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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

2017 Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Prize Competition

I-FAST will provide entrepreneurship I-Corps training to USDA NIFA grantees

U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $400,000
Type of Challenge: ideas
Partner Agencies | Federal: National Science Foundation
Submission Start: 09/15/2017 10:00 AM ET
Submission End: 10/06/2017 12:00 AM ET

### Description


The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is announcing the I-FAST prize competition (the “I-FAST Competition” or the “Competition”) to develop and implement the Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Program. USDA NIFA will partner with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) to provide entrepreneurship training to USDA NIFA grantees under this I-FAST pilot program. The goals are to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from NIFA supported academic research. Selected USDA NIFA I-FAST project teams will have the opportunity to concurrently participate in the educational programs with NSF I-Corps awardees. Over a period of six months the USDA NIFA supported teams in the I-FAST program will learn what it will take to achieve an economic impact with their particular innovation. The final goal of the I-FAST Competition is to facilitate technology transfer of innovations that can make an impact in the marketplace and the global economy.

Subject of the Challenge Competition:

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) mission is to invest in and advance agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges.

As part of this mission NIFA is charged with providing grant funding for research, education, and extension that address key problems of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture. A majority of NIFA grant funding is provided to academic institutions to focus on developing research in the areas of farm efficiency and profitability, ranching, renewable energy, forestry (both urban and agroforestry), aquaculture, rural communities and entrepreneurship, human nutrition, food safety, biotechnology, and conventional breeding.

USDA NIFA will partner with the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) who will provide an Entrepreneurial Immersion course and training to USDA NIFA grantees through this I-FAST Competition. The goals of this Competition are to spur translation of fundamental research to the market place, to encourage collaboration between academia and industry, and to train NIFA-funded faculty, students and other researchers to understand innovation and entrepreneurship.

The purpose of the I-FAST Competition is to identify NIFA-funded research teams who will receive additional support, in the form of mentoring, training, and funding to accelerate the translation of knowledge derived from fundamental research into emerging products and services that can attract subsequent third-party funding. NIFA-funded research teams will be required to participate in Entrepreneurial Immersion courses provided by the NSF I-Corps program. Each team that receives an I-FAST award is required to participate in the following NSF I-CORP activities:

  1. Attendance by the entire team at an on-site three-day NSF I-CORP Entrepreneurial Immersion course;
  2. Mandatory participation in the I-CORPs weekly Webinars following the in-person three day on-site meeting;
  3. Completion of approximately 15 hours of preparation per week over the duration of the program;
  4. Attendance of a two-day lessons-learned in-person meeting at the end of the training. During the training, teams are expected to engage in at least 100 contacts with potential customers and provide a 5-page summary report back to USDA NIFA on the outcome of the training and milestones to be met by the team (i.e., commercialization, market proposition, and lessons learned from the program).

The major focus of I-FAST is for the selected teams (an I-FAST team includes the Principal Investigator (PI), the Entrepreneurial Lead, and the Mentor) to participate in an Entrepreneurial Immersion course provided by the NSF I-Corps program. The NSF I-Corps is a program specifically designed to broaden the impact of select, basic research projects by preparing scientists and engineers to focus beyond the laboratory. Leveraging experience and guidance from established entrepreneurs and a targeted curriculum within the NSF I-Corp program, USDA I-FAST teams will learn to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from USDA NIFA supported academic research. The I-FAST Competition will help create a stronger national ecosystem for innovation that couples scientific discovery with technology development to address agricultural and societal needs.


Competition Submission Period – Pre-Application Phase: August 3, 2017 to September 8, 2017

Evaluation and Judging - Pre-Application Evaluation and Interviews: September 11, 2017 to September 14, 2017

Competition Submission Period – Full Application September 15, 2017 to October 6, 2017 - (Only Selected Pre-Applicants are Eligible)

Evaluation and Judging – Final Evaluation and Judging – Full Application: October 9, 2017 to October 11, 2017

Verification of Winners: October 13, 2017

Announcement of Winner(s): October 17, 2017

NSF I-Corps Training for Winner(s): Winning team(s) will need to be available to travel to and attend one of the following NSF I-Corps training sessions with the following dates and locations:

Winter 2018 COHORTS:

Winter Cohort #1: Seattle, WA

  • Kickoff (on-site): January (arrive 16) 17-19, 2018
  • Web sessions (online): Thursdays 1-4pm ET – January 24, 31 February 7, 14, 21, 2018
  • Lessons Learned (on-site): March 1-2, 2018

Winter Cohort #2: Atlanta, GA

  • Kickoff (on-site): January (arrive 21) 22-24, 2018
  • Web sessions (online): Mondays 1-4pm ET – January 29, February 5, 12, 19, 26, 2018
  • Lessons Learned (on-site): March 5-6, 2018

The Pre-Application Phase Competition Submission Period begins August 3, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. ET and ends September 8, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. ET. USDA NIFA’s receiving computer set to Eastern Time is the official time keeping device for the Competition. Pre-Application Interviews will take place September 11, 2017 to September 14, 2017.

The Full-Application Phase Competition Submission Period begins September 15, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. ET and ends October 6, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. ET. USDA NIFA’s receiving computer set to Eastern Time is the official timekeeping device for the Competition.

Competition dates are subject to change. Entries submitted after the Competition Submission Period will not be reviewed or considered for award.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Changes or updates to the Competition rules will be posted and can be viewed at Questions about the Competition can be directed to Scott Dockum or Olivia Moreno at, or phone 202-720-6346.

### Prizes

2017 Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) Prize Competition

Amount of the Prize: The USDA NIFA I-FAST Competition Prize Purse will be a maximum of $400,000, which will be divided to provide $50,000 each to a maximum of eight (8) Teams. Prize Purse funds are required to be used by winning Teams to fully participate in the NSF I-Corps program curriculum.

USDA NIFA reserves the right to award less than the maximum number of available prizes.

Payment of the Prize: Prizes awarded under this Competition will be paid by electronic funds transfer to the academic/university institution the Team(s) represent(s).

Prize winners will be required to complete the required financial documents and forms to be supplied by NIFA to set up the electronic transfer. All Federal, state and local taxes are the sole responsibility of the winner(s).

### Rules

Eligibility Rules for Participating in the Competition:

The I-FAST Competition is open to teams (“Teams” or “Participants”) that are made up of individuals from academic/university institutions that have received a prior award from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) (in a scientific or engineering field relevant to the proposed innovation) that is currently active or that has been active within five years from the date of the I-FAST Team’s proposal submission.

The lineage of the prior award extends to the PI, Co-PIs, Senior Personnel, Post Docs, Professional Staff or others who were supported under the NIFA award. The prior award could range from a modest single-investigator award to a large, distributed center and also includes awards involving students.

To be eligible to win a prize under the Competition, Teams:

  • Shall have registered to participate in the Competition under the rules;
  • Shall have complied with all the requirements of the Competition rules;
  • May not include a Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment; and
  • In the case of a private entity Team member, the member shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States. In the case of an individual Team member, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States.

Makeup of I-FAST Competition Teams: Each Team shall consist of three members:

  • Entrepreneurial Lead (EL)
  • I-FAST Team Mentor
  • Principal Investigator (PI)

I-FAST teams are made up of individuals from an academic/university institution except for the Mentor who may reside with an outside organization as described below.

The Entrepreneurial Lead (EL) could be a postdoctoral scholar, graduate, or other student with relevant knowledge of the technology located at the academic/university institution and a deep commitment to investigate the commercial landscape surrounding the innovation. The EL should also be capable and have the will to support the transition of the technology, should the I-FAST Team’s project demonstrate the potential for commercial viability. The EL will be responsible for: 1) developing the team to include the mentor and PI, 2) leading the development of the pre-application, participating in the I-FAST interviews and developing the full application, if selected, 3) starting and completing all training activities in the Entrepreneurial Immersion course provided by the NSF I-Corps program, 4) communicating and coordinating with team members to achieve the goals of the team, 5) developing and monitoring team activity milestones from the Entrepreneurial Immersion course, 6) ensuring the team milestones are completed on time, and 7) ensuring the team is in communication with the NIFA I-FAST Competition Director and the NSF I-Corps Program Director as needed.

The I-FAST Teams Mentor will typically be an experienced or emerging entrepreneur with proximity to the academic/university institution and have experience in transitioning technology out of the academic arena. The Mentor should be selected as a third-party resource, or may be a person that has an established relationship with the team (e.g., Board Member), but cannot be an employee nor directly involved with the technology development. Ideally, the Industry Expert should have prior experience developing and commercializing other products within the broader technology space related to the specific project under development. The EL will need to identify a Mentor that has business expertise in the proposed technology sector and has entrepreneurial experience. A Mentor will be someone with the right “rolodex” of contacts in the technology area of commercialization which are critical for “getting the technology out of the university.” The EL of the team should contact their University Technology Transfer Office for ideas of potential Mentors. The I-FAST Team’s Mentor will be responsible for guiding the team forward using existing entrepreneurial experience and tracking the team’s progress through regular communication with the EL, PI, the NIFA I-FAST competition director, and the NSF I-Corps Program Director, as needed.

The PI will have in-depth knowledge of the innovation developed under the earlier USDA NIFA Grant and will be responsible for: 1) coordinating with the university on the transfer of prize funds from NIFA, if the team is selected, 2) tracking of the prize funding for team activities, 3) reporting to NIFA on disbursements and obligations of the prize funding, 4) guiding the EL and Mentor on technical aspects of the innovation, 5) communicating as needed with the NIFA I-FAST Competition Director and the NSF I-Corps Program Director, 6) ensuring the EL meets the required milestones for the NSF I-CORP training, and 7) participating as a team member. The Principal Investigator who received the earlier NIFA grant for the technology is allowed to participate on the team, but cannot be the Entrepreneurial Lead.

During the I-Corps course, each participating team, including all its team members, will be required to:

  • Attend, in person, an evening reception and 3-day kick-off Entrepreneurial Immersion course;
  • Conduct approximately 100 customer interviews over the 6-week program, and submit interview summary reports. This process of customer discovery “outside the building” is expected to require a minimum of 15 hours per week for at least five weeks;
  • Participate in 5 weekly webinar sessions and submit regular updates to the team’s business model canvas. In addition, it is expected that I-Corps teams will take advantage of instructor office hours; and
  • Attend, in person, the final 2-day course close out/lessons learned session (to be held in the same region as the kick-off course).

If one or more team members cannot meet these requirements, the team should not pursue the program.

### How To Enter

(Only Selected Pre-Applicants are Eligible)

Submission Process for Participants:

The Competition will have a two-phase selection process. Teams initially will submit a pre-application. From the pre-applications, USDA NIFA will select Teams that will be invited to submit full applications. From the full applications, USDA NIFA will select the winning Team(s).

Participants will register for the Competition and will submit the pre-application to the Competition via Teams can enter the contest by submitting the pre-application through the “Enter a Submission” function on, and then send the pre-application, with name and contact info, to The pre-application shall contain the following information:

Prepare a three-page Executive Summary that describes the following:

  • Composition of the Team and roles (EL, PI, Mentor) of the members proposing to undertake the commercialization feasibility research.
  • Point of Contact information for ALL of the members.
  • Relevant current/previous NIFA award(s) including award number, Title of the Project, and the NIFA program the award was funded under.
  • Brief description of the potential commercial impact.
  • Brief description of the current commercialization plans for the innovation.

After the interviews, teams that are selected to submit a full application will provide the full application via through the “Enter a Submission” function, and then send the application with your name and contact info, to The full application shall include the following project description information: I-Corps Team (one page limit)

  1. Briefly describe the I-Corps team and provide rationale for its formation, focusing on members’ entrepreneurial expertise, relevance to the innovation effort, and members’ experience in collaborating on previous projects.
  2. Include point of contact information for all team members.

Lineage of the Proposed Innovation (one page limit)

  1. Provide the current/previous NIFA award(s) including award number, Title of Project and the NIFA program the award was funded under.
  2. Briefly describe how this research has led the Team to believe that a commercial opportunity exists for the effort moving forward.

Description of the Potential Commercial Impact (two page limit)

  1. Provide a brief profile of a typical customer of the proposed innovation.
  2. Describe the customer need that you believe will be met by the proposed innovation.
  3. Describe how the customer currently meets those needs.
  4. Your approach – What is the proposed innovation? How does it relate to the fundamental research already conducted under previous award(s)?
  5. How much do you think a customer would pay for your solution?

Brief description of the project plan (one page limit)

  1. Current Status – In what stage is the development: proof-of-principle, proof-of-concept, prototype (alpha, beta), etc…
  2. Provide a brief description of the proof-of-concept or technology demonstration that will be provided at the end of the project.

The total page limit for the project description full application is five (5) pages.

From the Teams submitting full applications, a maximum of eight Teams will be selected as winners to enter into the I-FAST Program.