Partnerships for Innovation (PFI)

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

The Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) Program within the Division of Translational Impacts (TI) offers researchers from all disciplines of science and engineering funded by NSF the opportunity to perform translational research and technology development, catalyze partnerships and accelerate the transition of discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace for societal benefit.

PFI has five broad goals, as set forth by the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2017 (“the Act”, S.3084 — 114th CongressSec. 602. Translational Research Grants): (1) identifying and supporting NSF-sponsored research and technologies that have the potential for accelerated commercialization; (2) supporting prior or current NSF-sponsored investigators, institutions of higher education, and non-profit organizations that partner with an institution of higher education in undertaking proof-of-concept work, including the development of technology prototypes that are derived from NSF-sponsored research and have potential market value; (3) promoting sustainable partnerships between NSF-funded institutions, industry, and other organizations within academia and the private sector with the purpose of accelerating the transfer of technology; (4) developing multi-disciplinary innovation ecosystems which involve and are responsive to the specific needs of academia and industry; (5) providing professional development, mentoring, and advice in entrepreneurship, project management, and technology and business development to innovators.

In addition, PFI responds to the mandate set by Congress in Section 601(c)(3) of the Act (Follow-on Grants), to support prototype or proof-of-concept development work by participants with innovations that because of the early stage of development are not eligible to participate in a Small Business Innovation Research Program or a Small Business Technology Transfer Program.

Finally, PFI seeks to implement the mandate set by Congress in Section 102(c)(a) of the Act (Broader Impacts Review Criterion Update) by enhancing partnerships between academia and industry in the United States, and expanding the participation of women and individuals from underrepresented groups in innovation, technology translation, and entrepreneurship. 

This solicitation offers two broad tracks for proposals in pursuit of the aforementioned goals:

The Technology Translation (PFI-TT) track offers the opportunity to translate prior NSF-funded research results in any field of science or engineering into technological innovations with promising commercial potential and societal impact. PFI-TT supports commercial potential demonstration projects for academic research outputs in any NSF-funded science and engineering discipline. This demonstration is achieved through proof-of-concept, prototyping, technology development and/or scale-up work. Concurrently, students and postdoctoral researchers who participate in PFI-TT projects receive education and leadership training in innovation and entrepreneurship. Successful PFI-TT projects generate technology-driven commercialization outcomes that address societal needs.

The Research Partnerships (PFI-RP) track seeks to achieve the same goals as the PFI-TT track by supporting instead complex, multi-faceted technology development projects that are typically beyond the scope of a single researcher or institution and require a multi-organizational, interdisciplinary, synergistic collaboration. A PFI-RP project requires the creation of partnerships between academic researchers and third-party organizations such as industry, non-academic research organizations, federal laboratories, public or non-profit technology transfer organizations or other universities. Such partnerships are needed to conduct use-inspired research on a stand-alone larger project toward commercialization and societal impact. In the absence of such synergistic partnership, the project’s likelihood for success would be minimal.

The intended outcomes of both PFI-TT and PFI-RP tracks are: a) the commercialization of new intellectual property derived from NSF-funded research outputs; b) the creation of new or broader collaborations with industry (including increased corporate sponsored research); c) the licensing of NSF-funded research outputs to third party corporations or to start-up companies funded by a PFI team; and d) the training of future innovation and entrepreneurship leaders.

There is no limit on the number of PFI-TT proposals an organization may submit to the deadlines of this solicitation. However, an organization may not submit more than one (1) new or resubmitted PFI-RP proposal to a deadline of this solicitation. This eligibility constraint will be strictly enforced. 

Duke Internal Deadline for PFI-RP: A nominee has been selected for the 1/2024 round.

Full Proposal Deadlines: Sep. 5, 2023; Jan. 2, 2024; May 7, 2024

NOTE: If the internal deadline has passed and you are interested in this opportunity, please email to find out if it is still open.

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

Proposals may only be submitted by the following:

  • Academic / Research U.S. institutions; includes universities and two- and four-year colleges (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the United States, acting on behalf of their faculty members;
  • Public or Non-profit, Non-academic U.S. organizations located in the United States that are directly associated with technology transfer activities (“Technology Transfer Organizations”);
  • Non-profit U.S. organizations located in the United States that partner with an institution of higher education; or
  • A U.S. consortium of 2 or more of the organizations described above.

Technology Transfer Organizations interested in submitting proposals to PFI are strongly encouraged to partner with an Academic / Research U.S. institution to strengthen the technical component of their projects.

The PI must have the technical skills required to lead and execute the proposed research project.

In addition to the PI, PFI-TT proposals must include a Senior Personnel or co-PI who brings technology commercialization experience in the targeted fields of application or industry sector. The technology commercialization expert must have an active role in the project.

PFI-RP proposals must include, without exception, a co-PI who is a member or employee of the required Industrial Partner organization. PFI-RP proposals without an Industrial Partner co-PI may be returned without review.

The technology commercialization expert cannot use NSF-funded time and effort to perform any “Objectives Not Responsive to this Solicitation” listed in Section II.E of this solicitation. However, the expert may participate in any mandatory I-Corps training that will be provided during the term of the PFI award. Additional collaborators or organizations that bring needed multidisciplinary expertise or commercialization experience may be involved as co-PI, Senior Personnel, Other Professional, subawardee, consultant, etc.

NSF Lineage Requirement: All proposals submitted to the PFI program must meet a lineage requirement by having NSF-supported research results. Please refer to "Additional Eligibility Information" under Section IV of this solicitation for details.

Limit on Number of Proposals per Organization: There is no limit on the number of PFI-TT proposals an organization may submit to the deadlines of this solicitation. However, an organization may not submit more than one (1) new or resubmitted PFI-RP proposal to a deadline of this solicitation. This eligibility constraint will be strictly enforced. If an organization exceeds this limit, the first PFI-RP proposal received will be accepted, and the remainder will be returned without review. An organization may not receive more than two (2) awards from a submission deadline of this solicitation.

Limit on Number of Proposals per PI or co-PI: 2

A PI or co-PI may submit up to two (2) proposals to the solicitation deadlines. These could be two (2) proposals to PFI-TT or one (1) proposal each to PFI-TT and PFI-RP, subject to the organizational limits described above. A PI or co-PI will not receive more than one (1) award per solicitation deadline. PIs with currently active PFI awards are requested to complete their then-current project before submitting a new PFI proposal. Any duplicate, substantially similar or equivalent proposal submitted concurrently for review to the solicitation will be returned without review.

A PI or co-PI may resubmit a proposal that was previously declined under a previous PFI solicitation deadline; however, the new proposal must be significantly improved and be responsive to the major comments or concerns resulting from the prior NSF review. A resubmission must include a supplemental document that includes the previous proposal number, a summary of the NSF reviewers’ comments and the PI's response to those comments (see Section V.A.J. below). The revised proposal will be subject to a new NSF merit review.

Amount Description

Estimated Number of Awards: PFI-TT projects will be funded for up to $550,000 for 18-24 months per award; approximately 15-35 awards are anticipated. PFI-RP projects will be funded for up to $1,000,000 for 36 months; approximately 10-20 awards are anticipated.

Anticipated Funding Amount: $30,000,000

Anticipated Funding Amount is subject to the availability of funds and the quality of proposals received.

Funding Type





Community Outreach and Engagement
Curriculum Development
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
International Opportunities
Medical - Translational
Social Sciences

Internal Nomination

Owing to the sponsor's restriction on the number of applications that may be submitted from Duke, anyone wishing to pursue nomination should submit the following materials as one PDF. This applies to the Research Partnerships (PFI-RP) track only.

  • NSF Biosketch
  • 1-page Executive Summary that provides a brief overview of the entire PFI-RP project:
    • The Societal Need and the Customer. Describe the societal need to be addressed through commercialization. Describe the expected customer for the innovation. What customer needs and market pain points are you addressing?
    • The Value Proposition. Define the value proposition in 50 words or less: What is the potential societal value of your innovation? What are the benefits to the customer of your proposed innovation? What is the key differentiator of your organization or technology?
    • The Innovation, Succinctly describe your innovation. This section can contain proprietary information that could not be discussed in the Project Summary. What aspects are original, unusual, novel, disruptive or transformative compared to the current state of the art?
    • The Partnership. Describe the nature and merits of the collaboration with your industrial and research partners.
    • Training and Leadership Development in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Briefly describe the educational plan designed for the graduate student(s) and/or postdoctoral researcher(s) who will participate in the PFI project.

Please submit internal materials through My Research Proposal. (Code: ILN)

Instructions for creating an account (if needed) and submitting your materials:

External Deadline

January 2, 2024