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Creativity Hubs


World-class research universities have a special obligation to leverage their creative capital in the pursuit of moonshot thinking to make tangible impacts. Every day, Carolina faculty choose to work on complex, seemingly unsolvable problems at scales from the molecular, to the human, to beyond the solar system. As researchers at a leading global public research university, it is our responsibility to ensure that our work has public benefit. Together, we can harness the full power of our innovative spirit to advance discovery, creativity, knowledge, and products for the public good.

The OVCR catalyzes discovery, creativity, collaboration, and innovation, empowering our researchers and growing our research enterprise. We are dedicated to creating a culture and ecosystem to support translation of discoveries and knowledge into tangible impact and solutions that solve the biggest challenges facing our state and beyond. The OVCR Creativity Hubs program is the University’s vehicle to focus and accelerate the efforts of teams to pose new questions that challenge prevailing wisdom in current approaches, create the foundation for new fields of inquiry, and test innovations to resolve major roadblocks in existing practice.

Now in its 6th year, the program renews its purpose in extending the impact of research at Carolina into the world and to intentionally cultivate a culture that spurs innovation. Given the current funding environment, we particularly encourage concepts that position teams to capitalize on impact-oriented opportunities, like ARPA-H, NCInnovation, and those coming out of the NSF TIP directorate. In addition, the Creativity Hubs process is being streamlined for applicants and broadened for the research community. For this cycle, we seek to make investments that increase the impact of Carolina’s science and scholarship by translating Carolina’s research (grey boxes) to its outputs and impacts (blue box):

Examples of Carolinaʼs Research & Scholarship and Activity

Basic, Fundamental, Discovery Science & Scholarship

Applied Sciences & Scholarship





Outputs and Impacts





Creative Output

Discoveries/ Knowledge

How to Apply

Submit a one-page, 11-font, one-inch margin Concept Vision that speaks to four areas: the major problem as the team defines it, the current state of practice, your proposed solution, and the proposed team, with an emphasis on the impact of the proposed work and next steps post-award. We want to know what you are on the brink of solving and how pilot funds will provide the proof of principle to leverage your research or scholarship for real-world impact. Submit your Concept Vision to by 11:59PM, December 5th.

After submission, select teams will be invited by the Vice Chancellor for Research and University leadership to submit a five-minute-long prerecorded Vision Pitch, consisting of no more than one slide, to convey the impact of the proposed work to a non-technical audience. The OVCR will host a pitch training workshop the week of December 15 for guidance on pitch content and delivery. Selected groups will submit their pitch by January 12, 2024.

Following the Vision Pitch, selected teams will advance as finalists to the last phase of the competition. They will then develop their vision into a proposal with support from UNC Research Development and major gift officers, with a mid-Spring 2024 full proposal deadline.

The last phase of the competition will broadly follow an adapted ‘ARPA-style’ model, with a focus to advance high-potential, high-impact research and scholarship that meets the Creativity Hubs evaluation criteria specified at the end of this RFA.

Program Description

Award funds are used to concentrate ideas, relationships, and technologies into a core project team to establish the groundwork for lasting creative impact. Finalists will receive one-two years of direct financial and project management support, starting July 1, 2024 (FY2025). We intentionally do not specify a budget amount but note that projects should support achievable metrics and goals within a one to two-year timeframe. We anticipate supporting 0-5 projects per year, with a maximum award amount of $250k per year, but consideration will be given to proposals that ensure proper alignment between the requested amount and the aims of the proposed project.

Evaluation Criteria

We prioritize research and scholarship that expands the limits of human knowledge and provides the tools for societal progress and impact. Teams that advance as finalists will best demonstrate:

  • A compelling societal, or disciplinary challenge and their solutions to it
  • The novel capabilities to advance risky work out of a proof-of-concept stage
  • A critical mass of talent at Carolina, with credible leadership or discipline recognition
  • Leveragability for other opportunities, currently not receiving funding for the idea/solution, or enhances reputation in the proposed area

We anticipate funding only the most impactful concepts and encourage submissions from all disciplines across campus. We note that the following priorities emerged from our pan-campus strategic assessment process:

  • Cancer & other Chronic Diseases
  • Environment (Water, Air, Climate, Energy)
  • Infectious Disease
  • Brain (Mental Health, Neuroscience)
  • Digital Technology & Generative AI