The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a new $1.2 million pilot aimed at accelerating breakthrough technologies by connecting industry innovators with researchers at emerging research institutions. The 18-month pilot will be led by Halo, an AI platform that helps R&D teams identify and partner with scientific experts.

The initial focus will be on fostering partnerships in materials science and engineering between companies and researchers at universities receiving less than $50 million annually in federal research funding. By democratizing access to a broader range of academic institutions, the NSF hopes to advance more early-stage innovations that can address critical national and global challenges.

“Academic-industry partnerships fuel innovation, enhancing U.S. competitiveness,” said Erwin Gianchandani, NSF Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. “This pilot will help connect companies with researchers across all universities, not just the most well-known, surfacing new innovations.”

Kevin Leland, Halo’s CEO, noted, “Our platform lets R&D teams unite with top scientists anywhere to solve problems and commercialize breakthroughs faster. With NSF’s support, we can tap the full depth of U.S. scientific talent.”

Since 2020, Halo’s network has grown to include nearly 8,000 scientists, 2,000 startups, and 1,500 universities administrators from 100 countries, including over 450 U.S. universities.

“Finding R&D partners is crucial yet companies often rely on just a few well-known universities nearby,” said Thyaga Nandagopal, NSF Division Director. “This pilot lets Halo connect companies to a much wider range of innovators at emerging institutions.”

The materials science focus aligns with a key CHIPS and Science Act priority area. As a learning pilot, NSF will assess outcomes to determine if the model merits further investment.

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