497-101: Developing, Prototyping & Proposing Innovative Ideas that Respond to Foundations & Other Funding Opportunities

Meeting Day(s)/Time
Wednesday 10:00 AM - 12:40 PM
Courtney Sobers (CHEM) (csobers@iit.edu) in collaboration with IIT's Office of Research Compliance & Proposal Development
Appropriate Disciplines
Business Innovation

At the university, students are engaged in absorbing the knowledge of their fields, learning specialized methods, and developing practical analytical skills. This educational milieu can be a caldron for formulating and percolating ideas that are inspired by coursework, student passions, or the exchange of ideas between students and with faculty. What happens next?

Sometimes, ideas are shaped into independent study or undergraduate research, or may become the topic of an IPRO project for one or more semesters. If conditions are right, solid concepts and prototypes may bake, solidify and even be reformulated, pivoting in new directions that seem to hold more promise. However, the missing ingredients can be: (a) a sense of mission and greater purpose; (b) a connection with intended users/beneficiaries, and (c) seed funding to nurture growth and maturation of the concept. Unfortunately, it is these missing ingredients that cause the concept to die on the vine and the motivation of the founder(s) to wither and die because of priorities like getting good grades and finding a job.

The goal of this project is to organize interdisciplinary teams to develop innovative concepts directed toward addressing important needs and opportunities inspired by funding sources that have well-articulated social missions. Please note that while this IPRO section is led by a chemistry faculty member, the scope of ideas, technologies, applications and funding sources encompasses any and all fields of inquiry. The lead instructor and IPRO Program Office will be tapping faculty researchers and proposal writing staff experts from across the university to support teams in this IPRO section depending on the focus of their ideas and funding sources identified.

This IPRO section is organized as a multi-IPRO themed cluster, with on the order of four or five interdisciplinary teams of five students each. The teams will gain practical experience in: (1) scouting for and identifying sources of funding; (2) scanning sources of ideas and incubating new ones; (3) conceiving, developing and prototyping innovative concepts, responsive to the mission and priorities of funding sources, by applying user-centered design methods to determine technical feasibility, user desirability and business viability; (4) drafting winning proposals that are critiqued, refined and ready for submittal to one or more funding sources; and (5) for those concepts and draft proposals that are strong and are felt to merit support, and have sustaining founder interest and commitment, creating a path forward for submitting a proposal (or handing it off to others), obtaining feedback and being prepared to pivot in a new direction or submit to other funding sources. The framework for this experience is described in greater detail below:

  1. Investigating Sources of Funding: The IPRO teams will research and profile a range of funding sources that interest them, principally in the realm of addressing social needs. There are numerous sources of funding available to address the priorities of foundations, government agencies and others. This includes such prominent philanthropic organizations as the MacArthur Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and VentureWell; federal R&D agencies like the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program; and corporate philanthropic sources like Microsoft and Motorola Solutions Foundation. At the student and local level, funding sources may support research and technology commercialization to address social needs, including the Illinois Tech Nayar Prize, sustainability grants offered via IIT WISER, a range of business plan competitions, etc.
  2. Scanning Sources of Ideas: The IPRO teams may conduct research and brainstorm concepts of their own in response to the challenges offered by the sources of funds. Teams may learn about the work of a previous IPRO team (including one they participated in) or other student project that might merit further development. Teams may also learn of ideas that Illinois Tech faculty offer for exploration and collaborate to develop her/is idea while identifying viable sources of funding for it.
  3. Innovating Concepts: The IPRO teams will apply user-centered design methods to research areas of social need or other opportunity, capture insights that offer interesting areas for exploration, brainstorm ideas and synthesize to identify breakthrough concepts, develop and test prototypes.
  4. Drafting Winning Proposals: In an iterative fashion with step #3 above, the IPRO teams will review proposal criteria associated with the funding source of their choice, and draft a proposal by giving attention to what is needed to be responsive, competitive and offer a compelling value proposition, with guidance and critique from faculty and staff with significant proposal writing experience.
  5. Refining Proposals & Path Forward: We anticipate that there will be strong, competitive concepts and proposals that emerge through this IPRO experience. The next steps are to identify those teams and team members who are passionate about taking the next steps to pursue the opportunities further, perhaps as a follow-on IPRO project or independent of a course. For those passionate and committed to pursue a path forward, one positive step will be for the team(s) to submit their proposals to one or more funding source and continue their quest.

The IPRO teams will benefit from guests that have expertise in identifying sources of ideas, scouting for sources of funding, and writing compelling proposals. This may include Illinois Tech staff from the Office of Research Compliance & Proposal Development, Institutional Advancement, and Corporate Relations, as well as faculty from the sciences, engineering, business, psychology, applied technology, architecture, etc. who have been successful in fundraising.

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