NIST Advanced Technology Program
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Advanced Technology Program (ATP) is a unique partnership between government and private industry to accelerate the development of high-risk technologies that promise significant commercial payoffs and widespread benefits to the economy. The ATP has several critical features that set it apart from other government R&D programs:
- The goal of the ATP is economic growth and the good jobs and quality of life that come with economic growth—opening new opportunities for U.S. business and industry in the world's markets by fostering enabling technologies that lead to new, innovative products, services, and industrial processes. For this reason, ATP projects focus on the technology needs of U.S. industry, not those of government. The ATP is industry driven, which keeps the program grounded in real-world needs. Research priorities for the ATP are set by industry: for-profit companies conceive, propose, co-fund, and execute ATP projects and programs based on their understanding of the marketplace and research opportunities.
- The ATP does not fund product development. It supports enabling technologies that are essential to the development of new products, processes, and services across diverse application areas. Private industry bears the costs of product development, production, marketing, sales, and distribution,
- ATP awards are made strictly on the basis of rigorous peer-reviewed competitions designed to select the proposals that are best qualified in terms of the technological ideas, the potential economic benefits to the nation (not just the applicant), and the strength of the plan for eventual commercialization of the results. Expert reviewers (without conflict of interest) drawn from the business community, government, and academia
- carefully examine and rate each proposal according to published selection criteria that focus on both business and technical potential.
- The ATP has strict cost-sharing rules. Joint ventures must pay at least half of the project costs. Single companies working on ATP projects must pay all indirect costs associated with the project. (This provision encourages small companies, particularly start-ups, that often have much lower overhead rates than large firms).
- ATP support does not become a perpetual subsidy or entitlement—each project has goals, specific funding allocations, and completion dates established at the outset. Projects are monitored and can be terminated for cause before completion.
- The ATP benefits companies of all sizes. ATP funding stimulates companies of all sizes to take on greater technical challenges with larger, broader, and faster payoff potential for the nation—benefits that extend well beyond the innovators—than they could or would do alone. For smaller start-up firms, early support from ATP can spell the difference between success and failure. To date, over half (53 percent) of the ATP awards have gone to individual small businesses or to joint ventures led by a small business. Large firms can work with the ATP, especially in joint ventures, to develop critical, high-risk technologies that would be difficult for any one company to justify because, for example, the benefits spread across the industry as a whole. Universities and non-profit independent research organizations also play significant roles as participants in ATP projects. More than 100 different universities are involved in more than 180 ATP projects as either joint-venture participants or subcontractors.
- Since its inception, the ATP has made economic evaluation of the outcomes of ATP projects a central element of its operations. The ATP has developed and implemented a thorough measurement program that pushes the state of the art in evaluating the long-term outcomes of R&D investment.
Until 1994, the ATP used general competitions open to proposals in all areas of technology as its sole investment mechanism. Since then, the ATP has added another element to its investment strategy—focused program competitions. Each type of competition has its unique advantages. General competitions ensure that all good ideas receive consideration, no matter what the technology area. Focused programs create a mechanism to provide critical-mass support for high-risk, enabling technologies in particular technology areas identified by U.S. industry as offering especially important opportunities for economic growth.
An ATP focused program identifies a specific set of research and business goals that require the parallel development of a suite of interlocking R&D projects. By managing groups of projects that complement and reinforce each
other, the ATP reaps the benefits of synergy and, in the long run, can have a stronger impact of U.S. technology and the economy.
Focused programs are developed in response to specific suggestions received from industry and academia. In the form of white papers, the proposals outline a specific technology area and describe the potential for U.S. economic benefit, the technical ideas available to be exploited, the strength of industry commitment to the work, and the reasons why ATP funding is necessary to achieve well-defined research and business goals.
Areas that attract particularly strong interest—30 or more white papers from different sources proposing the same general effort are not unusual—then are developed further through discussions with industry, meetings, workshops, and other interactions.
Within a focused program, the ATP holds special competitions open only to project proposals that would advance the goals of the specific program. Specific projects are selected through the normal ATP competitive review process. The ATP has received over 1,000 white papers suggesting specific focused program areas. Drawing from more than 300 of these, the ATP has established 17 focused programs to date.
Source: ATP Overview, National Institute of Standards and Technology, February 1998.