By Jacob Kirm, St. Louis Business Journal | May 15, 2023
A St. Louis group comprised of Washington University and local innovation hub BioSTL are in the running to win a $160 million, decade-long federal grant focused on boosting areas "that have not fully benefited from the technology boom of the past decades," according to federal officials.
The U.S. National Science Foundation announced last week its first NSF Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines, awards to 44 teams across the U.S. and its territories.
The local group, as well as each of the other teams, gets a $1 million planning grant over two years, and it will compete for the larger grant.
It's focusing on the neuroscience field, building on "an existing St. Louis biosciences innovation ecosystem and nationally recognized research in neurology, neuroscience, psychiatry, social work, education, and implementation sciences." Washington University has been building a $616 million neuroscience building in the 200-acre Cortex Innovation Community.
An award abstract on the St. Louis team described its efforts:
"The team has a number of opportunities for early wins in technology/product usage and job creation, including expansion of existing startups, newer technologies for research-based services, and recruiting companies with commercial products and services that match regional innovation needs. The project anticipates additions to the regional workforce from these efforts. The project's work-learn models will center the needs of the St. Louis metro's historically underserved communities and enhance investments in career pathways for economic mobility, such as focused apprenticeships. The team will train individuals from high-poverty communities to advance commercialization activities with early-stage startups. The catalytic capital to bring disparate funding opportunities together in the broadest sense of economic development and impact are difficult to find. The NSF Engines Development award period creates the opportunity to bring together groups with disparate perspectives on the neuro landscape to provide valuable stakeholder engagement that enables the team to prepare for an Engine proposal submission and generate a significant impact in the larger St. Louis region."
The new NSF Engines program was authorized by the CHIPS (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors) and Science Act, the 2022 law that provides about $280 billion in new funding to boost U.S. research and manufacturing. The winners of the larger grants are to be announced in 2025.