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The i6 Challenge: Proof of Concept Center

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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 job 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, Economic Development Administration'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, the i6 Challenge has provided $18 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 U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. 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 U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) and the Small Business Administration (SBA), particularly around the SBIR / STTR programs.

The 2010 winners included the Georgia Global Center for Medical Innovation; the New Mexico Technology Ventures; University of Akron/Austen BioInnovation Institute; St. Louis Biogenerator and Partners; Innovation Works/Carnegie Mellon; and the Oregon Translational Research & Drug Development Institute/Oregon Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies Center.

  • 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 Pittsburgh, 2010 winner 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 2011 i6 Challenge, or i6 Green, included the following winners: University of Central Florida and partners; Louisiana Tech University; Michigan State University; Iowa Innovation Network/Iowa State; New England Clean Energy Foundation, and the Washington Clean Energy Partnership Project and Partners.

  • In Orlando, the University of Central Florida, a 2011 winner, is utilizing its extensive patent portfolio and deep network of partnerships with the aerospace, life science and energy industries of Florida to create a regional strategy around innovation and entrepreneurship.

As the i6 winners build their programs and create mature centers to support innovation and entrepreneurship, EDA and 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.