ST. LOUIS — A group of St. Louis organizations is in the running to win a 10-year, $160 million federal grant, which could turn local research into a widespread plan to create jobs and grow the regional economy.
The National Science Foundation announced that Washington University and bioscience booster BioSTL were among 44 recipients across the country to receive an initial $1 million planning grant.
The groups said they will focus on turning local neuroscience research and innovation into economic growth and jobs. If selected by the NSF, they would then receive the larger grant.
Donn Rubin, founding president and CEO of BioSTL — an industry group focused on creating and investing in startups in the life sciences — said the opportunity to compete for the larger dollar amount is a big deal for the region.
“We can really lift up neuroscience as one area that can truly make St. Louis shine,” said Rubin, who also chairs BioSTL’s investment arm, BioGenerator. “We have the credibility, we think, to stand up and say we can be a world leader.”
Rubin said the $1 million grant marks a show of confidence, by the NSF, that St. Louis is a candidate for an award two orders of magnitude larger.
It’s a chance, potentially, for St. Louis to capitalize on the massive medical research infrastructure already in place here. The STL 2030 Jobs Plan pointed to biomedical and health services as one of five industries in the metro area with strong potential for growth. And some local entrepreneurs have already seen success turning scientists’ findings into businesses and jobs.
Over the next two years, the grant winners will come up with a plan to create startups that can mature into larger companies as well as train a workforce to populate them, Rubin said.
The new program was authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act, which provides roughly $280 billion in new funding to boost U.S. research and manufacturing. It was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2022.
Dedric Carter, Washington University’s chief commercialization officer and vice chancellor for innovation, said conversations about the program began about a year ago. He knew St. Louis’ pitch had to be focused enough to get their arms around but big enough that it could make a difference for the region. It also needed to advance a subject where St. Louis could become a resource for the rest of the country.
They decided to focus on neuroscience, an area Washington University is known for. The university has been building a new, 609,000-square-foot neuroscience research building next to BioSTL.
Carter said the NSF program has the potential to generate “substantial jobs and economic benefit” for the region.
The winners of the larger grants will be announced in two years. The number available is yet to be determined, according to an NSF spokesman.