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The i6 Challenge: Proof of Concept Centers

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Launched in 2010, the i6 Challenge is a cutting edge federal grant program that supports truly innovative initiatives to spur innovation commercialization, entrepreneurship and jobs creation at the local level. Modeled after the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation and the von Liebig Center at the University of California at San Diego, this program has great promise to create robust centers of entrepreneurship among our nation's centers of innovation.

The i6 Challenge is a multi-agency competition led by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship to encourage and reward universities and research centers to create proof of concept centers that identify innovations to commercialize and help them to put together the building blocks to create high growth, successful companies, including business model support, access to investors, mentors and access to potential customers.

Over the last two years, OIE has provided $24 million to 12 winners across the United States to create their own centers for innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition, these centers have raised another $1-2 million from the private sector to support their efforts, in line with OIE and the EDA's emphasis on private support for its initiatives. The i6 would not be possible without critical support and partnership from the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, technical support has been provided by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), particularly around the SBIR / STTR programs.

  • In St. Louis, 2010 winner Bio St. Louis is utilizing the i6 funds to create a burgeoning innovation ecosystem around biotech innovation, life sciences and drug design.
  • In Orlando, the University of Central Florida, a 2011 winner, is utilizing its extensive patent portfolio and deep network of partnerships with the aero space, life science and energy industries of Florida to create a regional strategy around innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • In Pittsburgh, Innovation Works is boosting an already extensive entrepreneurship ecosystem by utilizing i6 funds to support the growth of innovative technologies that have already received seed funding and connecting them with greater business services.

The 2010 winners included the Innovation Works/Carnegie Mellon; Georgia Tech GCMI; New Mexico Tech Ventures, University of Akron/Austen BioInnovation Institute; The St. Louis Biogenerator and Oregon Translational Research & Drug Development Institute.

The 2011 i6 Challenge, or i6 Green, included the following winners: the New England Clean Energy Consortium, the University of Central Florida, Louisiana Tech University, Washington State, Iowa Ames Research Center, and Georgia Tech.

As the i6 winners build their programs and create mature centers to support innovation and entrepreneurship, OIE will continue to support their efforts. These centers will soon be the models for sourcing innovation in America's universities and research centers, for boosting the quality of our high-growth startups and finally, for creating the framework for America's regions to have a steady stream of entrepreneurs and companies creating jobs locally.