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Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research- Research Alliance (PFI:AIR-RA)

The NSF Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research-Research Alliance (PFI:AIR-RA) program is intended to accelerate the translation and transfer of existing research discoveries into competitive technologies and commercial realities by leveraging the investments NSF has made in research alliances. and catalyzing academic based innovation ecosystems. The goal is that these synergistic partnerships and collaborations between government, academia, and other public and private entities will result in new wealth and the building of strong local and regional economies.

In order for competitive innovation research to be successful, it is essential that third-party investment is in place as a means to accelerate the innovation towards commercialization. Collaborations created under the PFI:AIR-RA program will create academic-based innovation ecosystems that offer a cost-effective, timely, and risk-reduced approach for potential investors to participate in research and development leading to new products, processes, systems or services with high commercial impact.

To learn more and get started with a grant application, please see solicitation NSF PFI:AIR-RA 14-612.

How the Program Works

First, the principal investigator, who must be a faculty member active within an NSF-funded research alliance, submits a Letter of Intent (LOI) through FastLane in response to the solicitation. The LOI is due by January 12, 2015.

The LOI is not used to eliminate or deter full proposal submission. The objective of the LOI is for NSF to gauge the expected number of proposals and the areas of research.

An NSF-funded research alliance is defined as a research partnership between/amongst universities and other entities, formed for mutual benefit, and funded by the NSF. Examples of NSF research alliances include but are not limited to consortia, such as Engineering Research Centers, Industry University Cooperative Research Centers, Science and Technology Centers, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers, Centers for Chemical Innovation, Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation grantees and others.

The NSF-funded research alliance must be active (still under an active NSF award) or within 3 years of the end of an NSF research alliance grant. If the research alliance is within 3 years of NSF support, additional evidence (specified in the solicitation) must be provided to demonstrate the research alliance is still functioning as a research partnership and is in good standing.

Second, the investigator submits the full proposal through FastLane by the due date: February 18, 2015.

Proposals also must include at least one research partner and at least one third-party investor. The purpose of the research partner(s) is to add a complementary skill set to the NSF-funded research alliance so that competitive technologies, which neither party could develop as well or rapidly alone, can be accelerated to commercial realities and transferred to the marketplace. The purpose of the third-party investor(s) is to provide a means to accelerate the translation of market-valued technologies to commercial realities. Examples of a research partner include another academic institution, an industry entity, or a federal laboratory. Examples of a third-party investor include such entities as a company, a venture capital firm, one or more individual "angel" investor(s), federal (non-SBIR), state or local government, or any combination of the above.
Proposals responsive to the solicitation are evaluated competitively in an external merit review process by experts knowledgeable in the field and familiar with marketing and commercialization processes.

PFI:AIR-RA awards provide up to $800K for 36 months; however, the total proposed NSF budget cannot exceed the total committed co-funding from the third-party investor(s). The third-party investment can be cash, liquid assets, or tangible financial instruments. Up to 25% of third-party investment may be intangible assets (e.g. “in kind”).

Successful proposals will receive 70% of requested NSF funds at the start of the award. The remaining 30% will be available at the start of the third year subject to a successful mid-term review that includes the PI, the research partner, and the third-party investor, and will be held at NSF at the 18 month point.

Review Criteria

Please see the solicitation for all eligibility requirements. Proposals will be reviewed in accordance with NSF Intellectual Merit and Broader Impact criteria.
Additional criteria include the following:

  • The lineage of the technologies to the NSF-funded research alliance.
  • The effectiveness of the proposed plans to translate and transfer the technologies into commercial realities.
  • The quality of the research plan, milestones, and deliverables
  • The quality and appropriateness of the research partnership(s)
  • The commitment of the third-party investors
  • The quality of the partnership and collaboration plan
  • The effectiveness of the proposed plans, partnership and collaborations in catalyzing or enhancing a sustainable academic-based innovation ecosystem
  • The effectiveness of the assessment plan and the relevance of the proposer's success metrics to the anticipated results.
  • The net added value to students of the proposed work.
  • If the research alliance is no longer funded by NSF, the strength of the evidence that the research alliance is still functioning as a research partnership between/amongst universities and other entities and is in good standing.

Third-party investment is required. Letter(s) of commitment from the third-party investor(s) must be provided at the time of submission of the proposal.

Consult the solicitation for a full listing of criteria. The solicitation overrules all other policy documents, unless otherwise stated in the solicitation.

Applicants are encouraged to contact the Program Director with a brief, high-level overview that connects the proposed work to the existing NSF-funded research alliance and the review criteria for the PFI:AIR-RA solicitation.

You may contact the Program Director via email at any time before the submission deadline.

Projects Funded Under AIR

Click HERE to see a list of projects funded under the Partnerships for Innovation: Accelerating Innovation Research program.  

Note - Projects with funding amounts less than $500,000 are most likely to be PFI:AIR-TT (Technology Translation) projects. Projects with funding amounts greater than $500,000 are most likely to be PFI:AIR-RA (Research Alliance) projects.

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