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Now Open! — 2023 Request for Proposals

Creativity Hubs Pilot Award Program

Key Dates

RFP Posted Sep. 15, 2022
Interest meeting (Registration link) Sep. 21, 2022, 9:30-10:30AM
Q&A webinar (Registration link) Sep. 28, 2022, 12:00-1:00PM
Expression of Interest due date Oct. 28, 2022
Full Proposal Invitations ~Dec. 2022 or Jan. 2023
Full Proposal due date Apr. 3, 2023
Earliest Start date Jul. 1, 2023

Contact information

For all questions related to this program, please write to creativityhubs@unc.edu. Please also see FAQ on our website https://research.unc.edu/creativity-hubs/.

Funds available

Teams that submit an Expression of Interest and selected to advance to the full application stage are eligible for up to $5,000 to support proposal development. Successful Creativity Hub applicants are eligible for $500,000 over two years. We intend to fund up to two awards in FY23, pending availability of funds and programmatic fit.

Funding Opportunity Purpose

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 must collaborate to form new knowledge, generate new ideas, pursue groundbreaking research, and solve difficult problems.

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) is developing fluid, cross-disciplinary research through the Creativity Hubs Program, now in its 6th year. Creativity Hubs address emerging problems through the creation of innovative solutions. The Hubs develop collaborative networks that apply a convergence science approach to nurture creative research concepts and high-risk endeavors and build a culture promoting discovery and curiosity. 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, 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 Program is to promote the development of innovative ideas that emerge from cross-disciplinary interactions to address key challenges and/or develop new knowledge. Proposers should describe projects exploring new collaborative directions, advancement of a risky idea that works to solve a major challenge in a field, or other big concepts that would have difficulty attracting extramural funding without a seed investment of this scale. Creativity Hubs projects should enable teams to be more competitive for large-scale extramural funding from public or private entities – federal grant-making agencies, private foundations, corporation partnership and/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 incorporate at least one specific, compelling use case that demonstrates the application of the platform. Proposing teams are encouraged to organize project personnel from across faculty ranks and with diverse representation. PI and co-PIs may come from any faculty rank — we especially encourage faculty development models such as a mid-level faculty PI with a senior-level co-PI. This program will not serve as bridge funding or to supplement existing funding.

New for 2023’s competition, one of the hub awards will be made in a special data science category — jointly funded by the OVCR and UNC’s new School of Data Science and Society (SDSS). Teams that decide to target the special data science category should indicate this on the cover page of their Expression of Interest. Teams must propose projects that have an interdisciplinary emphasis as well as grounding in theory and methods applied to the entire data life cycle. The OVCR/SDSS Creativity Hub opportunity aims to demonstrate and enhance the utility of existing or newly developed data collections to create hypotheses and catalyze interdisciplinary discoveries across disciplines.

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 and will support one Creativity Hub in the field of data science this year, any projects proposing revolutionary ideas through convergent research are welcome and encouraged to apply.


How to Apply

Eligibility

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

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

Stage 1: Expression of Interest (EOI) due October 28, 2022

Application Instructions

Applicants must use the provided template. The EOI should be written with a broad scholarly audience in mind. Use a font size no smaller than 11pt. (to ensure readability) and adhere to word limits. Images may be included and DO count towards page limits. DO NOT exceed allotted space on the template. References Cited may be appended and do not count towards the page limit.

Descriptions of each section on the template are as follows:

Cover Page

Title: Please include a descriptive, informative title.

Contact Principal Investigator, and List of other Key Personnel: Teams are expected to include researchers from multiple schools/colleges 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. For College/School/Center/Institute fields, enter all relevant affiliations. Proposing teams are encouraged to organize project personnel from across faculty ranks and with diverse representation, with mentorship/development plans described in the Sustainability section, below. PI and co-PIs may come from any faculty rank — we especially encourage faculty development models such as a mid-level faculty PI with a senior-level co-PI. This program will not serve as bridge funding or to supplement existing funding. Allowable project roles are intentionally broad and include PI, Co-PI, Investigator(s), and other significant contributor e.g. community stakeholders, or research scientists.

SDSS Interest Section: Please indicate if your application should be considered for the OVCR/SDSS Creativity Hub. Consideration for the OVCR/SDSS Creativity Hub does not exclude your application from the regular pool.

The Expression of Interest should include statements that describe, under the approach section: 1) the source of the data; 2) the method(s) and algorithm(s) used to analyze data, and any challenges that might be addressed by this attempt to use the proposed algorithms, and 3) how trainees will be included in the project. Additionally, under the Innovation and Impact section, describe 4) the hoped-for impact of this work.

Page 1

Problem/Challenge: Describe the problem/challenge to be addressed by your proposed Creativity Hub. The challenge should be described in such a way that any reviewer could easily understand the field-wide challenge, and why current approaches are falling short.

*Approach: Describe your team’s research approach to the problem/challenge. If the approach centers on organizing key datastreams into a ‘platform’, the team should clearly articulate use case(s) that will make measurable progress toward answering the Problem/Challenge.

Additional instructions for OVCR/SDSS Creativity Hub applicants: Include descriptions of (1) the source of the data, (2) the methods and algorithms used to analyze the data, and any challenges that might be addressed by this attempt to use the proposed algorithms, and 3) how trainees will be included in the project.

Page 2

Innovation and Impact: Describe how the proposed approach will provide innovative and impactful solutions to the problem. Detail how this innovation and impact would be more difficult without Creativity Hubs support.

Additional instructions for OVCR/SDSS Creativity Hub applicants: Discuss the hoped-for impact of this work, incorporate use case(s) and describe how the work would facilitate new discoveries or be practically applied and used in disciplines beyond simply the field of data science;

Convergence and Team Science Plan: Describe how the diverse expertise of the team will increase the likelihood of success and promote new ways of thinking that push disciplinary boundaries, and how the team will work as a unit. Describe how team members will be mentored in and employ team and convergence science best practices.

Sustainability Plan: Identify specific suitable sources of extramural funding. In addition, teams should briefly describe project sustainability, cross-rank faculty mentorship and other sources of organic renewal.

Proposal Development Budget Description: EOIs advanced to the next stage are awarded $5000 to support development of the full proposal. In this section, describe what you would spend these funds on and how those expenditures would advance your idea development or teaming efforts. 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.

Submission Instructions

Submit the EOI in PDF format to creativityhubs@unc.edu by 5:00 PM on October 28, 2022.

Review Process

EOIs will be reviewed by a panel consisting of university research and administrative leaders. Panel recommendations will be considered by the leadership of the Office of Vice Chancellor for Research and other UNC Executive Officers including representatives of the School for Data Science and Society. It is anticipated that up to 8 EOIs will advance to the semi-finalist round.

EOIs will be evaluated on the following 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. 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.
  • Convergence — Demonstration that the project takes advantage of expertise from multiple and diverse disciplines and promotes new ways of thinking.
  • Feasibility — The proposed approach could be reasonably implemented within the time and budget allowed.
  • Sustainability — Potential for the proposed project 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. Evidence of commitment to team mentorship and faculty development goals.

Stage 2: Full Proposal due April 3, 2023

Application Instructions

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

Full proposals will consist of the following components, detailed below: Cover Page, Project Description (6-page limit), References, Budget and Budget Justification, Biosketches, and Optional Letters of Support

Detailed instructions for each component are as follows:

(1) Proposal Cover Page: Please use the provided template

(2) Project Description (6 pages): 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 that has been selected to determine the appropriateness and feasibility of the project. 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.

    Additional instructions for OVCR/SDSS Creativity Hub applicants: Further develop descriptions of (1) the source of the data, (2) the methods and algorithms used to analyze the data, and any challenges that might be addressed by this attempt to use the proposed algorithms, and 3) how trainees will be included in the project. Also, (4) Discuss the hoped-for impact of this work, incorporate use case(s) and describe how the work would facilitate new discoveries or be practically applied and used in disciplines beyond simply the field of data science;

  • Sustainability Plan (~0.5 pages): Include a detailed plan for sustainability of the proposed research program via the attraction of extramural support. Describe specific sources of extramural funding that will be targeted for future proposals. When proposing plans for extramural funding, 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. In addition, teams should briefly describe project sustainability, cross-rank faculty mentorship and other sources of organic renewal.
  • Work and Management Plan (~1.5 pages): Detail the leadership experience of the PI, how each participating key personnel contributes to the team, and how the inter-disciplinary team will function as a unit to form a greater whole that promotes new ways of thinking. 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.

Format: Please use 0.5-inch margins and use a font size no smaller than 11pt. to ensure readability.

(3) References Cited. Include a list of any references cited in the Project Description

Format: Any format appropriate for your field of work is acceptable; formats with full titles and journal names are preferred.

(4) Budget. Provide a single, two-year budget.

Format: Please use the provided excel template form. Note that there are two tabs to be completed: Requested Funds and, if applicable, Cost-Sharing Funds.

The proposer may request up to $250,000/year over a 2-year period. The 2nd year of funding is contingent upon meeting milestones/metrics at the end of the first year of award. As such, requested funds for Year 1 should specifically address how the milestones outlined in the Research Plan for Year 1 will be achieved. Please use July 1, 2023 as the proposed start date.

Cost-sharing/cost-matching of funds from units within UNC and other institutions are welcome, but not required. 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 and the policies pertaining to human subjects and privacy, vertebrate animals, hazardous materials, export control, and conflict of interest.

Funds may be used for any legitimate research-related expense. It is expected that the majority of the budget will be direct costs for experiments, graduate student or post-doc time, and other research-related costs. Proposers should be thoughtful about minimizing proposed other costs and 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.
  • Funds can be used for some (non-administrative) research project management support.
  • Funds should not be used to develop a 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 should 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. Further, funds cannot be used to pay F&A charges at other institutions.

(5) Budget Justification. Describe what funds are requested, providing a detailed breakdown of the proposed spending in each category as well as a justification for the numbers provided and, where appropriate, why budget line items are necessary for the project.

Format: Please use 0.5-inch margins and use a font size no smaller than 11pt. to ensure readability.

(6) Biosketches. Biosketches in NIH or NSF standard format are required for the PI(s) and all senior or key 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) Optional 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, community partners, or other key external stakeholders may be included. Do not include letters of support from Departmental / Unit chairs.

Submission Instructions

Proposals should be submitted as one document in PDF format to creativityhubs@unc.edu by 5:00 PM on Monday, April 3, 2023.

Review Process

Full proposals will be reviewed and scored by a panel that includes reviewers with relevant expertise, 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.

Shortly after submission, finalists will present their ideas to the review panel. Presentations are 20-25 minutes long, divided between presentation and Q&A. Presentations should cover all the review criteria.

Reviews and recommendations will be considered by the leadership of the Office of Vice Chancellor for Research and other UNC Executive Officers, including a representative of the SDSS. PIs of the proposal selected for funding will be notified in June, and Year 1 funds will be made available July 1, 2022.

Review criteria include:

  • 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. 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.
  • Convergence — Demonstration that the project takes advantage of expertise from multiple and diverse disciplines and promotes new ways of thinking.
  • Feasibility — 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.
  • Sustainability — 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. Evidence of commitment to team mentorship and faculty development goals.
  • Budget — Reasonableness of the budget.
  • Strategic Impact — The importance of the challenge and the impact that the proposed convergent solution could provide to benefit society, culture, community, the environment, or the economy, including the State of North Carolina.

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. A 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.