Similar to the way in which Silicon Valley is synonymous with information technology, Wisconsin could eventually be known for water innovation or sustainable agriculture.
At least, that’s what two new Wisconsin groups are working toward.
The two separate teams led by The Water Council and WiSys each recently received a $1 million federal grant to plan innovation hubs around water and sustainable agriculture. Each group has two years to assemble a proposal for how they would use $160 million to make those hubs a reality.
The money comes from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Regional Innovation Engines program. The two Wisconsin teams are among 44 U.S. teams to land a $1 million, two-year development grant. Five of those teams will each win a 10-year, up to $160 million grant to establish their regional innovation hub.
“Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation,” NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement earlier this month. “This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”
The Regional Innovation Engines program was authorized in the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. It’s designed to increase commercial investment in research and development outside of traditional U.S. tech hubs and create thriving companies focused on emerging technologies that solve national and societal challenges.
Water and energy resilience
One of Wisconsin’s regional innovation teams is focused on water and energy resilience for manufacturers and utilities. It’s led by The Water Council, which has its headquarters in Milwaukee.
Other partners include the MKE Tech Hub Coalition, the Wisconsin Technology Council, Marquette University, the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity and the Madison Region Economic Partnership.
The partners are taking an industry-led approach, involving companies including A.O. Smith Corp., Rockwell Automation and WEC Energy Group. Their goal is to spur job creation and water innovation by connecting companies, universities, governments and other stakeholders to quickly scale solutions that help manufacturers and utilities adapt to the effects of climate change.
“We have industry strengths already around water technology,” Water Council president and CEO Dean Amhaus said. “Can we become that water energy hub that people are attracted to and be able to grow those businesses?”
Wisconsin’s other regional innovation engine team is focused on advancing sustainable agriculture. It’s led by WiSys, a Madison-based nonprofit that supports technology transfer for the University of Wisconsin System.
Other partners include all 13 University of Wisconsin institutions, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Research Foundation and the Wisconsin Technology Council.
The group’s objectives include translating research into industry collaborations, supporting sustainability tech startups and attracting investment to fund sustainable agriculture.
“This NSF Engine could be a key economic driver for Wisconsin,” WiSys president Arjun Sanga said in a May 11 statement. “Just as a public-private partnership turned Wisconsin into the ‘Dairy State’ in the last century, this potential engine’s public-private partnership could have a profound impact on the future of the state and the world.”