Partnerships for Innovation

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Learn More about PFI

Find out about the Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) program, contacts, eligibility, submitting a proposal and more in the latest solicitation:

PFI accepts proposals in two broad tracks:

PFI-TT up to $250,000 for 18 months
The Technology Translation (PFI-TT) track offers an NSF-funded researcher the opportunity to advance her or his prior NSF-funded research results toward developing technological innovations with promising commercial potential and societal impact.

PFI-TT supports commercial potential demonstration projects for academic research outputs in any NSF-funded science and engineering discipline. This demonstration is achieved through proof-of-concept, prototyping, technology development and/or scale-up work.

Concurrently, students and postdoctoral fellows who participate in PFI-TT projects receive education and leadership training in innovation and entrepreneurship. Successful PFI-TT projects generate technology-driven commercialization outcomes that address societal needs.

PFI-RP up to $550,000 for 36 months.
The Research Partnerships (PFI-RP) track seeks to achieve the same goals as the PFI-TT track by supporting instead complex, multi-faceted technology development projects that are typically beyond the scope of a single researcher or institution and require a multi-organizational, interdisciplinary, synergistic collaboration.

A PFI-RP project requires the creation of partnerships between academic researchers and third-party organizations such as industry, non-academic research organizations, federal laboratories, public or non-profit technology transfer organizations or other universities.

Such partnerships are needed to conduct applied research on a stand-alone larger project toward commercialization and societal impact. In the absence of such synergistic partnership, the project’s likelihood for success would be minimal.

How to design a PFI project

elements of a pfi proposal
Elements of a PFI Proposal

All PFI proposals must address the following five elements:

  1. Technology Development
  2. Demonstration of Commercialization Potential
  3. Partnerships
  4. Education and Leadership Development in Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  5. Broadening Participation

  1. Technology Development

    The PFI program is designed to kick-start the translation of NSF-funded basic research outputs in any field of science or engineering into products, services and new jobs that benefit people’s lives.

    The proposed applied research project should identify knowledge gap(s) that must be addressed to advance the technology toward commercialization. A successful PFI project will generate measurable outcomes such as a proof-of concept or an early prototype.

  2. Demonstration of Commercialization Potential

    PFI proposals must demonstrate an initial understanding of the commercial aspects of
    translating the innovation toward a market application (See Section II.C.2 of the Solicitation for details). The proposal must present evidence of prior NSF-funded research or customer discovery results, discuss how these prior results inform the proposed technology translation project, and how the applied research plan supports the ultimate commercialization goals in a target market segment.

    Once they receive an award, PFI teams without NSF I-Corps™ Teams lineage will engage in an iterative customer discovery/technology development process by participating in the NSF I-Corps Teams program (See budget instructions in section V.A.G of the solicitation for details).

    Evidence of market potential must be substantiated by at least one letter of support from a potential commercialization partner who is not a funded partner on the proposed project. The letter(s) must provide a specific discussion of the commercial potential and societal value of the proposed technology in a target market segment.

  3. Partnerships

    Partnerships with third parties are a critical component of the PFI program and are intended to accelerate the proposed technology development towards its commercialization in the anticipated market segment, and the entrepreneurial education goals of the program.

    IMPORTANT: Collaborations with industrial partners are mandatory for PFI-RP projects and strongly encouraged for PFI-TT proposals. Collaborations with academic or non-profit research partners, public or non-profit, non-academic organizations directly associated with technology transfer activities are strongly encouraged for both PFI-RP and PFI-TT proposals.

    For PFI-RP, a letter of commitment from your Industrial / Research Partner is sufficient to submit a proposal. Should your proposal be considered for funding, signed Collaborative Research Agreement(s) (CRA) with your Industrial Partner and with each proposed Research Partner will be required as a condition for award. For informational purposes only, read a sample CRA agreement.

  4. Education and Leadership Development in Innovation and Entrepreneurship

    The PFI program is a platform for education and leadership development in innovation and entrepreneurship of promising students and postdoctoral researchers who are committed to the commercialization of NSF-funded research in all disciplines of science and engineering.

    To attract and retain the most promising entrepreneurial students and postdoctoral researchers, the research efforts of master and PhD students must be fully dedicated to the PFI award, and postdoctoral researchers must dedicate at least one half of their non-teaching time to PFI.

  5. Broadening Participation

    PFI proposals should elaborate how the project will contribute to the broadening participation goals set forth by Section 102(c)(a) of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2017 (expanding the participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in innovation, technology translation, and entrepreneurship).

More resources

For more information about how to apply for the PFI program, please visit the resources page.