Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Lab-to-Market Translation at NSF’s Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate

| June 2023

Executive Summary

The 2022 CHIPS and Science Act is landmark legislation that aims to advance U.S. global leadership in science and technology. The CHIPS and Science Act––one part of the Biden-Harris administration’s wider industrial strategy––was passed amid the rapidly accelerating geostrategic and technological competition between the U.S. and its main rival, China.

China, seeking to increase its global influence, has in recent decades invested heavily in technological research and development to advance its own economic goals and decrease its dependency on foreign countries. These investments have resulted in the successful scaling and capacity building of its domestic technology hardware sector and in emerging technology sectors such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and quantum computing. If the U.S. is to maintain leadership in these, and other, strategic technology industries, it must bolster its domestic use-inspired research and development ecosystem.

One major effort through which CHIPS and Science seeks to achieve this is the creation of the Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The TIP Directorate’s mission is to advance use-inspired research at NSF, particularly in areas of technology critical to strategic competition. TIP comprises both new and already existing initiatives, including the flagship Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which is called America’s Seed Fund. Given that NSF historically has focused on basic research, TIP will face challenges both internally––as it is a major component of NSF’s emphasis to focus more on use-inspired research––and externally to overcome the “valley of death,” comprising challenges common to commercializing innovative technologies.

These obstacles are mainly clustered within three critical junctures throughout the innovation life cycle. The first obstacle occurs between ideation and prototype, as the gap between research and entrepreneurship skills must be met to identify profitability of technologies. The second obstacle occurs as a technology is scaled from prototype to business, where challenges associated with critical technologies––such as technical risk, market risk, and regulatory risk––must be addressed. The third obstacle occurs as a technology reaches maturity. This happens when challenges to attract sufficient capital and navigate existing market tensions can impede the ability to scale and commercialize successfully.

Finally, TIP operates within a wider innovation ecosystem requiring a well-developed domestic industrial base to remain competitive with foreign research and development. It is critical to deeply understand this wider ecosystem and to take steps to grow and improve it if the U.S. is to remain a global leader in technological competitiveness. The below recommendations offer potential solutions to addressing each obstacle mentioned above and to navigating the strategic competition that underlies the entire process.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Archer, Nicole, Julian Baker, Damien Bérubé and Ariel Higuchi. “Lab-to-Market Translation at NSF’s Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2023.

The Authors