U.S. Department of Commerce: Regional Innovation Strategies
The Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Program empowers communities to provide proof-of-concept and commercialization assistance to innovators and entrepreneurs and operational support for organizations that provide essential early-stage funding to startups, building platforms from which they can best leverage public and private sector infrastructure investments in broadband and digital connectivity, transportation, education, and beyond. The RIS Program will support two separate grant opportunities:
1. The i6 Challenge: This Challenge is designed to increase entrepreneurship that is driven by innovations, ideas, intellectual property (IP), and applied research through the process of technology commercialization and that results in new businesses, accelerated paths to export, increased foreign direct investment (FDI), and new jobs. Proof-of-concept and commercialization programs can be physical or virtual, existing or new. Funding may be used for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to personnel, program development, and equipment.
Proof-of-concept and commercialization programs work with innovations, ideas, intellectual property, and research to provide documented evidence that a product or service can be successful. These programs typically work with innovations from pre-conception and from Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1 (i.e., observation) to 6 (i.e., lab demonstration) and consider not only technology viability (i.e., seeking to answer whether this can be done) but also market potential and financial viability (i.e., seeking to answer whether this should be done). Proof-of-concept programs tend to focus on capacity to move earlier-stage innovations from observations through proof-of-concept (i.e., from TRL 1 to TRL 3), while commercialization programs tend to focus on capacity to move later-stage innovations from proof-of-concept to lab demonstration (i.e., from TRL 3 to TRL 6). Both types of program also focus on the development of related strategies and resources to introduce innovations into the marketplace through startup formation, licensing, or other means. However, programs should be tailored to the resources and needs of their respective regional innovation clusters.
Successful proposals will be expected to develop or expand regional capacity to create high-growth entrepreneurial ventures and that have a high likelihood of accelerating economic competitiveness and job creation in their respective regions and in the United States. Applicants must demonstrate how they will leverage regional strengths, capabilities, and competitive advantages. Applicants should avoid the duplication of already existing, planned, or budgeted initiatives of the applicant’s organization or by other organizations or consortia in the relevant regional innovation cluster.
2. Seed Fund Support: Funding is provided for the development, creation, or expansion of new or existing equity-based seed funds that increase one or more regional innovation clusters’, innovators’, and entrepreneurs’ access to early-stage capital. Proposed projects may aim for some or all of the following outputs and outcomes or others, as appropriate in light of each given proposed project’s regional, sectoral, and economic contexts:
- Early-stage capital support for innovation-based, growth-oriented companies: Projects should aim to increase access to equity-based investments for new and young businesses with high growth and job creation potential that are commercializing or using innovative technologies or other IP in the development or delivery of their products or services by creating or expanding a new or existing equity-based investment fund and by exploring novel investment models that fit the needs of the regional innovation cluster and its entrepreneurs. The businesses in which the fund invests should demonstrate potential for high growth and include performance targets for job creation.
- Increased regional fund management capacity: In addition to increasing the rate of success and regional retention of entrepreneurs and high-growth potential companies, projects should aim to bolster regional fund management capacity. Projects should demonstrate not only the experience and past successes of lead project fund managers or of existing funds, as applicable, but also a plan for developing new fund managers to increase the sustainability of the project’s fund(s), regional retention of fund management talent, and the likelihood of the establishment of other funds in the region.
- Plan for sustainability: Projects should include sustainability plans based on taking equity stakes in the businesses in which the program invests and should tailor its investment model and deal structures to optimize access to capital, sustainability, and regional economic impact, including regional job creation.
- Demonstrated ecosystem and downstream support: Projects should aim to build and maintain ties into the community—a critical element of success for nascent companies—through connections to relevant elements of the community and regional ecosystem, including to support organizations (e.g., commercialization centers, incubators, and other training programs) and to downstream funding sources to support the capital needs of portfolio companies as they scale up and grow. Depending on the extent of the relevant regional innovation cluster’s connectedness and development, projects may include activities including outreach and education regarding early-stage risk investment and syndication and alignment of existing investors.
Amount: Award ranges vary by grant type:
- i6 Challenge Grants: A total of $16,000,000 is available for awards ranging up to $750,000. The performance period is approximately three years.
- Seed Fund Support Grants: A total of $5,000,000 is available for awards ranging up to $300,000. The performance period is approximately three years.
Applicants must demonstrate at the time of application a matching share of at least 50 percent of the total project cost from non-federal sources.
Eligibility: States; Indian tribes; a city or other political subdivision of a state; an entity whose application is supported by a state or a political subdivision of a state and that is: a nonprofit organization, an institution of higher education, a public-private partnership, a science or research park, a federal laboratory, or an economic development organization or similar entity; or a consortium of any of these entities.
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