Sustainable Vision Program Guidelines

Sustainable Vision Grant Guidelines – Applicants are strongly encouraged to read the entire guidelines prior to submitting.

IntroductionWho May Apply | Selection Criteria | Eligible Areas of Focus | Institutional Support | Intellectual Property Policies | How to Apply | The Proposal: Required and Optional Components | The Review and Notification Process | If Your Proposal is Approved


Sustainable Vision grants fund educational programs in which student teams create and commercialize technologies that benefit people living in poverty.

Since 2006, over 60 Sustainable Vision grants have been awarded to NCIIA member / US universities to innovate, commercialize, and distribute technologies in the US and 30+ countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Grantees have access to funding and a network of peers and development & entrepreneurship experts. Programs must address poverty alleviation and basic human needs and may focus on opportunities and needs in the US or abroad. Funds may be requested to support the creation of new programs or for the improvement and/or significant expansion of an ongoing program.

Sustainable Vision grants range in size from $2,000 to $50,000; the grant period is 1 to 3 years.

Note: If you have a proposal for an educational course or program that does not focus on developing technologies specifically for people living in poverty, we encourage you to apply for a Course and Program grant

Please note that applicants may not submit both a Sustainable Vision proposal and a Course and Program proposal for the same idea.

If you are part of a team focused on the development and deployment of a specific technology-based solution to poverty alleviation (not an educational program), we encourage you to apply for NCIIA’s E-Team Program

Who May Apply 

Faculty and staff from NCIIA member colleges and universities may apply; collaboration with individuals from education, non-profits and NGOs, government and industry is encouraged; however, Sustainable Vision proposals must be submitted by a US college or university as the lead institution.
NCIIA grant funds are awarded to US-based colleges and universities and can then be disbursed to partners (other universities, NGOs, etc.) in the US and abroad.
If you have questions about the status of your institution's NCIIA membership, please contact us.

Selection Criteria 

The more SPECIFIC, CLEAR and COMPELLING your proposal is, the more competitive your proposal will be. Typically, proposals have a 15-20% chance of getting funded. Proposals may request support for a single course, a course sequence, a certificate program, a minor or major, extracurricular programs or a combination of these. NCIIA encourages proposals that involve students and advisors from engineering, science, business, design, and liberal arts disciplines, as well as groups traditionally underrepresented in invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship, including women and minorities.

Successful Sustainable Vision grant proposals include these elements:

  • New or expanded university courses, certificate programs, minors, majors, and/or extracurricular programs with a focus on technology invention and innovation to address poverty alleviation and basic human needs.
  • The formation of multidisciplinary and entrepreneurial student E-Teams* to develop technology-based solutions to critical national and global problems.
  • A focus on entrepreneurship and support for promising student teams (connections to people and resources on campus and beyond to support commercialization) who want to continue to develop their technology and business model after participation in the proposed course/program.
  • A plan for continuation (and financial sustainability) of the course or program post NCIIA funding.
  • Experiential learning by doing and creative pedagogical approaches to solving real world problems. 

*What’s an E-Team?
NCIIA defines an E-Team as a multidisciplinary group of students, faculty, and industry mentors working together to bring a technology-based invention (product or service) to market. The "E" stands for entrepreneurship.

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Eligible Areas of Focus

Sustainable Vision grants fund programs dedicated to the development of technology inventions and innovations in areas such as: energy, health (medical devices, sanitation, etc.), clean air and water, nutrition and agriculture, IT and shelter. Other compelling applications beyond those listed above that meet the Sustainable Vision program criteria will also be considered.

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Institutional Support

The following institutional representatives must verify their support of your proposal by responding to an automated email request from the grants system (triggered within the online proposal process) prior to final submission.   

Principal Investigator (PI)
The Principal Investigator takes primary responsibility for the proposal and will have overall responsibility for the grant and reporting. Ideally, a tenured or tenure-track faculty and/or staff member serves as the Principal Investigator. Co-PIs are allowed but 1 lead PI must be identified. Students cannot serve as Principal Investigators. 

Administrative Contact (AC)
The NCIIA defines the Administrative Contact as a grants administrator or fiscal officer authorized to commit the institution to the terms of the grant. Often, the AC is someone in your institution's Office of Sponsored Research or an administrator able to manage grant funding within a department or school. Neither the Principal Investigator nor students may serve as the AC.

Note: NCIIA strongly encourages that you contact your Office of Sponsored Programs/Research or the equivalent well ahead (2+ weeks) of the submission deadline to inform them of your intention to submit a proposal. Many colleges and universities require a full proposal for administrative review and approval before it can be submitted.

Department Chair (DC)
The Department Chair (or equivalent) will need to indicate his/her awareness of and support for your proposal as a demonstration of institutional commitment to the proposed program or project.

Dean of Faculty (DF)
The Dean of Faculty (or equivalent) will need to indicate his/her awareness of and support for your proposal as a demonstration of institutional commitment to the proposed program or project.

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Intellectual Property Policies

The NCIIA supports programs that lead to the creation of E-Teams as they work toward commercialization of their inventions. Ownership of discoveries or inventions resulting from activities financed by NCIIA grant funds will be governed by grantee institutions’ intellectual property policies. If a school does not have an intellectual property policy, then the institution must develop an E-Team agreement that establishes ownership of ideas resulting from E-Team work. The NCIIA takes no financial or ownership interest in the projects funded by these grants.

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How to Apply

All program applications must be submitted online. Anyone on the team may serve as the applicant on a submission. ALL proposal deadlines end at 11:59 pm eastern time on the specified due date unless otherwise indicated.

To start, you’ll need to have an NCIIA account.  Creating an account is easy, and anyone can do it. To access an existing account or to create a new one, click here. You may start, save, stop, and return to your online proposal at anytime before submitting.

You may preview a PDF of the online application here.

PLEASE NOTE: this PDF includes screen shots of NCIIA's 5-step proposal process. The proposal content shown may vary slightly from the Sustainable Vision grant proposal, but steps for the application are the same. This PDF is for preview purposes only.

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The Proposal: Required and Optional Components

As part of the online application process, you will be prompted to upload the following into your proposal:

  • Required proposal components combined together in a single PDF (includes the proposal narrative, proposed budget, letter(s) of support, and key team member resumes).
  • Additional appendices (optional) up to 5 appendices total, combined together in a single PDF.
  • Weblinks (optional) up to 4 links can be included (websites, video links, articles, etc.).
  • Details on each component are provided below in these guidelines.

Required proposal components
The following documents are required as part of your proposal and must be included in the following order, combined together into a single PDF:

  1. Proposal narrative
  2. Proposed budget (in the NCIIA template, which should be downloaded here or directly from the proposal application)
  3. Letter(s) of support (at least 1 is required, up to 3 will be accepted)
  4. Team member resumes (a maximum of 4 resumes, each limited to 3 pages per resume)

1) REQUIRED: Proposal Narrative
Your proposal narrative may not exceed 5 pages in length using 12-point Times font and 1-inch margins. Address the following in your narrative:

Proposed course and/or program description

  • What are you proposing to develop? Be specific: for example, is it a course or a program? Is it a certificate program, a major or minor, or an extracurricular opportunity? Please differentiate between program elements that exist and anything new that you are proposing.
  • What is the technology invention/innovation area of focus?
  • Is there an experiential component for students and approximately how many teams/students will be involved?
  • Will the proposed course or program lead to the creation of student E-Teams? Will resulting teams be multidisciplinary (encouraged but not required)?
  • Is there potential for positive educational, social, and/or environmental impacts?

History and context

  • What gap(s) are you addressing on your campus; what do you feel is missing?
  • Provide a 1-2 paragraph background of how the program or project began and what has been accomplished so far (if anything).
  • What institutional and financial support have you received for your work?

Team and partners

  • In 1-2 sentences (each), describe the role of the key individuals involved with delivering and supporting the proposed course and/or program.
  • Have you identified partners (individuals, community leaders, nonprofits or NGOs, etc.) outside of your institution who will provide connections and access to the field and end-users?
  • Have you identified partners who will help promising teams commercialize any resulting technologies? Describe the "entrepreneurial ecosystem" that your students will have access to on your campus and in the local community.
  • How will the team address possible language, cultural, and social barriers? Has the team traveled yet to the community in which you propose to work?
  • How many US-based students will be involved and what roles will they play? Is there a role for non-US based students (not required)?

Work plan and outcomes

  • What are the milestones you hope to achieve during the grant period? Present in a table format with a timeline.
  • How will E-Teams be formed and how many do you anticipate working with per year?

Beyond the grant

  • How will you evaluate your course/program beyond student evaluations?
  • How will your partners measure success, and how will you include your partners in the evaluation process?
  • Will the course or program continue beyond the end of the grant period? If so, how will it be funded? Is your program replicable?
  • If your program is international in focus and you have requested funds for travel abroad, how will these expenses be supported beyond the proposed grant period?

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2. REQUIRED: Proposed Budget
Your budget demonstrates to reviewers how you intend to achieve the objectives proposed in your 5-page narrative. NCIIA requires you to use the provided SV budget template which you can download here.

Justify your proposed budget
Including specific budget justifications is a critical piece in helping reviewers understand how you intend to spend grant funds. Provide your justifications in the "justifications" section in the budget template or in a separate sheet; the more detail in the justifications the better.
Grant funds may be proposed for expenses related to curricular development and course or program realization. Equipment and other resources purchased with grant funds become the property of the institution.

Note: Sustainable Vision grant funds cannot cover institutional overhead but can provide personnel costs of up to $10,000; the $10,000 maximum includes any applicable cost of fringe benefits.

Eligible expenses examples:

  • Equipment expenses (NCIIA will typically not fund the purchase of equipment that is considered part of college or university infrastructure. Equipment expenses should be less than 1/3 the total proposed budget).
  • Personnel costs up to $10,000 (may be divided or proposed for 1 person, and includes the cost of any applicable fringe benefits).
  • Expenses related to early implementation of program, including materials & supplies, prototyping, technical services, and testing.
  • Travel.
  • Expenses related to students’ performing patent searches or creating marketing analyses, or business plans.

Ineligible expenses examples:

  • Overhead: NCIIA does not cover institutional overhead.
  • Personnel costs over the $10,000 maximum.
  • Equipment expenses totaling more than 1/3 the total proposed budget.
  • Speaker honoraria over $200.
  • Wages for students during the academic year.
  • Student stipends over the $5,000 maximum.
  • Legal and other expenses of business formation or operation.
  • Publicity expenses.

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3. REQUIRED: Letter(s) of Support
Letters of support should demonstrate to reviewers that there is ongoing institutional support for your project and/or technical competence and market opportunity in the proposed work. Letters can also serve to verify partnerships discussed in your proposal narrative or verify additional funding to complement the proposed budget. At least 1 letter is required, up to 3 will be accepted.

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4. REQUIRED: Resumes
Include resumes from the Principal Investigator and any other key collaborators. We do not need resumes for the Administrative Contact or other non-key team members/collaborators. Up to 4 resumes are allowed and they should be no more than 3 pages each.

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Optional: Additional Appendices
Up to 5 additional (optional) supporting documents may be combined into 1 PDF file and uploaded as an appendix item. Relevant supporting materials including curricula, photographs, and syllabi are welcome.

Note: Sheer volume of material is not an asset. Reviewers are directed to use supporting materials only to supplement the 5-page narrative. Therefore, key information should be included in the narrative.

Optional: Weblinks and/or Videos
In addition to supporting documents, applicants may upload up to 4 links to websites, online articles, videos and other relevant online data that will inform and provide context for the proposed program.  

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The Review and Notification Process

  • Submitted proposals are reviewed by external panels of reviewers made up of individuals from academia, industry, non-profits, and NGOs and development experts from the US and around the world.
  • NCIIA strives to notify applicants of the status of their proposals via email within 90 days of the submission deadline. In some cases, NCIIA may ask for additional information and/or clarification after the proposal has been submitted.
  • All applicants and PIs will receive notification via email as to whether or not their proposal has been selected for funding. In most cases, proposals are either funded or rejected. If your proposal is rejected, detailed reviewer comments are not shared in writing but applicants may contact NCIIA if they are interested in hearing a summary of reviewer feedback.
  • Occasionally, reviewers invite a team to resubmit their proposal in a future cycle for re-consideration, after certain concerns or questions are addressed. Applicants invited by reviewers to resubmit should contact NCIIA to discuss the reviewer feedback in detail and make sure they understand the questions and concerns raised. Resubmitted proposals must specify how previous concerns have been addressed. We strongly suggest teams resubmitting clearly mark a section of the narrative "Addressing Previous Reviewer Concerns."

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If Your Proposal is Approved

  • Funds are awarded to US-based colleges and universities.
  • The Principal Investigator will receive a notification letter and approved budget via email.
  • NCIIA will send an award letter agreement for signature to the Administrative Contact identified by the team. Once this award letter is signed and returned to NCIIA, funds can be disbursed.
  • Sustainable Vision grant recipients are required to participate in the NCIIA annual conference and pre-conference workshop (Sustainable Vision Connect). The gathering is an opportunity to share your work and discuss the dissemination of transferable models and materials. 

Reporting for Grantees
Reporting requirements will be outlined in the award letter. Principal Investigators for NCIIA grants are prompted via email (usually once each year) to complete reports online. Failure to submit reports may jeopardize your institution’s eligibility for future grants and pending payments. If you receive a grant, reporting deadlines will be detailed in your award letter. Click here to preview sample interim and final reports. 

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Congratulations, you read the guidelines! If you are still unsure about whether your idea is a fit, email a 1 paragraph abstract for feedback to or call the grants team at (413) 587-2172.