The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected the NeoCity-based BRIDG project — which UCF is a partner of — as one of the 16 finalists for its inaugural Regional Innovation Engines competition. Established in accordance with the CHIPS and Science Act, the competition aims to foster innovation and collaborative technology-driven ecosystems across the nation.

The NSF Engines will provide each awardee with approximately $15 million for the first two years, with the potential for up to $160 million over a 10-year period, subject to progress assessments. A successful NSF Engine will transform its region into a nationally renowned, self-sustaining, technology- and innovation-driven economic hub. The UCF-supported BRIDG’s project is the only one in Florida selected as a finalist.

“With these economic engines, the NSF is addressing some of the most critical science and technology needs for our nation,” says Grace Bochenek ’98PhD, director of UCF’s School of Modeling, Simulation and Training and expert contributing to the project.

BRIDG is a not-for-profit public-private partnership specializing in advanced system integration and packaging to accelerate technology commercialization. Along with UCF, partners of the effort include Osceola County, Florida High Tech Corridor, imec, Orlando Economic Partnership, University of Florida, Valencia College and CareerSource Central Florida.

NeoCity is a 500-acre technology district in Kissimmee that will establish a hub for semiconductor reshoring, benefitting aerospace, engineering, healthcare and other industries nationally. BRIDG’s inclusion as a finalist underscores NeoCity’s potential to become a leading innovation hub.

If selected as an awardee, the funds will expand on various efforts contributing to NeoCity’s development — including a digital twin project UCF is leading. Over the past year, UCF has been working on a digital replica of NeoCity’s Center for NeoVation, which is a world-class sensor and research development hub for academic and commercial use.

UCF — a national leader in modeling and simulation research and education — is using digital twin technology to accomplish this. Digital twin encompasses digital replications of any real-world objects or systems — such as the human heart — that can be altered to understand impacts on an original item. The work is supported through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which awarded a total of $50.8 million to UCF, BRIDG and its partners for several initiatives supporting NeoCity’s development.

“Within the NeoCity semiconductor technology accelerator engine, the University of Central Florida plays an important role in advancing solutions through research and development to solve some of the nation’s most critical needs, in this case for the microelectronic semiconductor industry,” Bochenek says. “Our history of working with government, industry, other universities and educational institutions provides the foundation for expanding and elevating a robust ecosystem.”

Each finalist team will undergo interviews with the NSF to evaluate their adaptability to changing circumstances and their potential impact on regional innovation ecosystems. Over the course of up to 10 years, each NSF Engine will progress through three phases: nascent, emergent and growth.

“Being selected as a finalist and the only microelectronic semiconductor manufacturing-focused engine validates our regional coalition efforts to enable and advance the innovation ecosystem in Central Florida,” says Jim Vandevere, president of BRIDG. “As an NSF Engine, our region can leverage existing investments made to positively transform and catalyze NeoCity. We look forward to working with NSF and our partners during the final review process in hopes of receiving an NSF Engine award to help rebuild the manufacturing industrial base and serve as an advanced packaging hub for our nation.”

The NSF Engines program, launched by NSF’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP), draws upon the nation’s science and technology research and development enterprise and regional-level resources. This initiative aims to catalyze robust partnerships, boost the economy in specific geographic regions, address societal challenges, enhance national competitiveness and create high-wage jobs.

“These NSF Engines finalists demonstrate strong promise to become emerging hubs of innovation for our nation. NSF Engines harness the talents and resources to advance our vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere,” says NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “NSF welcomes regional and local organizations to reach out to these finalists and contribute their ideas, talent and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”