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Creativity Hubs Pilot Award

Research is in an era of unprecedented discovery and innovation in natural, social, and biomedical sciences. Powerful new tools and technologies allow for deeper understandings of the world in which we live. As problems become more complex, researchers with divergent expertise need to collaborate to form new knowledge, generate new ideas, pursue groundbreaking research, and solve difficult problems.

As part of UNC’s Strategic Framework, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) is taking a new approach to the development of fluid, cross-disciplinary research by establishing the Creativity Hubs. Creativity Hubs are collaborative networks that think through emerging problems and come up with innovative solutions. These hubs will nurture research innovation and risk-taking endeavors to build a culture promoting discovery and curiosity, while recognizing and rewarding exceptional performance. The goal is to incentivize researchers to generate new ideas that address important, emerging challenges, to establish a defined work plan to give rise to new discoveries and new ways of thinking that push boundaries and borders of disciplines, and to generate impact and attract large-scale extramural funding.

Assemble interdisciplinary teams to develop pilot proposals. Pilot funding: generate foundational data leading to large scale external funding opportunities. Outcome: Convergent Research: Collaboration and innovation to solve emerging problems and shape the future.

Program Goals and Award Overview

The intent of the Creativity Hubs Pilot Award is to promote the development of innovative ideas that emerge from cross-disciplinary interactions in order to address key challenges and/or develop new knowledge. Funded projects will support new work, new interpretation or application of past projects that significantly differ from previously funded projects, or advancement of a project that is generally excluded from traditional funding sources, but successful project advancement would facilitate significant investment from external groups. Funded projects are expected to lead to large-scale extramural funding from public or private entities, such as government agencies, corporations, private foundations, or venture capital within 2 years from the end of the project. Applicants should articulate the problem/challenge, how the proposed research will provide solutions to the challenge, how the diverse expertise of the team forms a greater whole that promotes new ways of thinking, and how the proposed research program would make the team highly competitive in pursuing future extramural funding or commercialization opportunities. Proposals that seek to develop platforms with multiple applications must also include a description of at least one specific use case that demonstrates the application of the platform. This program will not serve as bridge funding or to supplement existing funding.

Areas of Focus

The OVCR has identified strategic research priorities reflecting UNC’s strengths where convergence in social sciences, humanistic scholarship, foundational research, health science, and the natural sciences will accelerate new discoveries and solutions to emerging challenges:

  • The Brain
  • Cancer
  • Data Science
  • The Environment
  • Infectious Disease
  • Opportunity, Well-Being, & Culture
  • Precision Health & Society

While the OVCR is encouraging on-campus teams to design projects touching on one or more of these foci, projects proposing revolutionary ideas through convergent research in any discipline are welcome.

Key Review Criteria

  • Innovation and Impact – Ability to provide solutions to important challenges and/or generate new fundamental knowledge to create impact to benefit society, culture, community, the environment, or the economy.
  • Convergence – Demonstration that the project takes advantage of expertise from multiple and diverse disciplines and promotes new ways of thinking that push disciplinary boundaries.
  • Sustainability – Likelihood that the project will lead to support of larger and sustained extramural funding from federal agencies, industry, venture groups, or non-profit organizations.
  • Program Management Plan – Clearly articulated plan with description of feasibility, work-plan, milestones, project deliverables, evidence of alignment with large-scale extramural support and timeline for soliciting external support. (NOTE: some aspects are evaluated in the full proposal only).

Important Dates

Q&A Webinar October 5, 2021 12:00 PM Registration Link
Pre-Proposal due date October 18, 2021, 5:00 PM Template for Pre-proposal Application
Selection and Award of Pre-proposal End of November/ Beginning of December
Full Proposal due date April 1, 2022, 5:00 PM Template for Full Proposal Cover Page
Template for Full Proposal Budget
Presentations Mid-April 2022
Award start July 1, 2022
Award end June 30, 2024

Funding

The Creativity Hubs Pilot Award will award funding at two stages:

  • Stage 1: 4-8 Preproposal Finalists will receive $5,000 for proposal development.
  • Stage 2: 2 Full Proposal Finalist will receive up to $500,000 over 2 years at $250,000 per year. The 2nd year of funding is contingent upon meeting pre-defined metrics at the end of the first year of award.

Stage 1: Pre-proposal

Each pre-proposal finalist team will receive up to $5,000 over a 4-5 month period to allow the team to develop the full proposal including work plans and sustainability plan. Examples of appropriate expenditures of funds during this stage include but are not limited to team-building meetings and workshops, travel to meet with colleagues or program officers, and sample analysis for pilot data.

Stage 2: Full Proposal

Two full proposals will be awarded. Additional awards may be issued, pending available funds. The proposer may request up to $250,000/year over a 2-year period.

Cost-sharing/cost-matching of funds from units within UNC and other institutions are welcome, but not required, and details of alternative sources of support should be outlined in the proposal as well as in Letters of Support from the entity providing the funds.

Please note that these funds are governed by the applicable university policies on research expenditures and compliance. This includes but is not limited to the Research Code of Conduct and Standards as well as the policies pertaining to human subjects and privacy, vertebrate animals, hazardous materials, export control, and conflict of interest.

Eligibility

The team leader(s) must hold a primary faculty appointment in a UNC-CH department or Center/Institute and be eligible to serve as Principal Investigators per UNC’s policies outlined here. Individuals from underrepresented groups as well as individuals with disabilities are always encouraged to apply.

Teams are expected to include researchers from multiple schools/college and/or Centers and Institutes. If there are multiple PIs, a single contact PI must be identified. Please note that funds will be initially awarded to a single department.

Awards are for new work that has not been previously funded, new interpretation or application of past projects that significantly differ from their original objectives, or advancement of a project that is generally excluded from traditional funding sources, but successful project advancement would facilitate significant investment from external groups.

Teams who submitted applications to the previous Creativity Hubs competition are welcome to reapply.

Application Process

Stage 1: Request for Ideas (Pre-proposal) due October 18, 2021

Pre-proposals must use the provided template and adhere to the word limits listed in the template. The pre-proposal should be written with a broad scholarly audience in mind.

Please use a font size no smaller than 11pt. to ensure readability. DO NOT exceed the page limits (1 page cover page, 3 page pre-proposal application). References Cited may be appended to the pdf and do not count towards the page limit.

Pre-Proposal should be submitted in PDF format to creativityhubs@unc.edu by 5:00 pm of October 18, 2021.

Review

The pre-proposal should be written with a broad scholarly audience in mind. Pre-proposals will be reviewed and ranked by a panel consisting of university research Associate/Vice Deans and pan-campus institute Directors with the Office of Research Development providing guidance and oversight of the review process.  Ranked proposals will be considered by the Vice Chancellor for Research and other UNC Executive Officers. The final selections will be made by the Vice Chancellor. Up to 8 pre-proposals will be awarded in late November/early December.

Pre-proposals will be evaluated and ranked based on the following criteria:

  • Innovation and Impact
    • Originality of the proposed research program as a solution to the stated challenge.
    • Impact it would have on the problem/challenge to benefit society, culture, community, environment or economy.
  • Approach
    • Likelihood that the proposed research program will be successful.
    • Alignment with OVCR strategic priorities – will the proposed research program advance and enhance UNC’s preeminence in the OVCR’s strategic research areas, if relevant.
  • Convergence
    • The proposed solution relies on multiple and diverse disciplines that together create an integrated and convergent approach
    • The multi-disciplinary approach promotes new ways of thinking that push disciplinary boundaries.
  • Qualifications of the team
    • Track record of the PI and program faculty
    • How well the team incorporates inter-disciplinary expertise and will work as an integrated unit.
    • Potential for further team development will be considered.
  • Sustainability
    • Specific sources of significant external funding to be targeted for future proposals are identified and relevant to the proposed project
    • Potential for the proposed program and team to compete successfully for identified large-scale funding from public or private entities, such as government agencies, corporations, private foundations, and/or venture capital OR initiate numerous high-yield research projects.

Stage 2: Full proposals due April 1, 2022

Please use 1-inch margins and use a font size no smaller than 11pt. to ensure readability.

Proposals should be submitted as one document in PDF format to creativityhubs@unc.edu by 5:00 pm of April 1, 2022.

Full proposals will consist of the following components:

  1. Cover Page
  2. Project Description
  3. References
  4. Budget
  5. Budget Justification
  6. Biosketch
  7. Other Support or Current and Pending Support
  8. Letters of Support

Detailed instructions for each component are as follows:

(1) Proposal Cover Page — Must use the provided template.

(2) Project Description (6 pages):

Please use 1-inch margins and use a font size no smaller than 11pt. to ensure readability. The Project Description should be written with a broad scholarly audience in mind.

The Project Description should include sufficient detail such that reviewers can evaluate all review criteria (selected to address the appropriateness and feasibility of the proposed plans). The project description must articulate a clear set of goals that are aspirational yet attainable. Preliminary data are not required but teams must demonstrate that they can successfully advance the project.

The project description should include the following sections (suggested page allocation):

  • Research plan (~4 pages): This section should address how the proposed research program is consistent with the Key Review Criteria. It should include a discussion of the major challenges in the field, a description of innovativeness of the proposed research, how it would solve these challenges, and the impact it would have on the challenge, as well as its benefits to society, culture, community, the environment or the economy. This section should also include a description of convergence: how the project takes advantage of expertise from multiple and diverse disciplines, how the different parts would form a greater whole and contribute to the project’s success.
  • Sustainability Plan (~0.5 pages): Detailed plan for sustainability of the proposed research program via the attraction of extramural support. Description of specific sources of extramural funding that will be targeted for future proposals. Plans for extramural funding should be as specific as possible, including name of the private or public sponsor, agency or source names, agency programs that would be the source of funding, timelines for proposal submissions and potential amounts of funding.
  • Work and Management Plan (~1.5 pages): Description of the leadership experience of the PI, how each participating key personnel contributes to the team, how the inter-disciplinary team will function as a unit and form a greater whole that promote new ways of thinking to push disciplinary boundaries. This section should also include an outline of the plan of work, with milestones to be achieved in the first year of funding, and metrics to gauge success throughout the course of the two years of funding.

(3) References Cited (Does not count toward the 6-page limit)

Include a comprehensive list of any references cited in the project description. Any format appropriate for your field of work is acceptable; formats with full titles and journal names are preferred.

(4) Budget

Please use the provided budget template form. Note that there are two tabs to be completed: Requested Funds and, if applicable, Cost-Sharing Funds. A single two-year budget with justification. Funds may be used for any legitimate research-related expense. Please note the following:

  • Minimal faculty salary may be included. However, if teams choose to include paid effort for faculty in the budget (as opposed to cost-shared effort), they must discuss these plans with ORD prior to submitting the full proposal.
  • Funds cannot be used for administrative support, support of workshops/symposia, or F&A costs.
  • Additionally, funds should not be used to develop small grants program.
  • Use of funds for equipment purchase is discouraged, but if new equipment is required to meet the goals and milestones of the project, a detailed justification will need to be included.
  • Travel for conference-related expenses should be limited to no more than $5,000 per year, and detailed justification must be provided about how the travel will increase the chances of extramural funding for the project.
  • Since the goal of this program is to grow UNC’s research enterprise, if funds are to be requested for subawards, they should be kept at a minimum and clearly justified. Also, Funds cannot be used to pay F&A charges at other institutions.
  • Please note that the requested funds for Year 1 should specifically address how the milestones outlined in the Research Plan for Year 1 will be achieved.

(5) Please provide a Budget Justification limited to no more than 2 pages.

(6) Biosketches

Biosketches in NIH or NSF standard format are required for the PI(s) and all senior personnel (co-Investigators, collaborators, or those providing significant contributions to the intellectual development of the project). Please use a current or recent NIH/NSF format and appropriate instructions for NIH or NSF format, below:

  • NIH Biosketch. Section A should provide a statement that describes how the included faculty’s contribution and expertise are both required and sufficient to accomplish the proposal’s stated goals.
  • NSF Biosketch. In addition to the 2-page Biosketch, include a ~0.5 page narrative statement (comparable to the NIH Section A) that describes how the included faculty’s contribution and expertise are both required and sufficient to accomplish the proposal’s stated goals.

(7) Funding History

Information about relevant research funding to date is required for the PI(s) and all senior personnel (co-Investigators, collaborators, or those providing significant contributions to the intellectual development of the project). This information may be provided in any reviewer-friendly format including standard NIH Biosketch section D (from forms D-F instructions), NIH Other Support, and NSF Current and Pending Support formats.

We recommend a simple document with the following information for each relevant research funding source:

  • Project Title
  • Status of Support (completed, current, pending)
  • Name of PD/PI
  • Role in the Project
  • Source of Support
  • Primary Place of Performance:
  • Project/Proposal Start and End Date (MM/YYYY):
  • Total Award Amount (including Indirect Costs)
  • Person Months (Calendar/Academic/Summer) per budget period

(8) Letters of Support

Applications including any cost-share/match should include a letter of support from the entity providing these funds. Additionally, letters of support from non-funded collaborators may be included.

Review

Full proposals will be reviewed and ranked by a panel that includes university research Associate/Vice Deans, center/institute Directors, and faculty with relevant expertise. The Associate Vice Chancellor for Research/Office of Research Development will provide guidance and oversight of the review process.

Rankings for full proposals will be based on the following criteria:

  • All criteria listed for the pre-proposal AND
  • Innovation and originality of the proposed research program as a solution to the stated challenge in the field.
  • Clear articulation of the importance of the challenge and the impact that the ideas for the solution can provide to benefit society, culture, community, the environment or the economy, including the State of North Carolina.
  • Clear description and feasibility of the milestones and metrics.
  • A coherent management and work plan that clearly describes feasibility of the milestones and metrics.
  • Reasonableness of the budget.

Presentations

Prior to the finalization of rankings, the proposal teams will be required to make an oral presentation to the review panel and to guest reviewers who are experts in the field.

Selection

Ranked proposals will be considered by the Vice Chancellor for Research and other UNC Executive Officers, and final selection will be made. PIs of the proposal selected for funding will be notified by the end of June, and Year 1 funds will be made available July 1, 2022.

Award policies and procedures

Award policies and procedures will be outlined in the award letter. Briefly, an advisory committee will meet every 3 months to assess progress, ensure funds are being spent as planned, and help the team overcome any roadblocks that may have arisen. Program metrics, milestone tracking, and narrative project reports are due annually; financial accounting is due quarterly. Decision regarding the release of funds for the second year of funding will be made by the Vice Chancellor for Research. Criteria to be employed to review accomplishments to date and assess research program progress include:

  • Are the accomplishments to date consistent with the timeline and metrics presented in the full proposal? If not, do reasonable extenuating circumstances explain lack of progress?
  • Are project expenditures to date consistent with progress of the research program and the budget accompanying the full proposal?
  • Have there been any changes to the timeline for research or plans for the solicitation of extramural funding?

Assistance from the Office of Research Development for Creativity Hub-Assisted Large-Scale Proposals

Creativity Hubs awardees are guaranteed proposal development assistance from the Office for any large-scale follow-on funding opportunities that spring from Creativity Hub funding. Please contact the Office of Research Development well in advance of the due date for any follow-on funding proposals to ensure that your proposal can be prioritized.

Presentations to Campus and Lay Audiences

Awardees should expect to be called upon to develop and deliver a presentation on their projects suitable for campus leadership or lay audiences.

Final Report

On or before two months after the end of the final year of Creativity Hub funding, a two-page final report will be due to the Office of Research Development that details accomplishments to date. This report should describe research accomplishments as well as tangible results, such as publications, presentations at symposia, patents, and grant submissions/awards that were produced/obtained as a consequence of funding provided by the Creativity Hubs program. Plans for the submission of proposals for extramural funding should be included, and the Office of Research Development should be notified of all subsequent awards.

Questions

For all questions related to this program, please write to creativityhubs@unc.edu. Please also see our FAQ website.