UNC Research Opportunities Initiative

The NC General Assembly provided support in the 2014-2015 budget bill (Senate Bill 744) for:  “Game-Changing Research (16011) – Funds focused investments in faculty, research and scholarship in six priority areas: advanced manufacturing; data sciences; defense, military, and security; energy; marine and coastal science; and pharmacoengineering. The investment in data sciences shall include data sciences programs at UNC Charlotte.- $3,000,000. Recurring.” 

The UNC ROI will capitalize on current demonstrated strengths of UNC in the sectors targeted in the strategic directions document “Our Time, Our Future” by investing up to $3,000,000 per year in seed funding and programmatic support. 

View the UNC Research Opportunities Initiative website.

Two to four proposals will be funded in the first round. Proposals may request from one to three years of funding. Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs are not allowed. Full proposals will be invited from the pool of pre-proposals that: 

  • Significantly advance UNC research and scholarship in one or more of the six priority areas.
  • Demonstrate the potential for near-term and long-term impact.
  • Develop programs with high potential to leverage significant internal support and external funding from government, corporate, and foundation partners.
  • Describe a realistic sustainability plan.



UNC is home to world-class researchers across many fields. There are areas where, working in partnership with each other and with businesses, foundations, nonprofits, and others, the University can make a real difference. Those areas included in the UNC Strategic Plan are: 

Advanced manufacturing 

Integrates information technology, design methodology, rapid prototyping, automation, computation, software, sensing, networking, and new materials in the production of products, as well as the systems that support and enable them. Examples include robotics and other automation; additive and traditional machining; computation and visualization equipment. Advanced Manufacturing approaches and techniques can apply to cutting-edge technical fields such as aerospace, nanotechnology, and biopharmaceuticals as well as to traditional industries such as furniture, textiles and motor vehicles, all of which are part of the North Carolina manufacturing economy. 

Coastal and marine science

North Carolina has hundreds of miles of ocean beaches, thousands of miles of estuarine coastline, and millions of acres of sounds, creeks, and marshes. As such coastal and marine-related activities are important to the State’s economy, both in traditional sectors (eg. tourism, fisheries, hazard resilience, and marine heritage), and in emerging areas (eg. ocean energy and marine biotechnology). UNC System faculty members are leaders in areas such as marine biotechnology, wind energy, coastal sustainability, marine aquaculture, climate change and marine ecosystem health. It is incumbent on UNC to be at the forefront of understanding our coast. 

Data science

The volume of data available for making decisions has increased exponentially over the past ten years, creating a corresponding need to make sense of and take advantage of that vast data to inform decision-making in fields including scientific research, homeland security, defense, energy management, and many more. Nearly every sector of the U.S. economy struggles with growing data volumes, resulting in “big data” becoming an increasingly important research field. The data management and data analytics sector is worth over $100 billion and is growing at a rate of almost 10% per year, and there are other big data markets such as health care genomics, financial, emergency management, climate, and agribusiness. UNC has strengths in big data that, if collectively harnessed, can provide national leadership in this important sector. 

Defense, military, and security

North Carolina has a robust and growing military community, with the third-largest military population in the United States distributed among six military installations. North Carolina also is home to more than half of all U.S. Special Operations Forces, including three of the five subordinate commands of the U.S. Special Operations Command. UNC’s distinct talents and cutting-edge technology coupled with our strong relationships with these operational end users — and with the U.S. Army Research Office located in Research Triangle Park — offer a distinct advantage: face-to-face interactions with military customers, combat developers, and program managers to better understand DOD and Homeland Security research & development needs, programs, and processes. 


Energy touches the lives of every North Carolinian every day. Critical activities ranging from transportation to operation of factories and offices to heating and cooling our homes hinge or our ability to produce and consume energy. Recognizing that most sources of easily accessible energy are limited and many are non-renewable, UNC must be at the forefront in making discoveries that will fuel our state and the world in the future, and we have a robust foundation on which to build. Investment in a comprehensive effort to take full advantage of the wide array of energy research, development, outreach, and training provided by these and other programs, in collaboration with both private and nonprofit organizations will yield scientific advances in the field and economic advances for the state. 


Pharmacoengineering is the science behind the development of materials and technologies to improve the delivery of therapeutic and diagnostic agents and can lead to new generations of drugs, drug delivery systems, and novel means to assess drug safety and efficacy through imaging and biosensing. Targeted investment in pharmacoengineering within the UNC system will build on the success of medicine and life science at UNC-Chapel Hill and engineering at NC State, and leverage the success of the existing joint Department of Biomedical Engineering between those institutions. The focus of this investment will be on building collaborations between UNC-Chapel Hill’s Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, and College of Arts and Sciences, and NC State’s Colleges of Engineering, Agriculture and Life Sciences, Science, and Veterinary Medicine, as well as with private companies and nonprofits. 

Proposed activities may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Support for faculty hires; 
  • Shared equipment, core facilities, and lease/upfit of research space (labs, shops, studios). 
  • Student (graduate and undergraduate) and postdoctoral support. 
  • Industrial research collaborations. 
  • Proof-of-concept funding for early data collection. 
  • Workshops on emerging multidisciplinary research areas.
  • High-level seminar series to promote networking for innovative project formation. 
  • Concept development and white papers for large scale efforts. 
  • Travel to establish partnerships and to interact with federal and industry program officers.
  • Identification and recruitment of partners (industrial, academic or government).
  • Support for release time, travel, workshops, and other expenses associated with conceptualization and preparation of large grants.
  • Creation and support of resources such as websites, research collaboration sites, or other social networking tools to facilitate large scale research projects.



Do UNC institutions have to work together on a proposal?

Working together on a proposal is not required, but desired.


If institutions work together do they submit separate proposals?

No, a single proposal is required for the institutions and one university has to be the lead on the project.


If money is awarded to a joint team proposal, can teams have separate contracts for money distribution and budgeting?

Yes, the UNC General Administration has flexibility in making separate contracts with partnered UNC universities.  Note that only one proposal is required. 


When can you submit full proposal?

When invited by UNC GA to submit the full proposal. These invitations will come from a review of the pre-proposals.


Does the grant allow faculty support?

Money can be used for permanent or temporary faculty salary support, start-up funding or other forms of support.


Can institutions receive funding from international companies or sponsors?

Yes, you are able to receive outside support. Matching funds are not required, but are allowed.


Can UNC teams partner with collaborators outside the UNC system?

Yes, but UNC ROI money cannot flow to anyone outside the UNC system.


Can the military be a partner?

Yes they can be a partner, but no funds may flow to them.


Can projects focus on more than one of the listed fields?



Is economic impact a required aspect of the proposed work? 

No it is not required but it is desirable.


To what degree is commercialization integral to the proposal?

It is a positive attribute in a proposal. It is not a requirement.


Can funding support students?

The purpose of this funding is not student support per se, but if students are part of the overall research project they can be supported.  This funding is not intended for the startup of new degree programs.


Are centers and institutes eligible to submit a proposal?

Yes, through the appropriate university channels.


Can one person be listed as the PI on multiple proposals?   Can one person be listed as a co-investigator/ key personnel on multiple proposals?

Yes to both.


How many pre-proposals may each institution to submit?

There is no limit on how many pre-proposals an institution can submit. However, all pre-proposals must be prioritized and submitted by the Chief Research Officer of the primary institution (home campus of the principal investigator).


Will the committee link similar pre-proposals between two universities?

UNC GA may do this if the pre-proposals are similar.


Will the topics be the same next year when the ROI is again released?

We anticipate that they will be the same.


Is there any prioritization among the six listed project areas?

No, there is not.


Is there a format for the budget on the pre-proposal? Can it be on a standard federal form?

There is no format required for the pre-proposal budget and justification. It only needs to fit within the one page length. For invited proposals, there will be a required format.


When does funding need to be spent in the first “year”?

We recognize that the initial funding will need to be spent/encumbered in just 4-5 months.  Therefore in year 1, proposers should make every effort to develop a realistic budget that reflects this shorter time frame.


Is there a specific UNC data management plan?

No there is not, but if the future intention is to pursue federal funding from an agency that does require a DMP, it is advisable to structure the work to accommodate one.


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