TIP celebrates its second anniversary, showcasing the impact of this last year

Building upon decades of work in advancing research and education, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), under the leadership of Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, established the Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP), the first new NSF directorate in more than 30 years, on March 16, 2022. Not long after, its establishment was then codified with the enactment of the “CHIPS and Science Act of 2022,” authorizing the establishment of TIP and charging it with ensuring the U.S. is in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come.   

Over the past two years, the growing TIP team – together with colleagues from across the rest of NSF – has worked to foster innovation ecosystems, accelerate technology translation and development, and grow the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. As we mark the second anniversary of TIP, we reflect on all that we have accomplished and look ahead toward building upon the work that we have begun – advancing use-inspired research and innovation and creating new pathways for everyone to engage in the STEM workforce.   

Innovation ecosystems 

One of TIP’s three primary focus areas is nurturing innovation and technology ecosystems. This essential work brings together teams of researchers, practitioners and users to advance key technologies and address pressing regional, national, societal, and geostrategic challenges. In January 2024, NSF announced the establishment of 10 inaugural NSF Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) to directly take on this work. With a potential NSF investment of nearly $1.6 billion over the next decade, the NSF Engines represent one of the single largest, broad investments in place-based research and development in the nation's history. In addition to the 10 NSF Engines, a subset of semifinalists and finalists were invited to pursue NSF Engine Development Awards, which enable team-building, partnership development, and other necessary steps toward future NSF Engines proposals. They will join 44 existing Development Awardees announced in May 2023. A key element of the NSF Engines program is the Builder Platform that NSF announced in September 2023, a unique post-award model designed to significantly contribute to the success of the NSF Engines by providing tailored resources and personalized engagement to awardees.  

Closely aligned with the NSF Engines, the Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC) program is helping broaden participation in innovation ecosystems like the NSF Engines. In September 2023, TIP announced the first-ever EPIIC awards to nearly 50 teams, representing a $19.6 million investment in emerging research institutions to grow their capacity to participate in regional innovation ecosystems. NSF subsequently released the next EPIIC funding opportunity, with proposals due this summer.  

While EPIIC and NSF Engines represent newer TIP programs, the NSF Convergence Accelerator program has been building upon basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal impact since 2019. Over the past year, the Convergence Accelerator released a funding opportunity for three new tracks. Altogether, the Convergence Accelerator invested more than $100 million in six tracks during this period: 5G wireless infrastructure, enhancing opportunities for persons with disabilities, food and nutrition security, bio-inspired design, chemical sensing applications and equitable water solutions. The Convergence Accelerator recently brought together all its tracks at a Principal Investigators’ meeting, a remarkable showing of more than 500 individuals from all across the country who had the opportunity to present on their projects, make new connections, and receive mentoring and coaching about future directions.  

Technology translation and development 

TIP has also been working to accelerate the translation and development of breakthrough technologies. Several new TIP programs concentrate on use-inspired and translational research in specific key technology areas. In collaboration with five other U.S. government agencies, TIP launched the Building the Prototype Open Knowledge Network (Proto-OKN) in March 2023 to build a prototype version of an integrated public data and knowledge framework. Last month, TIP announced new funding opportunities designed to convene experts from multiple sectors to identify opportunities to accelerate novel approaches to protein design, the adoption of cell-free systems for biochemical applications and advanced wireless technologies to break the low-latency barrier. And also last month, TIP announced nine winners of the Visionary Interdisciplinary Teams Advancing Learning (VITAL) Prize Challenge, originally launched in fall 2022. The winning teams will develop learning technology solutions for students in grades K through 12 with their prize winnings made possible through a partnership between NSF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures and the Walton Family Foundation.  

In technology translation, the Accelerating Research Translation (ART) program is helping institutions of higher education expand their capacity to move their research to practice. In December 2023, TIP, in partnership with other NSF directorates, invested more than $100 million in 18 ART teams to speed and scale their translational research.  

TIP programs also provide pathways for researchers, startups, small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to move their ideas from the lab to the market and society. NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-CorpsTM) program trains an entrepreneurial workforce and enables economic impact nationwide. The I-Corps biennial report – released in June 2023 – demonstrates the impact of this program: more than 2,500 I-Corps teams have created nearly 1,400 startups and raised more than $3 billion since 2012. In September 2023, I-Corps added a pilot training to support researchers in startup creation and released a funding opportunity to expand the I-Corps Hubs, which forms the operational background of the I-Corps program. TIP also continues to support about 400 startups annually through America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, helping them de-risk technologies for commercial and societal impact. These newly formed small businesses typically have fewer than 10 employees and are new to NSF. They are making the impossible possible with NSF funding, developing more affordable and accessible magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems, a wearable designed to remotely monitor both maternal and fetal heart rates, plant-based alternatives to meat, and new processes to produce cleaner, cheaper, and greener steel – just to name a few! To get a monthly update of NSF-funded companies in the news, join the mailing list! 

Beyond NSF’s longstanding lab-to-market platform, TIP continued to build on a new technology translation pathway, announcing an investment of over $26 million in 19 Phase II projects through the Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems (POSE) program 

Across all these investments in technology translation and development, TIP fostered two crosscutting efforts. First, the Assessing and Predicting Technology Outcomes (APTO) program – launched in June 2023 – will assess how investments in science and technology research and development will contribute to specific national outcomes, helping inform how to stage investments in key technology areas for maximal impact on U.S. competitiveness. APTO builds on the work of a TIP-funded pilot, the National Network for Critical Technology Assessment (NNCTA); TIP originally invested in the NNCTA in fall 2022, and the network produced a report in October 2023 documenting data and advanced analytics methods and tools that yielded potentially optimal directions for federal research and development funding. 

Second, because the design, development and deployment of technologies have broad impacts on society, TIP and five philanthropic partners launched the Responsible Design, Development and Deployment of Technologies (ReDDDoT) program to prioritize ethical and social considerations in emerging technologies.  

Talent and the U.S. workforce 

The third key pillar of TIP’s work centers on building a skilled workforce to participate in the 21st-century STEM-driven economy. A cornerstone effort in this pillar is the Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies (ExLENT) program, which – in collaboration with NSF’s Directorate for STEM Education – invests in practical learning experiences for talent from diverse professional and educational backgrounds, enabling them to pursue pathways resulting in good-quality, well-paying jobs. NSF made the first-ever ExLENT investment, totaling $18.8 million, in September 2023 to 27 teams across the nation. We anticipate making additional investments across the program’s three tracks later this year.  

Over the past year, TIP has endeavored to ignite partnerships among academia, industry, government and nonprofits to provide pathways for learners and workers of all backgrounds and perspectives with access to the education and experiences that position them participate in the STEM workforce. From May to June 2023, we also requested input and collected feedback from the public on ways to make educational pathways into STEM careers accessible to any American interested in participating in the U.S. research and innovation enterprise. TIP received responses from across many industries and will publish a summary report later this year. NSF expects to use the information to help inform future workforce development programs.  

A closing thought 

We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to catalyze a new frontier in American innovation, ensure the U.S. is competitive across the key technology areas, and enable pathways for everyone to participate in the STEM-driven economy. In our journeys around the country over this past year, many of you have told us that TIP’s impact is already being felt. That is a testament to the incredible work of the growing TIP team – we could not be more thankful nor prouder of their leadership, dedication and commitment to delivering on the TIP mission. It is also a testament to all of you who have taken the time to thoughtfully and creatively respond to the many TIP funding opportunities. You have laid a terrific foundation, and the future is bright. We look forward to the year ahead as the work has only begun.  

To learn more about TIP happenings, check out the TIP Updates page, and stay tuned for upcoming TIP news by subscribing to the  TIP email list.  

With appreciation, 

Erwin Gianchandani, NSF assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships 

Gracie Narcho, NSF deputy assistant director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships