Chairman Brooks Questions Government Role, Taxpayer Benefit of NSF’s ‘I-Corps’ Program
Chicago, IL – The Subcommittee on Research and Science Education today held a field hearing in Chicago, Illinois to examine the new National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps, or “I-Corps,” program and to assess its value to the American taxpayer.
“NSF has contributed to America’s economy and competitiveness in invaluable ways. Unfortunately, today the United States faces unsustainable budget deficits which limit the spending Congress is able to appropriate,” noted Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL).
Through its I-Corps program, launched in 2011, NSF seeks to build upon the fundamental research the Agency already supports in order to encourage collaboration between academia and industry, and to train students to understand innovation and entrepreneurship. Only researchers who already receive NSF support are eligible to apply for the I-Corps program. An I-Corps team makes a decision whether or not to move forward with any particular research project, and then provides a grant to the chosen project(s) team in order to help determine the readiness to transition technology developed by previously-funded or currently-funded NSF projects. NSF made awards to 21 teams in September 2011 and an additional 25 teams in March 2012. The total anticipated funding level for I-Corps in fiscal year 2012 is $5 million. The agency has requested $19 million for FY13.
Chairman Brooks questioned whether the I-Corps program represents the best use of federal taxpayer dollars. “At a time when businesses are struggling to compete with big government and funding is already scarce, and at a time when there are already a number of questions arising over the federal government picking commercial winners and losers -- and rather badly I might add in the case of Solyndra, Abound Solar, and Beacon Power -- I need to better understand how and why NSF is best equipped to make these similar types of decisions for university research,” Brooks said.
Defending the goals of the I-Corps program, Dr. Thomas Peterson, Assistant Director of the Directorate for Engineering at NSF, maintained that it is intended to benefit the taxpayer by delivering technologies that may not have otherwise been funded or commercialized by the private sector. “It is good stewardship, we believe, if we can assist those current and past NSF-funded researchers to identify the realistic potential for developing their ideas into a product or process of societal benefit.”
Chairman Brooks noted that the Subcommittee will continue to look into what comes out of initial I-Corps grants and to “ensure that federally funded programs do not impede the work of the private sector and provide the best return on the taxpayer dollar.”
The following witnesses testified today before the Subcommittee:
Dr. Thomas Peterson, Assistant Director of the Directorate for Engineering, National Science Foundation
Mr. Steve Blank, Lecturer, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley
Mr. Neil Kane, President, Illinois Partners Executive Services, LLC
Dr. Gabriel Popescu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Dr. Andrew Mazar, Director of the Program for Developmental Therapeutics and Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Innovation and New Ventures Office, Northwestern University