Fall 2023 Funding Opportunity

The Illinois Innovation Network aims to advance collaborative research within the state with its Social Innovation and Impact seed grant program. Social Innovation and Impact grants can be used to pursue a wide variety of projects that directly affect lives, address critical social problems, and build trusted partnerships in a given community.

Social Innovation and Impact Seed Grant Guidelines

Printable Version

The University of Illinois System’s Office of the Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation (OVPEDI) is committed to advancing the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) by providing supplemental (operational) funding for several projects. IIN members are guided by the following principles:

  • Drive inclusive innovation, equitable workforce development and sustainable economic growth throughout the state of Illinois
  • Assess and meet regional needs through a combination of collaborative research, public-private partnerships, and entrepreneurship and training programs
  • Collaborate with hubs across the state and share best practices
  • Advocate for the value of higher education at the state and national levels

Social Innovation and Impact has multiple meanings, including the broad economic, health-related, and social well-being of the state and its communities, and environmental sustainability of its food and water ecosystem, which includes addressing issues affecting groups who are underserved, under-represented, or under-resourced.

Social Innovation and Impact elements may involve problem-solving around the type of example issues identified below. These are intended as examples and not an exhaustive list.

(a) Education and Workforce Development: developing and sustaining the education of its citizens, and developing a productive and inclusive workforce for the 21st century;

(b) Economic Development: sustaining and developing the economy of the state, including understanding how best to support the growth of diverse entrepreneurship, business formation and non-profit capacity-building in Illinois;

(c) Health and Wellness: sustaining and improving the general health and social wellness of all Illinois citizens, including local and regional communities.

(d) Water, Food, and Agriculture: sustaining the water supply, with 20% of the world’s freshwater supply in the shores of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin, the largest in the U.S. and second-largest in the world, and enhancing the home to a national leader in food and agriculture;

(e) Computing and Data: under the umbrella of Social Innovation and Impact, there is a foundation of computing, big data, and artificial intelligence. This is an important area in its own right as Illinois develops its high-tech industry, but in this context, it is seen as an enabler for all other aspects of sustainability as articulated above;

(f) Environmental justice and sustainability: applying a social innovation lens to the transition to and use of clean energy technologies, mitigating environmental social impacts on communities, or otherwise addressing socio-environmental challenges to livable and healthy communities;

(g) Arts and Humanities: creating community arts or historical projects that orchestrate social action such as documentaries, built environmental beautification, preservation of landscape, mural projects, and similar projects to celebrate the health and cultural wealth of communities and create change through the arts;

(h) Social Justice: fostering racial justice, compassionate immigration, community policing, reduction of recidivism, access to critical services, etc.; and

(i) Other: could be a combination of themes or an area of focus within social innovation and impact not listed above.

Project Requirements:

  1. The proposal must contain all components listed in the Proposal Outline below.
  2. The project must align with the IIN principles.
  3. Social Innovation and Impact must be the dominant theme, and projects addressing multiple Social Innovation and Impact elements are preferred.
    • Social Innovation and Impact project elements may include
      • Capacity-building,
      • Applied research,
      • Evaluation,
      • Community-based participatory research,
      • Coalition building,
      • Social entrepreneurship,
      • Utilization of research and transfer,
      • Scholarship to practice,
      • Technical assistance.
    • Complex social problems generally involve interdisciplinary groups and multiple sectors, and the focus of these project solutions should be on engagements that are participatory, systemic, or multi-disciplinary, and present a path for continuity and sustainability. While for many that has meant demonstrating the impact on job creation and economic development or short-term or one-time activities, the spotlight is now extending to social innovation that translates research into projects that directly affect lives, address complex critical social problems, build trusted partnerships in the community, demonstrate longer-term engagements or depth of engagement, and are scalable or replicable. Examples of this transformative work include proposals addressing health disparities, affordable housing, digital inclusion, and food deserts where the transformative impact on the community to be served is the goal of the project rather than exclusively the research or technologies and tools to be tested or developed. While one-time activities may be considered, the preference is for projects with longer-term impacts or depth of engagements. The preference is for projects that are dependent on the existence of a community’s complex social problem(s) for the project’s transformational social impact.
    • To be most competitive, additional criteria should be incorporated specifically into the proposal:
      • Organizational Capacity: identify approaches to increase organizational capacity or to otherwise provide organizational assistance for community-based organization(s) (e.g., scaling, coordination, entrepreneurship, technical assistance with research and grant writing, etc.) for community-based organization(s).
      • Sustainability Plan: identify how the programming will continue after the seed funding ends.
      • Community Partnership: detail how the project will collaborate with a specific community or community-based organization. If no community-based organization is identified at the time of submission, detail how the project will include a community-based organization during the grant period.
    • Interdisciplinary and multi-sector projects are also preferred.
  4. The number of IIN hubs involved and the significance of each hub’s participation must be identified in the project description and reflected in the project budget. Additionally, the number of non-IIN hubs institutions or organizations, including community-based organization(s) must be identified.
  5. Proposals must address equity, diversity, and inclusion. Key issues facing underserved, under-represented, and under-resourced groups should be identified and addressed, and the target populations or representative group(s) must be specifically identified. Under-represented, underserved, and under-resourced groups include, but not are not limited to, the following:
    • Women
    • Rural Residents
    • People of Color
    • Individuals with Disabilities – both cognitive and physical
    • Veterans
    • Justice-impacted Populations
    • Immigrant Populations
    • LGBTQ Community
    • Homeless and Homeless Youth
    • Low-Income and Lower-Income Individuals
    • Foster Care Youth and Alumni
    • Migrant and Seasonal Workers
    • Recipients of public assistance
    • Individuals who are basic skills deficient
  6. If your team previously received an award from this program or the IIN Sustaining Illinois grant program, describe the accomplishments from that project, provide an estimate of the project’s completion including which milestones have been achieved, and an estimate of when you expect to finish the work. Please note applications for new awards must be for a totally different project or a meaningfully distinct component of the one that was already supported.


  • Lead PI must be from an IIN Hub.
  • At least two IIN hubs must be involved significantly in the project with at least one Co-PI from a second IIN Hub. Note that the University of Illinois Hubs are considered one Hub for this program and must partner with a non-University of Illinois Hub. SUIE and SIUC are considered separate Hubs and may partner under this program,
  • Projects should include a Co-PI or collaborator from at least one Illinois community-based organization, which, depending on the region of the State, may include community organizations, government organizations, social enterprises, and for-profit businesses contributing financially. For example, a local public health agency may be providing wrap-around services beyond their primary mission. The most competitive proposals will reflect an equitable partnership with the community of service, such as a community organization as a co-PI or work with a specific target population.
  • While there is no limit on the number of proposals a hub may submit, an individual may only be designated as PI or co-PI on one proposal.
  • Project must represent a “seed” concept not previously funded by this or the IIN Sustaining Illinois program or in later stages of project development, regardless of “seed” funding source.
  • The project must be completed within one year of funding.
  • The proposed start date is anticipated to be as early as March 1, 2024, and no later than March 15, 2024.
  • All proposals should be approved by the applicants’ sponsored program office(s) and IRB processes, as applicable.
  • The project must confirm that the work will be completed in the state of Illinois or benefit the state of Illinois exclusively.
  • Previously submitted but unfunded projects to this program or the IIN Sustaining Illinois Seed Grant program may be submitted a maximum of 3 times in a three-year period to all IIN Sustaining Illinois Seed Grant programs.


Total funding will likely not exceed $60,000 and this funding will likely be limited to no more than $120,000 from the University of Illinois System office in FY 2023. Funds not expended in the Summer or Fall 2023 application cycle will be available for the Spring 2024 application cycle.

  1. Up to $30,000 will be available for each project.
  2. Funding for these projects does not allow for the following:
    • Indirect costs; however, these costs can be used as matching.
    • Equipment (i.e., acquisition cost of $5,000 or more and useful life of over a year); however, the purchase of digital devices may be considered an eligible expense with a detailed explanation of need and authorized use and disposition after the completion of the grant.
    • For-profit activities conducted or funded by a for-profit co-PI or participant are not allowed, including salaries and expenses (use of space, incidentals, materials, etc.) of the for-profit entity, even if the for-profit entity is engaged in the project. While consultants may be funded under this program, it is the intent to fund public and non-profit engagements.
  3. Match of at least 30-50% is strongly encouraged, and may be in the form of cash, personnel time, or unrecovered indirect costs.
  4. No more than 30% of the requested funds may pay for full-time researchers’/professors’ salaries and benefits.
  5. Proposals must include all requested IIN costs, not to exceed $30,000. Proposals must also include the full project proposal budget (if more than $30K) specifying what specifically would be funded from this grant, justification for the additional cost, and an explanation of the source(s) and commitment(s) to fund the other costs.
  6. Program income, such as the participation or program fee, must be explained in the budget narrative. A determination about the cost as necessary to the project will be made for each project during the project evaluation.


  • A written report must be submitted electronically to the University of Illinois System OVPEDI six (6) months after the project starts and upon completion of the project.
  • Interim reports and information must be submitted upon request.
  • Lead PI and Co-PIs commit to present their project to the IIN and to participate in related IIN events, such as the Social Innovation and Impact Showcase/Symposium, and other events as requested.
  • Lead PI and Co-PIs commit to acknowledge IIN in outcomes and reports with the following statement or something similar: “This material is based upon work supported by the Illinois Innovation Network.”
  • Lead PI and Co-PIs commit to notify the IIN of publications and follow-on funding achieved resulting from this grant, even after its expiration. We encourage continued reporting on outcomes, metrics, follow-on funding, and opportunities for future engagement/promotion activities.
  • Lead PI and Co-PIs commit to complete any funding documentation within the timelines set forth by the IIN and the University of Illinois System.


Proposals will be accepted at https://go.uillinois.edu/SII no later than 11:59 P.M. Central Time on December 8, 2023. Any questions should be submitted to iincontact@uillinois.edu prior to the deadline.

Recipients of the awards will be notified no later than January 12, 2024. Awardees will be issued an agreement on a fixed price payment basis.

A review committee consisting of members of the IIN, including its Council, Committees, and OVPEDI or IIN staff, as needed, will evaluate all proposals received and will make recommendations to the University of Illinois Vice President of Economic Development and Innovation for funding. No IIN member will review submissions or make recommendations on proposals from its own hub.

The evaluation matrix for proposals is included in the printable version of the NOFO.

Proposal Outline:

  1. Cover page
    1. Project Name
    2. Requested Period of Performance
    3. PI Name
      1. IIN Hub
      2. Contact Information
    4. Co-Principal Investigator(s)
      1. IIN Hub
      2. Contact Information
  2. Abstract (no more than 250 words)
  3. Project Description, including a timeline (no more than 2 pages, single-spaced, 12 font)
  4. Scope of Work (no more than 1 page, single-spaced, 12 font) – note that only page 1 will be read from any submissions of longer than 1 page
  5. If applicable, information about previous award (no more than 1 page, single-spaced, 12 font)
  6. Potential for future work, including follow-on funding (no more than one-half page)
  7. Team bios (no more than one-half page per team member)
  8. Budget and Budget Summary (if matching funds, include here, no more than 2 pages, singles-spaced, 12 font)
    1. Applicants must use the budget template in the printable version
    2. The Budget Summary should include an explanation of how the costs were estimated and how they benefit or will be used for the project (2 pages*^)

* A separate budget is required for projects that will provide funding to the University of Illinois Chicago, the University of Illinois Springfield, or the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and 3 pages will be allowed.

^ If federal funds will be used by the PI, Co-PI, or community organization, then up to 3 pages are allowed and the eligibility of the federal funds to be used for this project must be explained.

Funding Program Q&As

  1. Q: What does “Lead PI must be from an IIN Hub” mean? Does it mean that only IIN Council Members may apply?
    A: The Lead PI must be employed at one of the 15 IIN hubs or institutions and submit their application as an employee of that institution. Lead PIs may not apply for funding in their private role on a community organization or in their personal consulting capacity.
  2. Q: May community collaborations or partnerships with community-based organizations extend to those collaborations or partnerships outside of the state of Illinois? Are bi-state partnerships eligible for this funding?
    A: The Sustaining Illinois Seed Grant programs are focused exclusively on the State of Illinois and its residents and communities. The applicant(s) must serve the State of Illinois directly. The project must benefit the State of Illinois directly. Bi-state partnerships, while highly laudable and encouraged generally, are not eligible for this focused funding.
  3. Q: Are applicants from UIUC, UIC, UIS, and UIC-Rockford considered separate IIN hubs that may partner with each other to submit a proposal?
    A: No. Applicants from the University of Illinois System need to include another PI from another hub distinct from the University of Illinois System.
  4. Q: Must two IIN hubs be involved prior to proposal submission?
    A: Ideally two IIN hubs would be involved in the project prior to proposal submission. If two hubs are not involved at the time of submission, the proposal must address how another IIN hub could engage with the project as the project is implemented throughout the year. The expectation is that two IIN hubs or a second community-based organization in another IIN hub’s geographic area would ultimately participate in the project. This is a collaboration opportunity that seeks to expand partnerships beyond any single IIN hub’s community.
  5. Q: Does the IIN plan to offer another round of seed funding that includes the themes for arts and humanities and social justice?
    A: Funding is planned for the fall and spring academic semesters annually.
  6. Q: Are students eligible as PIs or Co-PIs?
    A: Students are not eligible to serve as Principal Investigators.  They may serve as Co-PI’s, however.
  7. Q: Who is part of an IIN Hub?
    A: Employees of the IIN hub institutions are automatically members of an IIN hub and eligible to apply for funding under this program.
  8. Q: Must the proposal address all three additional criteria (organizational capacity, sustainability plan, and IIN Hubs collaboration)?
    A: Yes.
  9. Q: May an application include a collaborator and a community-based organization or only either a collaborator or a community-based organization?
    A: A proposal must include a community-based organization. For profit organizations are not considered community-based organizations. A proposal may include additional partners and collaborators but only the IIN hub and the community-based organization(s) are eligible for the funding.
  10. Q: May the project charge a participation or program fee to cover costs that don’t fit into the IIN budget and, if so, how should they be accounted for the IIN budget?
    A: Proposals must include all budget costs. Proposals may include budget costs, such as the participation or program fee, that are not specifically identified in the IIN budget template. Program income, which is potentially additive to the overall project amount, or other costs must be included in the budget and explained in the budget narrative. Please note that allowing these costs to be included in the proposal budget template does not constitute acceptance of the cost as a necessary component of the project. Such determination will be made for each project during the project evaluation.
  11. Q: Is there a restriction on the geographic location of the community-based organization?
    A: While there is no restriction on the location of the Illinois community-based organization in relation to the geographic location of the IIN hub that is submitting the proposal, consideration will be given to the role and significance of collaborating organizations, including community-based organization(s), and their specific relationship to the IIN hub that is submitting the proposal.