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$6 Million i6 Challenge to Spur High Growth Entrepreneurship and Expand Proof of Concept Centers

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Guest blog post by Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine

The Obama administration has unveiled several actions that are designed to speed up the growth of new, job-creating companies. Today, a new $6 million i6 Challenge, the third round of the national innovation competition, was announced. Six winning teams from around the country will get awards of up to $1 million this fall for innovative proposals to create and expand Proof of Concept Centers, such as the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Stevens Institute for Innovation at the University of Southern California.

Centers like these incorporate a range of services—such as technology and market evaluation, business planning and mentorship, and early-stage access to capital—that are critical to regional economic growth and job creation.

The i6 competition series has generated great momentum since it was first introduced as part of the roll-out of the White House’s Startup America initiative last year. Projects funded in 2010 and 2011 are already starting to show results.

For example, at the Louisiana Tech Proof of Concept Center—a winner of one of the six i6 Green awards made in 2011—they are partnering with companies along the I-20 innovation corridor in north Louisiana, south Arkansas, west central Mississippi, and northeast Texas to promote the commercialization of such technologies as solar “smart panels,” geopolymer concrete, and piezoelectric generators that capture otherwise wasted energy. In doing this, the center is collaborating with researchers, students, and organizations located at Enterprise Campus, Louisiana Tech’s research park.

In St. Louis, Missouri , the St. Louis Biogenerator—a 2010 i6 winner—is helping to advance the commercialization of bioscience technology, and is already responsible for the formation of eight companies involved with such technologies as lithium-ion batteries, pharmaceuticals, cancer treatments, and nanocontainers used in manufacturing protein-based drugs.

And in New Mexico, the New Mexico Technology Ventures—another 2010 i6 winner—is using its funding to develop infrastructure for the successful transition of technologies developed under the Small Business Innovation Research program into commercially viable enterprises. They’ve set up a set of relations that includes the national labs and universities to support this effort.

These projects demonstrate how economic development programs, such as the i6 Challenge, can successfully catalyze regional innovation and entrepreneurship, leading to the business growth and job creation that we need today.

The competition is being led by the U.S. Commerce Department Economic Development Administration’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship - which leads efforts to promote innovation-based, high-growth entrepreneurship and implement initiatives to commercialize technology developed through university and federally funded research. The deadline for submitting applications is July 20, 2012. Details are available here.

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