course & program grant guidelines

Course & Program Grant Guidelines (Fall 2021)

Table of Contents

Introduction

VentureWell is on a mission to cultivate a diverse and inclusive pipeline of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs driven to solve the world’s biggest challenges and create lasting impact. We have pursued this work — at the intersection of science and technology (S&T) and innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) — for over twenty-five years. We strive to do so in a way that fosters I&E, more intentionally advances equity, and consistently upholds our organizational values: to collaborate for impact, to live innovation, to bring integrity always, to interact with consideration and candor, and to deliver excellence.

VentureWell Course & Program (C&P) Grants of up to $30,000 are awarded to US higher education institutions to support curriculum that engages students in science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

C&P grants may be used to strengthen existing curricular programs or to build new, pedagogically inclusive courses and programs that engage student teams in developing and pursuing scalable solutions to real world needs through S&T I&E. The end goal is to support diverse groups of faculty, staff, and students in collaborating to develop novel inventions and technologies that have positive social and environmental impact (see Appendix for definitions of key terms used here).

Activities supported by C&P grants should lead to effective courses and programs that are sustained by the institution, lead to the formation of student teams (ideally involved with the VentureWell E-Team Program), and expand opportunities for learning across science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

C&P grant proposals should include plans to create or improve an individual course, course sequence, minor, major, certificate program, or other co- and extracurricular programs that are directly tied to and support I&E-focused curriculum. Focus may include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

  • General (science- and technology-based) entrepreneurship
  • Sustainable technologies (new materials, clean tech, green energy and chemistry innovation)
  • Climate change solutions (technology to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change), especially technologies that support communities most impacted by climate change
  • Biomedical and healthcare innovation
  • Technologies that address poverty alleviation and basic human needs

Commitment to Sustainability and Advancing Equity

Environmental and social sustainability has long been a core tenet of our work (see Appendix for more information and definitions). As threats to our planet posed by human activity have intensified, we have elevated the promotion of sustainable design and technology throughout our organization and programs. To advance our organizational commitment to sustainability, we have made social and environmental impact a priority on ALL of our faculty grants. In addition to our spring faculty grant cycle being focused on sustainable design, our broader fall C&P grant cycle also prioritizes curricular efforts that encourage student I&E that integrate environmental and social sustainability. C&P grants are intended to support the curricular efforts of faculty and student innovators in the creation of novel technologies and ventures that will help to solve humanity’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.

Solving today’s complex social and environmental problems requires diverse perspectives and focused efforts to dismantle the systemic barriers that have limited access to science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship. To advance our organizational commitment to advancing equity, we have made diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority on ALL of our faculty grants. Successful VentureWell C&P grantees must make clear how funding will increase access and broaden the participation of traditionally underrepresented, underestimated, and under-resourced groups, specifically those who identify as Black, Latinx, and Indigenous, women from all backgrounds, individuals who identify as coming from low-income backgrounds, and others who are marginalized due to racism, sexism, classism, and/or other forms of marginalization (referenced throughout this document as URGs; see definitions in Appendix). We especially encourage faculty and staff applicants from URGs or from Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), including Tribal Colleges, Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions, etc., and other institutions that demonstrate clear support for students from URGs in S&T I&E.

How to Apply

You’ll need to have a VentureWell account to start your application. Creating an account is easy, no-cost, and open to all. To access your existing account or to create a new one, click here. You may start, save, stop, and return to your online proposal at any time before submitting.

VentureWell is here to help you with your application and answer your questions! Use these links to register for free informational webinars to walk through the application process on September 27 at 3pm ET or October 11 at 1pm ET, 2021.

Additionally, our grants team is available to field your questions; please contact us at: grants@venturewell.org.

Eligibility Requirements

C&P grants are awarded to colleges and universities that are:

  • US-based. We do not accept proposals from international universities at this time, but international partners are allowed. Proposals may also include non-member partners from education, nonprofits, industry, non-governmental organizations, governments, and/or the investment community, etc. Note: If the program focus is outside the campus community or outside the US, a local partner must be identified.
  • VentureWell members. Membership in VentureWell’s network of higher-education institutions is currently available at no cost. If you are unsure whether your institution has an active membership, check your status in our Membership Directory. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact membership@venturewell.org.

The following additional eligibility requirements apply:

  • We accept no more than two proposals per institution per cycle. If more than two are received, only the two submitted first will be reviewed.
  • Proposals may only be resubmitted once.

Characteristics of Successful Proposals

VentureWell C&P grants are competitive. Successful proposals will:

  • Create or strengthen courses or programs that engage student teams in developing novel technology innovations with the end goal of pursuing scalable solutions to real world needs with social and/or environmental impact.
  • Provide students with a meaningful experience, including opportunities for experiential learning and the formation of student teams that may be eligible to apply to VentureWell’s E-Team program.
  • Set the stage for sustained institutional change. A 2020 retrospective study highlighted the potential for VentureWell grants to initiate and sustain broader institutional change through their focus on creating multidisciplinary, collaborative teams, well-defined connections to a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem beyond the proposed course or program, and the identification of campus-based champions and plans for continuation and financial sustainability of the course or program after VentureWell funding, as demonstrated in letters of support. Schools that are just beginning to grow their I&E ecosystems are also encouraged to apply, and should describe the funded course or program as part of a larger plan for entrepreneurial ecosystem development. A letter of support from an administrator acknowledging this effort is highly recommended.
  • Articulate a plan for broadening participation among underrepresented groups (URGs). Describe the current campus landscape. Proposals must provide a clear and specific plan to articulate how the course or program will increase participation of students and faculty from URGs in S&T I&E. Specifically, successful proposals will articulate how students from URGs will be recruited, supported, and mentored in this work, and how success will be measured. The proposed course or program should include faculty and mentors with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise to support students, including students from URGs.

Examples of Projects that are NOT Strong Candidates

Examples of projects that are NOT strong candidates for C&P grant funding include:

  • Courses or programs that do not directly encourage development of innovations and technologies that have a positive environmental and social impact.
  • Courses or programs that do not lead to the creation of student teams.
  • Pure research or single project courses (i.e. where there is no student team ownership or commercialization plan for the innovation/venture).
  • Courses or programs that are unlikely to continue beyond the grant period.
  • Existing courses or programs where there is little change or improvement proposed (i.e., ongoing support requests).
  • Proposals that focus solely on extracurricular activities (e.g. hack-a-thons, business plan competitions, etc.) without a clearly stated connection to existing curriculum or other coursework.
  • Courses or programs that are disconnected from other campus and community-based resources (i.e., without a description of how the course/program is part of a larger plan for entrepreneurial ecosystem development).
  • Proposals that do not demonstrate support for the most promising technologies and teams to move beyond the classroom, lab, or club.
  • Proposals that do not include a plan to address both supporting diversity and inclusion, and environmental and social sustainability in S&T I&E.

Key Dates

  • November 3, 2021 – submission deadline
  • January 2022 – final decisions and notifications
  • February-March 2022 – funds disbursed and grant start date

All proposals must be submitted online by 11:59 pm Eastern Time on the deadline date: Wednesday, November 3, 2021. Anyone on the team may serve as the applicant.

Institutional Support

VentureWell requires proof of institutional support for your proposal. Because many campus administrative offices have moved to a remote model of work, the timeline for obtaining institutional support may be longer than usual. We strongly recommend that you reach out to your Office of Sponsored Programs/Research to inform them of your intention to submit a proposal, and to your institutional supporters (see below) well before the deadline date in order to obtain the verifications of support in time.

Most universities require a full proposal for administrative review and approval ten days to two weeks in advance before it can be submitted.

VentureWell requires that certain institutional representatives verify their support for your proposal by responding to an automated email request from our proposal system and entering their initials online. (This process is triggered within the online proposal process). The system will not allow you to submit your proposal until support has been verified from each of the following individuals:

  • Principal Investigator (PI) The Principal Investigator should be the person who takes primary responsibility for the proposal and project, and will have overall responsibility for the grant and reporting. Ideally, the PI will also be the Instructor of Record, if applicable. VentureWell is eager to support personnel that are new to I&E so we strongly encourage junior faculty, tenure-track faculty, and/or staff to be listed as a PI. We have learned that for many PIs, a VentureWell C&P grant will be one of the first nationally-recognized awards a PI will receive. As a result the most credentialed person on the team need not be the listed PI. Co-PIs are allowed, but one lead PI must be identified. Students may not serve as PIs.
  • Administrative Contact (AC) VentureWell defines the Administrative Contact as a grants administrator or fiscal officer authorized to sign the award letter and commit the institution to the terms of the grant. The AC should be someone in your institution’s Office of Sponsored Programs/Research or who manages grants at your institution. Principal Investigators, other faculty, or students may not serve as the AC.
  • Department Chair (DC) The Department Chair (or equivalent) will need to affirm their awareness of and support for your proposal as a demonstration of institutional commitment to the proposal. They have no other direct grant responsibilities beyond this support.
  • Dean of Faculty (DF) The Dean of Faculty (or equivalent) will need to affirm their awareness of and support for your proposal as a demonstration of institutional commitment to the proposal. They have no other direct grant responsibilities beyond this support.

Proposal Components

Proposals should be specific, clear, and compelling. The following components are required and should be combined into a single PDF file:

  1. Project narrative, including a simple work plan or table that outlines major milestones during the grant period, no more than six pages
  2. Proposed budget
  3. Resumes of PI and key collaborators (up to four resumes total, no more than 3 pages each)
  4. Letter(s) of support, at least one is required and up to a total of three will be accepted

You may include other supporting documents in an Appendix (optional, details below).

1. Proposal Narrative (required)

Your proposal narrative may not exceed six pages in length using 12-point Times font and 1-inch margins. Title page and references are not counted as part of your page limit.

The more specific, clear, and compelling your narrative is, the more competitive your proposal will be. Tell the reviewers a story: what efforts and opportunities currently exist at your institution, where are the gaps, what are you proposing to create, and what are the intended student and institutional outcomes? In other words, why this idea, and why now?

Your narrative should include the following (page lengths are approximate and suggestions only):

Context (one page):

  • What are you proposing? Is it a course or a program? Is it a new offering or an expansion of existing courses/programs? How will the grant funding be used to support this initiative? If you are proposing a co-curricular or extracurricular offering, how will it be directly tied to, support, and improve existing I&E-focused curriculum?
  • What are the goals and objectives of this proposal? List 2-3 specific objectives.
  • What gap(s) are you addressing on your campus? What do you feel is missing to support I&E?
  • What have you accomplished so far, if anything? Have you received other support for this work (e.g. financial, stakeholder, etc.)?

Proposed Initiative (2-3 pages):

  • Differentiate between what already exists vs. what you are asking for funding to support. Emphasis should be placed on what you are proposing, however, it is important to briefly share what already exists to support I&E on your campus (e.g. institutional resources, personnel support, makerspaces, competitions, etc.).
  • Describe the project’s potential for positive educational, environmental, and social impact.
  • Who is/are your target audience(s)? How will your work support student innovators from URGs in invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship. As part of the narrative, include a specific plan that articulates how you will broaden participation in your course/program by answering the following questions:
    • How will you market to and recruit students from URGs to participate in the proposed course/program?
    • How will you recruit mentors that will reflect the URGs of student participants?
    • How will you mentor students to ensure inclusivity?
    • How will you create an inclusive curriculum? How else will you support these students’ success in I&E?
    • How will you measure success? (Share metrics.)
  • Explain the process: How will the proposed course or program lead to the creation of student teams? How will teams be formed? Where will the S&T ideas come from?
  • Describe the experiential learning opportunity for students.
  • How will your entrepreneurship ecosystem support the most promising teams and technologies towards commercialization?

Team and Partners (half page):

  • Describe the role of each key individual involved with delivering and supporting the proposed course or program. Keep each description to 1-2 short sentences.
  • How might the backgrounds, experiences, and identities of the PI and/or Instructor of Record, and other collaborators, support the goals of this grant?
  • Identify partners on campus or beyond who will help to broaden participation among students from URGs (e.g. for improved student recruitment and retention).
  • Multidisciplinary faculty teams are highly encouraged.

Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (half page):

Describe the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” on your campus and in the community, and how your students will access these resources (i.e., centers, incubator/accelerator programs, other faculty, mentors, departments, etc.). Your proposal should go beyond a listing of entrepreneurial support resources to explain how the program participants will engage those resources. Describe how students who wish to continue on the commercialization path to market will be able to leverage other entrepreneurial resources.

Note: Schools that are just beginning to grow their I&E ecosystems are encouraged to apply — please describe how this course/program is part of a larger plan for entrepreneurial ecosystem development. A letter of support from an administrator acknowledging this effort is highly recommended.

Work Plan (half page):

Create a simple table in the narrative that includes:

  • A list of the milestones and a timeline for accomplishing each during the grant period.
  • The estimated number of student teams formed/supported each year and the number of participating students.

Outcomes (half page):

  • What personal, student, and institutional outcomes do you aspire to achieve?
  • What does success look like?
    • Complete this sentence: We will be successful if/when…
    • How will you measure success? What quantitative and qualitative metrics will be used to measure progress of individual students, student teams, and their innovations?
  • What is an example of a tangible work product that you envision sharing publicly for the benefit of other educators?
  • How will the course or program be sustained beyond the end of the grant period?

2. Proposed Budget (required)

Your budget and justifications should demonstrate to reviewers how you intend to achieve the objectives proposed in your narrative. Funds may be proposed for expenses related to curricular development and course or program realization. Equipment and other resources purchased with grant funds become the property of the institution. Instructions and specific expense definitions can be found in the budget section of the online application, and are also summarized below.

Examples of eligible expenses:

  • Equipment expenses: Equipment not normally available to students—to facilitate the creation of prototypes, or required because of the technical or scientific focus of the work—are eligible for funding. However, VentureWell will not typically fund the purchase of equipment that is considered part of college or university infrastructure (e.g., computers, tablets, 3D printers, or furniture for makerspaces or labs). Equipment expenses should be no more than 10% of the total proposed budget and relate directly to the proposal.
  • Personnel costs: Up to $6,000 total (may be divided or proposed for one person, and can include the cost of any applicable fringe benefits). A clear rationale should be included that explains what the funds are specifically for and how they will contribute to the success of the proposed work.
  • Materials and supplies:
    • Expenses related to the technical development of student team innovations, including (but not limited to) materials & supplies, prototyping, technical services, and testing.
    • Expenses related to students performing patent searches, creating marketing analyses, business model development, and customer discovery.
  • Travel expenses may include expenses related to:
    • Up to two key participants to attend OPEN, VentureWell’s annual conference, for one year only.
    • Other relevant travel (e.g. for customer discovery; other related conferences, etc).
    • Travel should not exceed 33% of the total budget.
  • Other Direct Costs: Any other direct costs not specified above must be included as other direct expenses. Such costs must be itemized and detailed in the budget justification.

Please note: due to current restrictions, travel expenses may be reallocated to other categories if needed.

Examples of ineligible expenses:

  • Overhead – VentureWell funding may not be used to cover institutional overhead/Facilities & Administration (F&A).
  • Expenses that are unlikely to be sustained beyond the proposed grant period, such as competition prize money; event expenses like food, space rentals, or AV; and lengthy student internships.
  • Personnel costs over the maximums mentioned above.
  • Equipment expenses totaling more than 10% of the total proposed budget and/or considered part of college or university infrastructure (e.g., computers, tablets, 3D printers, or furniture for makerspaces or labs).
  • Travel expenses over 33% of the total budget.
  • Speaker honoraria over $200 per person.
  • Wages for students during the academic year.
  • Legal and other expenses of business formation or operation.
  • Publicity expenses.

Budget Justifications

Justifying your proposed budget is a critical piece in helping reviewers understand how you intend to spend grant funds to achieve the objectives of your proposal. Budgeted items should align with the story you are telling in your narrative, and should be as specific and detailed as possible.

3. Resumes of Key Individuals (required)

Include resumes for the Principal Investigator and any other key collaborators. We do not need resumes for the Administrative Contact or non-key team members/collaborators. Up to four resumes are allowed and they should be no more than three pages each.

4. Letter(s) of Support (required)

At least one, and up to three, letters of support may be submitted. Your required letter should demonstrate ongoing institutional support, and may also:

  • Demonstrate technical expertise or competence
  • Describe the market opportunity in the area of the proposed work
  • Verify any partnerships discussed in your proposal narrative
  • Verify any additional funding to complement the proposed budget
  • Describe how the proposed course or program fits into or will enhance the existing entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • Describe how support for the proposed course or program will be sustained beyond the grant period.
  • Outline what actions are being taken to broaden participation in S&T I&E for this course/program in particular and at the institution in general to demonstrate commitment to advancing equity

More weight will be given to letters of support from key administrators (Dean, President, etc.) and/or community partners. Note that if the proposal focus is outside the campus community or outside the US, at least one off-campus local partner is required, and a letter of support from this partner should be provided.

Appendix (optional)

You may include appendices in your proposal, up to a maximum of ten pages combined into a single PDF file. Any appendix materials should be referenced in the narrative.

Please note: Sheer volume of material is not an asset. Key information should be included in the narrative, and reviewers are directed to use appendix materials only to supplement the six-page narrative.

Proposal Selection and Notification

In general, eligible C&P grant applications will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Likelihood of Generating Student E-teams
  • Environmental and Social Impact
  • Supporting Diversity and Inclusion
  • Educational Approach and Experience
  • Faculty Expertise and Other Support
  • Institutional Commitment
  • Workplan and Budget

Proposals are reviewed by a group of external reviewers (Note: We are committed to creating a more representative and diverse reviewer pool. It is our goal that at least 50% of grant reviewers per cycle are women, URG faculty in I&E and/or MSI representatives.)

For this cycle we will award grants up to a maximum of $30,000 each (dollar amounts vary), with a total of approximately $300,000 in funding to be disbursed. A typical cohort size is 10-15 grantees which varies based on funding amounts awarded. The funded percentage fluctuates depending on the total number of proposals received.

VentureWell is committed to advancing equity in science and technology innovation and entrepreneurship, and diversity, equity, and inclusion are a priority in our C&P Grant Program. We are aware of diversity and equity gaps in our past grant cycles, and are striving to achieve the following improved equity metrics for this and future grant cycles:

  • Award at least 50% of grants to MSIs (including Tribal Colleges, HBCUs, Predominantly Black Colleges & Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, etc.),
  • Award at least 50% of grants to teams that include one or more Co-PIs who voluntarily self-identify in their proposal narrative as members of one or more URGs in innovation and entrepreneurship, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous people, women of any racial background, and people from low-income backgrounds.
  • Make one third of awards to qualified universities or colleges that have never previously received a VentureWell C&P grant.

All PIs will be notified via email in early 2022 as to whether or not their proposal has been selected for funding. For funded proposals we will send an approved budget and award letter agreement for signature to the Administrative Contact identified in the proposal. Grants are awarded up to $30,000 with a duration of three years (although you may spend the funds in one or two). Funds will be disbursed once this award letter is signed and returned to VentureWell.

Grantees are expected to set aside time and grant funding to disseminate your learnings and outcomes at VentureWell’s annual OPEN conference or other conferences focused on sustainability, education, innovation and/or entrepreneurship.

Reporting

If you receive a grant, reporting requirements and deadlines will be specified in your award letter. C&P grant PIs will be prompted via email to complete required reports online (once each year throughout the grant period). Failure to submit reports may jeopardize both pending payments and your institution’s eligibility for future grants.

VentureWell expects to learn from grantee experiences. VentureWell requires timely submission of grant reports, and may require participation in surveys and interviews after the grant period for impact assessment studies and reports.

Contact Us

If you would like to discuss your idea, or if you have questions about fit, requirements, process or anything else, feel free to contact Patricia Boynton, Grants Manager, at (413) 587-2172 x115 or grants@venturewell.org.

Appendices

Definitions

At VentureWell, we use the following definitions to guide our work:

Climate change solutions: Innovations (in the form of products and/or ventures) that address the global environmental and social challenges presented by climate change.

Climate change mitigation: Innovations (in the form of products and/or ventures) that help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and/or stabilize GHG-levels.

Climate change adaptation: Innovations (in the form of products and/or ventures) that allow adaptation to the potentially adverse effects of climate change in human, environmental, and economic activities.

Environmental and social sustainability: Sustainable practices, innovations, products and ventures that mitigate negative impacts, and/or enable increased positive and regenerative impacts on environmental and social systems.

Sustainable designs: Products and/or ventures that have been intentionally designed to reduce negative environmental impacts.

Sustainable innovations or solutions: Products and/or ventures that are striving to solve for a sustainability priority, such as the negative impacts of climate change, air or water pollution, non-renewable resource consumption, etc.

Underrepresented groups (URGs): Groups who are or have been traditionally underrepresented, underestimated, and/or under-resourced.

Underrepresented Groups in Science & Engineering (S&E): Women, people with disabilities, and people identifying as Black, Latinx, or Indigenous. The representation of these groups in S&E education and S&E employment is smaller than their overall representation in the U.S. population. National Science Foundation “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering”

Under-resourced Groups in I&E: People who face systemic barriers to accessing leadership, physical assets, money, power, political will, institutions, community cohesion, and/or services.

Advancing Equity: National Study and Report

In 2019 VentureWell commissioned a national study to identify promising practices and existing efforts to broaden participation among early stage innovators and entrepreneurs. We present three interrelated action areas in our report Advancing Equity: Dynamic Strategies for Authentic Engagement in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (download the full report). As highlighted in the report, “engaging faculty as mentors” was identified as a key strategy for engaging students from URGs in S&T I&E. Mentoring for students from URGs occurred in two primary ways: vicarious mentoring (i.e. being a role model), and direct mentoring (i.e. ongoing, direct guidance). Faculty mentors provided conceptual and tactical support, including expressions of confidence and validation, sharing their lived and learned experience, and recommending information, resources, and additional support mechanisms to guide students along their entrepreneurship journeys.

We especially seek and encourage proposals that demonstrate faculty mentorship that clearly supports students from URGs in S&T I&E.

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