • America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF (SBIR/STTR) invests in hundreds of early-stage startups, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impacts, providing up to $2 million to support research and development for commercial success.
  • Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems (POSE) focuses on fostering open-source communities and models — from software and data systems to climate modeling and novel biological techniques — to create products that help to solve challenges of national, societal and economic importance.

Each funding opportunity within TIP has its own requirements so we encourage you to read each funding opportunity or join a program webinar. All NSF proposals are reviewed pursuant to the NSF merit review criteria of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts.

What’s an example of a TIP partnership to engage talent?

Today, STEM talent is increasingly distributed across academia, industry, nonprofits, state and local governments, civil society and communities of practice. To fully harness that talent, NSF seeks to grow partnerships across these constituencies, fostering blended teams to work together to inspire research questions, pursue co-design and co-creation of new technologies and solutions, and accelerate the translation of research results to society.  

As an example, in March 2022, NSF announced it was partnering with Intel on a national funding initiative to address immediate semiconductor manufacturing technical challenges and workforce shortages. Through NSF’s and Intel’s shared interests in supporting open, pre-competitive research and education advances in semiconductor design and manufacturing, the partnership will provide at least $5 million in grants per year for 10 years to award recipients. The funding opportunities will enable collaborations between researchers and educators to provide insights on fostering the relationship between academic research and early higher education, laying the groundwork for implementing technology solutions, and growing the future semiconductor workforce.

Who can apply to TIP programming?

Researchers and innovators at any stage of their careers are encouraged to apply for TIP programs, whether they want to get experiential and entrepreneurial training, create a prototype, or start a business. NSF is looking for new, radical ideas. This means supporting innovations that haven’t been pursued before – breakthroughs – and that might address national, societal, and/or economic challenges.

What is one thing everyone should know before applying to TIP programming/funding?

TIP includes equity as a fundamental design principle, seeking to provide opportunities for everyone to engage in the nation’s research and innovation enterprise, regardless of background, organizational affiliation, or geographic location.

What are examples of tangible solutions TIP has helped create?

NSF has been investing in fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering, delivering foundational and use-inspired outcomes, for seven decades. For example, NSF is the largest non-defense funder of artificial intelligence research, has funded more than 240 Nobel Prize winners, and has directly contributed to seminal advances like 3D printing, bar codes, the Internet and the first images of a black hole in the Milky Way.

Recently, In the fight against COVID-19, the results of NSF investments have proven critical: the nation's capacity to test rapidly and at large scale is directly attributable to polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, testing capabilities, which were made possible by NSF-funded research.

What does TIP hope to accomplish?

Through TIP, NSF will advance technology; address national, societal and economic challenges, including local and regional difficulties across the nation; and tap into the vast talent base that exists throughout the nation and has for too long been left behind when it comes to the research and innovation enterprise.

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