ISTC’s role in growing the RIS Program, its impact on Illinois, and how you can get involved.


For the better part of a decade, ISTC has worked with its federal partners at SSTI to grow the EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Program. As a result of this work, the RIS program has grown dramatically since it was first funded in 2014, helping to grow innovation and create jobs in Illinois. In addition to advocating for the program’s growth federally, ISTC has helped its members and partners in Illinois access this critical funding through application assistance. With more funding coming to the program, now is the time to ready your organization’s application for funding in 2020. 


This issue of Catalyst dives deep into the RIS program, including ISTC’s role in growing the RIS program and how we can assist applicants in Illinois. Jason Rittenburg, SSTI Policy and Development Director, also provides the latest updates on the RIS program and what’s next. Finally, Haven Allen, mHUB CEO and Co-founder, details how funding from the program has helped mHUB launch and expand its impact.


Under the U.S. Department of Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) works to support innovation regionally through the Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Program. The program’s primary goal is to strengthen a region’s capacity to support entrepreneurship and innovation to spur job creation. The program also focuses on supporting equity-focused organizations to ensure a diverse and robust regional innovation economy. The RIS program manages two funding opportunities: the i6 Challenge and the Seed Fund Support Programs.


RIS’ i6 Challenge funds the creation of innovation and entrepreneurship centers, while the Seed Fund Support Program invests in entrepreneurs by funding the creation, operation, and expansion of regional seed funds. Jointly, these two programs have supported a variety of technology-based economic development initiatives in Illinois, including City Tech Collaborative, Clean Energy Trust, Energy Foundry, GoodCity INVEST Chicago, and mHUB. This stream of RIS funding has contributed to the development of an increasingly robust innovation and technology economy in the state.


Since the program began distributing awards in 2014, ISTC has worked with SSTI—a national nonprofit advancing technology-based economic development—to grow the federal authorization and appropriation for RIS. ISTC partners with SSTI to routinely meet with Illinois’ federal delegation in DC to advocate for a strengthening the RIS Program. In just five years, our efforts have successfully doubled the appropriated funding for RIS from $15 million to $30 million.


EDA plans to hold the next round of RIS competition in early 2020, with the U.S. House of Representatives approving $30 million in funding for FY 2020. ISTC stands ready to assist applications for RIS funding, having played an integral role in supporting several successful applications to date. We encourage interested organizations to reach out


RIS Program Update

By Jason Rittenburg, Policy and Development Director, SSTI


The EDA recently announced the latest RIS awardees, which will receive grants totaling $23 million to create and expand high-growth entrepreneurship and increase access to capital in their regions. The awardees are 44 organizations from 28 states, Washington, D.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and include nonprofits, institutions of higher education and entrepreneurship-focused organizations. These organizations are expected to leverage another $26 million in matching funds from a variety of private and public sector sources.


The RIS program boasts some impressive impacts: to date, more than 4,000 companies have been assisted; 1,600 new products have received help in launching; and $19 million has been invested in companies.


This year’s awardees were selected from a pool of 183 applicants and included five members of SSTI, a national nonprofit that works to strengthen initiatives to create a better future through science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. SSTI has led efforts to support the RIS program since its inception, collecting letters of support this year from more than 50 current and former program awardees, along with 11 tech-based economic development organizations, and calling on Congress to consider additional support for the program.


Congress funded the RIS program at $23.5 million for FY 2019, and while budgets are not yet final for FY 2020, the House has approved $30 million for RIS. Organizations interested in the RIS program can find information on each award cycle through SSTI’s webinar library and are encouraged to join SSTI’s Innovation Advocacy Council, which works to communicate with and educate Congress on innovation issues. SSTI’s upcoming Annual Conference, Sept. 9th through 11th in Providence, Rhode Island, will also feature a number of sessions and additional opportunities to learn more about funding for innovation and building your regional economy.


mHUB’s Chicago facility, which leveraged RIS funding to launch in 2016.


mHUB Leveraging RIS to Grow Innovation

By Haven Allen, CEO and Co-founder, mHUB


mHUB, based in Chicago’s River West neighborhood, has taken advantage of both the i6 and Seed Fund programs to grow its physical product innovation center to its current scale as the largest and fastest growing in the United States. RIS program support has helped to jumpstart mHUB’s goal to reduce the barriers to commercialization for product-based businesses. A 2016 i6 Challenge Grant grantee, mHUB used the $500,000 award to support the buildout of its 63,000 sq. ft. center and acquisition of equipment. The initial funding supported the launch of the center, which grew from 30 members to nearly 600 in just two years.


Today, mHUB is moving to deepen its impact by not only providing resources to develop, but also to directly generate funding for product-based startups. In July, mHUB was awarded a $300,000 Seed Fund Grant out of the RIS program to support administration and operations of a $15M fund to support early stage product-based businesses. The Product Impact Fund will fund 60 product-based businesses to participate in mHUB’s Accelerating Incubation program,  which will pair six cohorts of 10 startups each with corporations to secure potential customers, investors, advocates, and mentors to launch and scale their cluster-based physical products within 12 months. Cohorts will be focused on product innovation and development in Industrial Internet of Things, Clean Energy Technology, Medical and Health Technology, Smart Buildings/Cities and Homes, and Communications Technology.


Midwestern programs have traditionally been in the minority of grantees from both programs. But, the technology ecosystem in Illinois is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the program with its strong industrial heritage, diversity of industries, and global connections and talent. mHUB is just one example, but there is a great opportunity for more Illinois organizations to take advantage of the EDA’s RIS Program.


We encourage organizations interested in RIS funding to reach out



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