Marquette-affiliated project named finalist in inaugural NSF Innovation Engines competition

Great Lakes ReNEW, an effort to create a Blue Economy innovation engine in the Great Lakes Region, has been selected as one of 16 finalists across the country in a first-ever National Science Foundation competition for as much as $160 million in funding over 10 years.

Marquette is one of about 50 partners on the project, coordinated by Current, the Chicago-based water innovation hub.

ReNEW proposes an ambitious plan to use inclusive, streamlined innovation; workforce development; and stakeholder engagement to drive a decarbonized circular Blue Economy that would leverage the region’s extraordinary water resources to transform the upper Midwest. 

This is the final step in the process as NSF selects regional “engines” to build partnerships across industry, academia, government, nonprofits and communities to drive inclusive growth through investment in research, development and commercialization of advanced technologies that address national and societal challenges. The initiative will also build workforce, entrepreneurship and engagement pathways that ensure benefits accrue to the people and places that need them most.

Workforce and entrepreneurship training is essential to support creation, implementation and management of new technologies and practices. ReNEW’s efforts will connect partners across workforce development systems, from community-based organizations to credentialing programs and community college systems to universities. The goal is a seamless pipeline of opportunities for individuals most affected by joblessness and systemic barriers to participation. Other approaches designed to advance the objectives of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are incorporated into and advance the goals of every aspect of the plan.

The finalist designation comes just months after Current and partners released a strategic plan, Upstream Illinois, which is the first in the nation to outline a roadmap to inclusive growth and innovation in the Blue Economy and build pathways to jobs and entrepreneurship for currently underrepresented people and places. Upstream Illinois lays a foundation to capitalize on the region’s significant water resources, labor force and strengths in manufacturing and research to prepare for a future of good jobs, innovation and leadership in water-related industries.

Marquette’s participation is led by is principal investigator, Dr. Daniel Zitomer, chair and professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, and director of Water Quality Center.

The group was formed in response to a funding opportunity from the NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines program, a competition to catalyze and foster inclusive innovation ecosystems across the country. The new program offers the largest investments in NSF history and is expected to boost innovation capacity, create sustainable innovation ecosystems and drive inclusive economic growth for decades to come.

The finalists were chosen from 188 initial submissions, which was winnowed to 34 semifinalists in June. The ultimate winners will be named following site visits to each finalist location later this summer.

The other partnering organizations that make up ReNEW to date include:

AmFam Institute * AO Smith * Argonne National Laboratory * Black & Veatch * Burnt Island Ventures * CAEL * Cara Collective * Chicago State University * City Colleges of Chicago * Cleveland Water Alliance * Discovery Partners Institute * Dow * Entrepreneurs’ Center * Evergreen Climate Innovations * Exelon * Freshwater Advisors * Fund for Our Economic Future * Great Lakes Water Authority * HIRE360 * Illinois Institute of Technology * Illinois Science & Technology Coalition * Illinois Ventures * Imagine H2O * Mazarine Ventures * Metropolitan Council * mHUB * New Water * Northwestern University * NSF I-Corps Hub Great Lakes Region * Ohio State University * Oldcastle * P33 * Purdue University * S2G Ventures * Sentry * State of Illinois * State of Ohio * State of Wisconsin * STEAMville * TIES * True North Venture Partners * University of Chicago * University of Cincinnati * University of Illinois Chicago * University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign * University of Michigan * University of Minnesota * University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee * Wayne State University * World Business Chicago * WRTP Big Step 

About Current

Current is an independent nonprofit water innovation hub. Founded in Chicago in 2016, our mission is to grow an inclusive Blue Economy, accelerate innovation and solve pressing water challenges. We bring together corporations, advocates, researchers and governments to develop water management policies and test new technologies—projects that would be too risky or even impossible without sustained collaboration. Current has helped attract more than $20 million in federal investments for water innovation in the region, launched the first real-time water quality monitoring tool for the Chicago River and supported the commercialization of more than a dozen water startups.