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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.

To learn more about the research collaboration challenge, we sat down with RTI’s Jacqueline Olich, vice president of university collaborations. Excerpts of our conversation are below.

How did the Forethought Challenge come about?

RTI has been more intentionally investing in our special university relationships over the last several years; most of these have been bilateral partnerships. We now have more than $65 million of active research partnerships just with universities in North Carolina. Notably, we jointly seeded research teams with the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, the second highest ranked school of public health in the country. Through the Duke-RTI Global Development Initiative (GDI), both organizations leveraged diverse expertise and complementary capabilities in partnership for increased global impact. The NC State-RTI Game-Changing Research Incentive Program (GRIP) was a $2.3M seed-funding interdisciplinary research initiative. I am particularly proud of RTI’s three-year, strategic partnership with NC Central University, for which Tamara Terry serves as the relationship manager.

Now, RTI’s Board of Governors, under the auspices of the new University Research Collaboration Committee (URCC) led by venture capitalist Dr. Christy Shaffer, wants us to take it to the next level. Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge is designed to jumpstart multilateral collaboration in the Research Triangle region.

Forethought harkens back to RTI’s roots, when we were founded at the heart of the Research Triangle Park 60 years ago. Today our region has incredible assets in the university, nonprofit and business sectors. We are fortunate to live in a region where we have so many intellectual and material resources. In addition to Duke University, NC State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, our region boasts some powerhouse Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with strong national reputations. Imagine what we can do together.

The Forethought Challenge seeks bold, visionary project proposals that address critical societal challenges. Why are these types of ideas so important now?

Pandemics are disruptive and accelerate change, both negative and positive. They alter behaviors. As a historian, I know that great periods of innovation and technological progress often follow pandemics. Pandemics cause people to look at the world around them and the world they want to see through a different lens. The pandemic has taught us that together we can solve really big problems.

Through Forethought, we invite people to vision and think about the future. We left the domain intentionally open because we do not want to anchor anyone’s creativity. We know diversity is a key driver of innovation and want as many submissions as possible.

What are important aspects of the Challenge for those considering submitting an EOI to know?

The challenge is intentionally designed to have a low barrier of entry to submit an EOI. People don’t have to have everything mapped out to submit an EOI. They just have to get their idea out there. For this first stage, we want to get as many EOIs captured as we can. Researchers can submit multiple EOIs. We may encourage some researchers who submit EOIs to network and potentially team with others. Researchers invited to the next stage will receive more detailed guidance on constructing their team and developing a budget.

For someone who is new to the region, and doesn’t have an established network or for someone who is taking their research in a new direction or domain, this is a great opportunity for growth.

Those interested in submitting an EOI can learn more through our FAQ.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Jacqueline M. Olich, PhD (Vice President, University Collaborations) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.