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Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge


For over 60 years, the Research Triangle region of North Carolina has been a model research ecosystem on a global scale. The Research Triangle stands apart from other similar efforts for its successful collaboration among universities, businesses, and government organizations in innovation-led economic development and talent attraction and for the significant transformation that the region experienced as a result. Today, the region is home to multiple institutions of national and international renown and has a reputation for education, discovery, and innovation by virtue of the forethought and investments made decades ago. To build on this legacy of positive change through collaboration, RTI International seeks to catalyze investments to address the collective unprecedented issues we face that demand regional collaboration and intentional investment to ensure future success.

To build on a foundation of recent investments in successful university collaborations and help stimulate transformational change for the next 60 years, RTI's Board of Governors—under the auspices of the RTI University Research Collaboration Committee (URCC)—welcomes Expressions of Interest (EOI) in Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge. We seek innovative and compelling research projects that meld scientific rigor, technical proficiency, and innovative methods to help solve the world's most critical problems. This future-focused competition is intended to draw on and, eventually, contribute to the distinctive intellectual and institutional resources and culture of the Research Triangle region.

This forward-thinking challenge is an investment in the future of the Research Triangle region. I am proud of RTI’s financial commitment and leadership to harness the power of our academic institutions and corporate partners to improve our ecosystem for years to come.” — Dr. Christy Shaffer, URCC chair and RTI Board of Governors member

Under the leadership of Dr. Christy Shaffer and Dr. Peter Lange, the URCC is committed to stimulating and supporting visionary, impactful research collaboration among RTI and area universities. To accomplish this, RTI and the URCC have developed Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge. Through this challenge, we will invest in our collective future by expanding existing partnerships and forging new ones that leverage existing resources and optimize knowledge-based growth. RTI and our partners will commit to supporting at least one team that presents a compelling project for regional collaboration and transformational innovation. We seek bold, visionary project proposals that address critical societal challenges.

RTI's History

Founded in 1958—with support from North Carolina government, education, and business leaders—RTI maintains close ties with Duke University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and other institutions.


RTI is committing $5 million in initial funding. Partners are committed to investing additional funds to help build and scale the selected program area(s).

Key Dates

Thursday, April 8, 2021 Due date for EOI
Wednesday, September 8, 2021 Due date for invited full proposals
TBD Final oral presentations
TBD Funding begins

Application Process

To help identify bold ideas that have the potential to meaningfully impact critical societal issues, this challenge is structured as a three-step process that includes (1) an EOI intended to crowd-source innovative ideas, (2) selection of applicants invited to submit full proposals, and (3) a final oral presentation round. This challenge also draws on our region’s intellectual and material resources.

Applicants can fully construct their regional teams in Step 1, if they already have a multi-institutional collaborative group. Alternatively, for sufficiently compelling ideas selected to advance to Step 2, members of the URCC and designees listed in the Inquiries section will draw directly from their institutional knowledge to help researchers at RTI and universities network with each other.

This portal will be updated with instructions for each step of the process.

1. Expression of Interest (EOI)

Upload an EOI that is no more than two pages for electronic submission to the application portal on or before Thursday, April 8, 2021.

  • Nonstudent researchers affiliated with any of the following institutions are eligible to be principal investigators (PIs): RTI, Duke University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • The EOI should provide a title and description of the proposed bold, visionary project—as well as a discussion of the project’s potential impact on societal issues and the national science and technology enterprise.
  • The EOI should cite evidence that the area PI(s) has/have current and/or prior relevant experience as a researcher and collaborator.
  • There is no budget requirement for the EOI.
  • Along with the EOI, submit each PI's curriculum vitae (CV) as a PDF. (Please combine the EOI and CV into a single PDF file.)

Thank you for your interest in Forethought. The EOI stage has closed.
We will continue to update the portal with information about the next step in the process.

2. Strengthening Ideas, Forming Multi-Institutional Teams, and Building Budgets

Teams invited to this round have an opportunity to explain in detail how their project provides a feasible pathway for our region to command an important emerging field and build a multilateral team as they strengthen ideas, form multi-institutional teams, and begin building budgets. The team will include participation from RTI International and at least three additional Forethought institutions (Duke University, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, or University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill).

Teams must submit their Full Proposals using the Forethought Proposal and Budget Template. The template will include specific questions to which teams must respond. Full proposals (including budget templates) must be saved as a PDF (no larger than 30MB) and submitted via the Forethought Portal (see below).  

Download the Forethought:

Thank you for your continued interest in Forethought. The Full Proposal stage has closed. Please continue to refer back to this portal for updates.

3. Final Oral Presentations

Advancing teams are invited to virtually present to members of the University Research Collaboration Committee (URCC) and RTI Executive Leadership Team (ELT) in real time and answer questions on how their project provides a feasible pathway for our region to command an important emerging field and solidify their multilateral team and answer detailed questions on their ideas, team goals, and high-level budgets.

Invited teams should include significant representation from RTI and at least three of the following institutions:

  • Duke University
  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
  • North Carolina Central University
  • North Carolina State University
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thank you for your continued interest in Forethought. The Oral Presentations stage has concluded. Please visit the Announcements page for updates.


Specific questions regarding this opportunity may be directed to the following individuals:

RTI International | Dr. Jacqueline M. Olich, Vice President, University Collaborations

Duke | Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, Associate Professor, Global Health and Medicine and Director, Duke Global Health Innovation Center

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University | Dr. Sanjiv Sarin, Director, University Collaborations and Corporation Partnerships and Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering

North Carolina Central University | Dr. Michael Page, Director, External Affairs

North Carolina State University | Dr. Mark Schmidt, Associate Vice Chancellor, Partnerships

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill | Don Hobart, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research