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The Illinois Innovation Voucher program is designed to foster research, development, and commercialization in key industry sectors to create new products and services that can lead to economic and job growth in the state. The program invites a wide range of project types across multiple industries, including, but not limited to: Agribusiness and Agtech, Energy, Information Technology, Life Science and Healthcare, Manufacturing, Transportation and Logistics.

To support applicants, ISTC has gathered examples of projects from similar voucher programs and examples of business profiles that would be eligible for voucher support. These examples are intended to provide context as well as inspiration for potential applicants by demonstrating exceptional approaches to project scope and exceptional use of project funds.

These examples include projects that leveraged funds to support:
  • Use of Facilities Research
  • Sponsored Projects by Professors and Research Teams
  • Prototyping and Proof of Concept

Join Us for an Information Session

Join us for an upcoming information session where ISTC will be hosting a webinar to provide insights into the Innovation Program. This session will cover topics such as eligibility, the application process, and what recipients can expect from the voucher program. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

      About the Program            Eligibility          Voucher Use Cases          Application Process          What to expect if awarded

About the Program:

How does the Innovation Voucher Program work?

The Illinois General Assembly established the Innovation Voucher Program (20 ILCS 605/605-1060), which Governor Pritzker signed into law incentivizing R&D engagements between small and midsize enterprises (SME) and institutions of higher education to help capitalize on Illinois’ R&D assets, and boost the competitiveness of Illinois companies. The Illinois Innovation Voucher program allows small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to apply for a voucher up to $75,000. The voucher can be used to receive academic research support from one of the state of Illinois qualifying Institutions of higher education. If you are awarded an innovation voucher, you can use it to procure leading-edge academic expertise to meet your innovation project requirements. 

Who is leading the Illinois Innovation Voucher Program?

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), in partnership with the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC

Why was the Innovation Voucher Program created?

Research and Development (R&D) drives the creation of new products and services and is a critical factor for economic growth. Despite being home to world-class universities, national research centers, federal labs, and some of the most innovative companies, Illinois’ R&D activity has lagged many peer states and the country. The Illinois General Assembly established the Innovation Voucher Program (20 ILCS 605/605-1060), which Governor Pritzker signed into law incentivizing R&D engagements to help reverse these trends, capitalize on Illinois’ R&D assets, and boost the competitiveness of Illinois companies.

Innovation Vouchers will provide grants for companies to engage in research projects in partnership with a qualifying Illinois institution of higher education. This will facilitate the sharing of technologies, knowledge, facilities, and equipment and ultimately lead to the production of more Illinois-based goods and services and spur economic growth in the state.

Eligibility:

Who is eligible to apply?

Small and medium-sized companies (SME) who are based in Illinois, maintain a majority of its business operations within Illinois, employ not more than five hundred (500) persons, 
commit to maintaining operations in Illinois for the duration of the project, and operate in key industries (including, but not limited to agribusiness and agtech; energy; information technology; life sciences and healthcare; manufacturing; and transportation and logistics).

I am a sole proprietor, may I apply for an Illinois innovation voucher

No, the innovation voucher program is for small and medium-sized companies created as a C Corporation, S Corporation, Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), or Limited Liability Partnership (LLP).

How do I know if my business is eligible?

Eligibility criteria is listed on the website. Most importantly, your company must be a small-medium-sized company (SME) who is based in Illinois, maintains a majority of its business operations within Illinois, employs not more than five hundred (500) persons, 
commits to maintaining operations in Illinois for the duration of the project, and operates in key industries (including, but not limited to  agribusiness and agtech; energy; information technology; life sciences and healthcare; manufacturing; and transportation and logistics).

Who are the Higher Education Institutions?

DCEO approves all partners, which include public and private, non-profit higher education institutions with research capabilities Not all state universities and colleges have research capabilities. 

You can research all universities and colleges at the Illinois Board of Higher Education at https://www.ibhe.org/.

Voucher Use Cases:

What types of vouchers available?

There is only one type of voucher currently available in this program. Vouchers can cover up to 75% of a project’s cost awarded up to $75,000.You can identify your academic research partner during the application process or ask ISTC to help you secure a partner. Vouchers must be used within 12 months from the date of issue. The company and the academic research partner jointly agree on the work, schedule, and budget for the project in advance of submitting an application.

Can I use my innovation voucher with a private sector company researcher?

The voucher may NOT be used with a private-sector researcher.

Application Process:

How can I apply?

Applications are made online via the DCEO / ISTC application system https://ilinnovoucher.istcoalition.org/apply). Mailed or emailed applications will not be accepted. 

When can I apply?

Voucher Applications are accepted throughout the year and reviewed every other month, starting in March of 2024 and continuing in, May, July, September, and November. Review start dates will be listed on the website. The evaluation, approval and funding process takes 60 days to complete. There may be factors that delay this process.

What information is needed about our Higher Education Research Partner?

The application will ask you to identify your higher education research partner. If you do not have one, ISTC will set up a discovery call with you to help match you to a university partner. 

What to expect if awarded:

How many vouchers will be awarded?

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) awards the vouchers following a review of both the eligibility and viability of the proposed project. During this pilot year of the program, we anticipate funding at least 60% of qualified applicants. The main reasons for turning down applications are non-eligibility of the applicant, insufficient information, ineligible activity, and insufficient level of innovation. 

What do we do if we receive a voucher?

Vouchers will be issued after approval, and the voucher will be used for the company’s outlined project with its qualifying Institution of higher education partner. The partners will provide regular programmatic reporting to the Innovation Program Manager, including program milestones, issues, outcomes, and successes. ISTC will be the intermediary for project issues, collecting data, and distributing funds at the beginning of the project. 

Are vouchers subject to state and/or federal taxation?

Vouchers are taxable in almost all instances, but we recommend consulting with a qualified tax professional.

Can I apply again if I am unsuccessful the first time?

Yes. If you were unsuccessful in your first submission, you will receive feedback about the issues with your application. Please take this feedback into account before applying again.

How does the process start?

The company can initiate the process by contacting their contact at a qualified Illinois university or college and receive permission to move forward with the application process, OR an ISTC program manager can meet with you to discuss your company the project, and help identify possible partners.

How does the process continue?

The company submits its joint application via the submission portal. The applications are reviewed, scored, and approved. A voucher is then released. This process usually takes 60 days. Delays may occur in this process, including secondary sector reviews if needed and other circumstances within ISTC or DCEO. You will be kept up to date through the entire process

What should be agreed before the innovation/research project begins?

The SME and the qualifying Institution of Higher Education partner must agree on the proposed project work, schedule, and budget. It is advised that the academic partner assist in drafting the project and assist in the voucher application process. Things to consider are: scope of work, timelines, deliverables, and costs. The company must make the decision if the academic research partner is correct for the project. When an agreement has been reached by both the company and the academic partner, both parties will sign a Voucher Agreement.

How are the full costs of the project addressed?

The voucher program issues awards of up to 75% of project costs not to exceed $75,000, which is used to offset the final costs of the project as agreed between the company and the Illinois institution of higher education. In the event that the final costs are more significant than the award received,  the company will pay the balance. It is therefore highly recommended that the company works together with its partner and agrees upon the project and cost structure prior to beginning the project.

Should I expect a finished commercial product as a deliverable?

Yes and No. Projects usually run from 3-12 months. These are academic research projects, and a finished commercial product may or may not be a deliverable. Examples of the type of deliverables you could expect are reports, drawings, technical specifications, technology roadmaps, rough product or process prototypes, or the results of specific analyses. This particularly applies to projects in the software and engineering sectors. 

Can a company have more than one Voucher?

No. A company can only receive one voucher per twelve (12) month period.

How long is a voucher valid?

All vouchers will be assigned an issue date and must be used within the agreed timeline of the project scope; no more than twelve (12) consecutive months.

Can the voucher timeline be extended?

Possibly; ISTC will monitor the project and request updates from the company and institution of higher education on a regular basis. Under most circumstances, all projects will need to follow the submitted and approved timeline. If an extension is required. There will be a procedure for the institution of higher education (not the company) to request an extension and the extension will only be issued once and for not more than six (6) months.

How is the Voucher money received by the company?

The monies will be sent via ACH. Prior to payment, an ACH form will need to be completed by the company.

What can the Company and Research Partner claim as eligible costs on voucher projects?

Innovation Vouchers can be used for the sharing of technologies, knowledge, facilities, and equipment- leading to the production of Illinois-based innovation goods and services and may include access to research or scientific expertise, new product/process development, commercialization of new or enhanced products, prototyping, piloting, testing, and product validation, new business model development, new service development, innovation/technology audit, Implementation of new technology, metrology, and standardization, etc. This list is not exhaustive.

What are ineligible costs on voucher projects?

The Innovation Voucher may not be used to cover the costs of internal salary costs, travel, rent, entertainment or hospitality costs, standard training courses, software purchases, internships or student support, design and production of advertising material, branding, sales activities, costs associated with applying for grants or programs, business plans, business strategies, advice or assistance with general legal, commercial law, patents, taxation, business consulting, and marketing activities. This list is not exhaustive.

Who can I contact about the program or issues after my project starts?

 Illinois Science and Technology Coalition is DCEO’s partner in this program. Please contact Jacob Barry at Jacob@istcoalition.org


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