When is the application period?

Calls for innovator applications will take place once a year in early fall. Cohorts of four to six innovator teams will be selected in late winter/early spring. In between application periods, please fill out a pre-application form and we will notify you when the next application period commences. You may read the full innovator solicitation letter for details, but applications (or pre-applications) should be submitted through the Apply page.

Learn about the benefits of becoming a CRI innovator.

The application period for the eighth cohort starts October 15 and ends at 5 p.m. Central, November 30, 2023. Semifinalist reviews will occur early in 2024 and finalists reviews in March 2024.  Work on cohort projects will begin in summer 2024.

How does CRI operate?

Program overview:
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (AMMTO) will provide $3 million during a two-year period to support four to six innovators. Individuals will be selected each year to receive this two-year allocation. This funding will pay for fellowships that cover salary, benefits, use of laboratory equipment and office space, and guidance from Argonne researchers.

CRI is managed by DOE’s Technology-to-Market program and AMMTO and run by Argonne.

Innovators are expected to gather additional outside funding and exit the program after two years.

All entities associated with the program must go through a due diligence review to identify any conflicts of interest with Argonne. The work conducted at Argonne will be done through individual, standardized Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) between Argonne and each innovator team. The CRADA terms will provide the startup with certain rights to inventions and data generated during the program. View the innovator CRADA. Innovators that are notified that they have been selected to join the program will be required complete the CRADA paperwork and submit it to Argonne.

Innovator selection:
Innovator applicants will go through a competitive selection process run by CRI.

All applicants will be reviewed by Argonne National Laboratory, and must be selected by a Federal Official from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

Innovator benefits:
Selected innovators will receive a Manufacturing Entrepreneurship Partnership (MEP) Fellowship through AMO. The fellowship is funded through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) institute. This fellowship includes two years of salary, health insurance, and a small travel budget equivalent to that of a postdoctoral associate.

How is CRI different from other embedded entrepreneurship programs?

What sets CRI apart from other area programs is its unique ability to embed startups in a national laboratory with access to cutting-edge research tools and hands-on mentorship with a Principal Investigator (PI). While industry often contracts with Argonne to use its R&D tools and collaborate with researchers, the CRI program will provide an unprecedented level and continuity of access for two years that is beyond the means of small companies and startups. The ability to use office space at the laboratory also will put innovators in constant contact with leaders in hard science research to spur collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas from multiple science and engineering disciplines.

What types of entrepreneurs are eligible?

In order to be considered for CRI, innovator applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • CRI is a nationwide program for individuals who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. You do not have to started a company to apply to CRI. CRI is an educational research program that teaches the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur and potentially launch a business. However, individuals who belong to startup companies at the time that they apply to CRI must have those companies incorporated in the U.S. Selected CRI participants are expected to make a full commitment to the CRI program. As such, individuals should expect to spend a significant portion of time in the Chicago area to work at Argonne to develop technology and with CRI partner mentor organizations on legal, financial, marketing, and business operations development and planning.
  • Innovators must have a minimum of five years of technology R&D experience and be a first-time technical founder.
  • Innovators must not have raised more than $2 million in private sector funding at the time of entry into the program.
  • Individuals, and teams or small businesses each applying as individuals, may apply. Startups may have existing business partners and mentors, but that is not required.
  • Innovators must go through a conflict of interest due diligence review and must comply with Argonne’s Prime Contract.
  • Innovators must focus on developing technology that will advance the development of clean energy and advanced manufacturing products and processes for which development requires overcoming complex scientific challenges that require a lengthy development cycle of about two years to reach the pre-commercial prototype stage. The innovation must also focus on solving, at least in part, a large societal need that hinders American competitiveness or energy efficiency.

Technology areas that fit within Argonne include:

  • Advanced materials
  • Improving manufacturing efficiency
  • Industrial decarbonization
  • Carbon capture and sequestration
  • Lowering building carbon and energy footprints
  • Solar energy
  • Quantum computing
  • Energy storage for supporting the electric grid
  • Other as determined by CRI and the U.S. Department of Energy

If selected for the cohort, how will I be supported?

The Department of Energy’s EERE will provide an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellowship to the selected technology innovators for the first year, with the potential for a one-year renewal, providing innovators personal stipend on an 80 percent time appointment. The 80 percent time appointment recognizes that fellows will need to spend additional time on non-educational activities, such as collaborative research with laboratory employees. The remaining 20 percent is provided by the participants, or future research partners of the participants, through the course of their ORISE assignment.

Personal stipends provided by the ORISE fellowship have a base rate of approximately $89,000 per year at 80 percent appointment, but may increase based on the number of years of professional experience beyond a first degree. On a case-by-case basis, exceptionally qualified candidates with greater than 6 years’ experience could be provided an “established scientist” appointment with a higher stipend rate, especially in cases where the stipend represents an untenable decrease relative to their current salary and cost of living.

In addition, over the duration of the program innovators will receive up to another $100K in funds from EERE for work to be performed at the laboratory.

What are your selection criteria?

Our primary selection filter will be based on your individual strengths as a potential Chain Reaction Innovation project leader. We are looking for highly qualified outcome-oriented technical founders who have the drive and ability to build a foundational technology vision and lead a team in its development. While ideas may evolve, we also want to ensure that the initial project concept is technically sound, reasonably differentiated, and addresses a well-framed problem with significant long-term impact potential.

Do I have to move to Chicago?

Yes. Participation in the program requires you to be in-residence at Argonne and to relocate to the Chicago area. But it’s a great city, and we know you’ll love it just like we do!

How will IP be handled?

Innovators are expected to develop an Intellectual Property (IP) Management Plan as part of the Scope and Planning phase (budget period 1), subject to the appropriate DOE Technology Manager’s approval with concurrence from DOE Patent Counsel, before proceeding to the R&D phase (budget period 2). The IP Management Plan should identify and provide a path for obtaining any background IP rights, if necessary, that may be needed to perform R&D work under the CRADA and commercialize their technology.

Will my application materials be kept confidential?

Your application will be reviewed by scientific and industry experts from within and outside of Argonne National Laboratory and DOE. We ask that you do not reveal any proprietary information in any presentation(s). Based on your application information, reviewers will be asked to recuse themselves from handling any application that may pose a potential conflict of interest for the reviewers.

How is this different from the DOE Small Business Vouchers Program?

CRI is a mentored program aimed at encouraging and supporting the technical founders in forming new ventures around breakthrough energy technologies, and embedding innovators at Argonne National Laboratory. The Small Business Vouchers Program is aimed at helping existing small businesses do collaborative work with researchers across the national lab system to solve targeted technology problems. Some teams may be eligible for both programs.

Where can I address other questions I have about the program?

You can find additional details about the program on CRI’s Apply page.

Applicants can submit questions at [email protected].

How will innovators work on research with the laboratory?

Innovators will work on research with Principal Investigators (PI) at Argonne National Laboratory through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). The innovators and an Argonne PI will work together to draft a Scope of Work to be performed by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, within the budget set forth by Chain Reaction Innovations. These CRADAs will be subject to the ordinary DOE approval process. During the course of the CRADA, selected innovators will have access to working and laboratory space at Argonne to engage in research cooperatively.

What happens if I am an innovator who is affiliated with Argonne National Laboratory?

Innovators affiliated with Argonne National Laboratory, its operator UChicago Argonne LLC, or the University of Chicago are eligible to apply. However, applicants must indicate that they have any affiliation with any of the foregoing, or represent that they do not under the application section “Any Affiliation with Argonne National Laboratory.” This includes identifying any equity, options, warrants or some other investment interest held by the foregoing entities, as well as control held by the foregoing entities or representatives therefrom (including board of directors, board of governors, members, partners, executives, principals). Any selected innovator with such an affiliation will be subject to an organizational conflict of interest (OCI) management plan. Compliance with the above is not a guarantee that a selected affiliated innovator will be able to participate in Chain Reaction Innovations. If the OCI issues cannot be effectively mitigated to the satisfaction of the DOE, an affiliated innovator will not be able to participate in the Chain Reaction Innovations program. In that circumstance, the selected innovator may be disqualified. Additionally, selected innovators will be required to engage a qualified business mentor to participate in the Chain Reaction Innovations program. To the extent that the innovators select a mentor organization affiliated with Argonne National Laboratory, its operator UChicago Argonne LLC, or the University of Chicago, that arrangement will also be subject to a conflict of interest management plan developed—and approved by the DOE—for their participation.

What are the requirements for Site Access to Argonne?

For any Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) whose application for innovator passes the initial screening review, CRI will follow the Laboratory Policy on Foreign Visits and Assignments. As part of that, the CRI Operations Manager, or designee, will contact the LPR applicant for innovator and begin an application for site access. This additional step is required for all foreign nationals and LPRs seeking site access, and such request does not reflect that innovator’s application has been accepted or rejected – only that the application is still under review.

What are the deadlines to secure approval for Site Access to Argonne?

If an applicant’s FAVOR submission is not approved by DOE one week prior to the date assigned for the applicants’ semifinals pitch, the individual’s application will not be able to move forward.

Does the CRI program have any limitations in dealing with foreign companies?

As a U.S. Government facility engaged in research of importance to the nation, Argonne National Laboratory is required to follow various federal laws and regulations (such as export control), as well as government policies and procedures.  In December 2019, DOE issued revised DOE Policy 485.1 Foreign Engagements with DOE National Laboratories.  This DOE policy requires that any CRI CRADA involving foreign participants be subject to extra reviews by additional offices within DOE.  Please note that those extra reviews add weeks to the review cycle, and that approval is not guaranteed.

How does DOE P 485.1 define “foreign” companies?

In that policy, DOE defines “foreign” as follows:

  • For purposes of this Policy, “foreign entities” include: (1) any foreign government or foreign government agency or instrumentality thereof; (2) any international organization; (3) any form of business enterprise or legal entity organized, chartered or incorporated under the laws of any country other than the United States or its territories; (4) any form of business enterprise organized or incorporated under the laws of the United States or a State or other jurisdiction within the United States which is owned, controlled or influenced by a foreign government, agency, firm, corporation, or a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States; and (5) any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.

As a very important note, please note that the definition of “foreign” for DOE P 485.1 is a different standard from whether a business is incorporated in the US, or whether the company is a domestic small business under the SBIR eligibility requirements.

Does DOE provide any guidance as to what is “foreign owned, controlled or influenced”?

A Lawful Permanent Resident as owner, co-owner, investor, board member or key personnel, may still qualify as foreign ownership, control or interest under DOE P 485.1.

Non-exhaustive examples include foreign investors, employees, and board members. If the applicant has any questions concerning this matter, applicant should be encouraged to contact CRI at [email protected] .

Does CRI provide sample IP Management Plans?

Each IP Management Plan will be uniquely tailored to the Innovator’s situation.  However, all of the IP Management Plans should follow the same format, and include certain language.  To help provide Innovators and potential Innovators understand this requirement, CRI has provided four model IP Management Plans covering different situations:

Sample IP Management Plans

Sample CRI IP Management Plan – Innovator Owns IP & Desires License to Argonne IP

Sample CRI IP Management Plan – Innovator Owns IP

Sample CRI IP Management Plan – Innovator Seeking IP License from University

Sample CRI IP Management Plan – Innovator Has IP License from University


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