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Academic Venture Fund RFP 2024

Diadasia rinconis (Apidae) Chimney Bee in Arizona | photo by Bruce Taubert

Academic Venture Fund 2024 Request for Proposals

The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability invites proposals for the Academic Venture Fund (AVF) program. This fund stimulates innovative and interdisciplinary sustainability research, convenings, and programmatic development at Cornell. The AVF is intended to support research that would not be funded by traditional granting organizations because the proposed activity is interdisciplinary, still early in development, highly innovative, or some combination of these factors.

All proposals must show a clear means of effecting real-world impact, such as impact on policies, practices, products and/or opinions. We prioritize projects with the potential for sustained adoption and implementation. We also prioritize proposals that demonstrate a clear and convincing potential to secure external follow-on funding. We are especially interested in projects that incorporate elements of diversity, such as research questions related to issues of diversity, social justice, and equity, or projects that include diverse perspectives through external collaborators, such as organizations, communities, or individuals. We encourage proposals that include Cornell undergraduates as members of the research team. Successful proposals will advance sustainability locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally.

2024 Program Timetable

  • Dec. 14, 2023: AVF program call issued
  • Jan. 16, 2024: AVF Information Session (2-3 p.m. ET)
  • Jan. 19, 2024: Optional Feedback Letters Due
  • Jan. 25, 2024: AVF Information Session (10-11 a.m.)
  • Mar. 8, 2024: Full proposals due (by 11:59 p.m. ET)
  • June 3, 2024: Applicants notified
  • Jul. 1, 2024: Projects can start


Proposal Themes

Cornell Atkinson continues to welcome proposals from interdisciplinary teams of faculty across campus, spanning the entire range of sustainability themes. Consistent with our strategic plan, we will prioritize proposals that advance the development of resilient rural-urban systems and priority themes listed below. Knowledge of the integrated systems that connect rural and urban communities—including food, water, health, climate, conservation finance, and energy systems—is vital to the creation of a sustainable future. Proposals may also find inspiration in the ambition of the university-wide Cornell 2030 Project to accelerate climate solutions in this decisive decade.

Priority Themes include:

  • Increasing Food Security: Improving the interlinked systems of food production, processing, and distribution to meet the nutritional needs of current and future populations while enhancing the quality of life of those earning a livelihood within food systems and the state of the ecosystems on which all depend.
  • Reducing Climate Risks: Innovating technology, financial instruments, and policy to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations and adapt infrastructure, agriculture, and health systems to equitably protect human health, safety, and prosperity from the impact of increasingly catastrophic droughts, floods, storms, and wildfires.
  • Accelerating Energy Transitions: Innovating technology, informing policy change, and advancing corporate leadership to accelerate the transition to clean energy.
  • Advancing One Health: Improving the health of humans, other animals, and their shared environment, acknowledging that success will be achieved by recognizing and working through their linkages.

Additionally, we seek proposals that recognize and incorporate the concept that reducing societal inequity is an essential element in sustainability research. We also encourage projects that seek to improve the physical structures, features, and environment in which people live and work.

Knowledge to Impact

To further Cornell Atkinson’s goals of increasing diversity, inclusion, and impact, AVF awardees will have the opportunity to apply for supplemental funding of up to $25,000. This Innovation for Impact funding will be used to enable the participation and engagement of external organizations or communities in the research project. This supplemental funding is designed to help take knowledge to action by incorporating diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and expertise.

All AVF proposals must:

  • Describe a clear path to impact. Clearly outline the steps of your project and how each step leads to the next and, ultimately, to the impact you hope to achieve. Importantly, describe how your project will move from the output to the outcomes and impact stages, and the role your partners might play in helping to achieve this. The illustration below can help you think through these steps (adapted from the Theory of Change methodology).
  • Demonstrate a strong interdisciplinary team approach to the project, or clearly explain why a single disciplinary approach is sufficient to achieve a sustainability outcome (e.g., a next step in product development).

 (We are especially interested in how your external partners and other collaborators might ensure research findings lead to real-world impact. For example, how will external partners help get findings into the hands of policymakers? Or how might community partners help ensure adoption of recommendations?)


Review Criteria

Proposals will be reviewed and evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Intellectual Merit: Will the proposal advance understanding – filling gaps in academic and/or non-academic knowledge – regarding important sustainability issues? Is the research innovative?
  • Impact: Does the proposed research project have the potential to impact real-world changes and/or solutions leading to greater sustainability? Are the critical steps on the path to impact clearly articulated and convincing?
  • Follow-on Funding: Does the proposal clearly describe the potential for follow-on funding? Does the proposal describe how the AVF funding will increase the likelihood of securing such funding?
  • Collaborations: Does the proposal establish or convincingly outline new, important, lasting collaborations within Cornell and/or with external organizations, communities, or individuals? Are the roles of listed participants clearly explained?
  • Interdisciplinary Reach: Does the research team reach across disciplines and/or campus units? If not, does the proposal clearly explain and justify why this approach is not needed?
  • Metrics: Does the proposal include clear and appropriate measures of success and explicit milestones with a realistic timeline?

Proposals will be reviewed and evaluated using the above criteria by faculty fellows and researchers working with our leadership team. Reviewers will have a broad range of expertise and background and will not necessarily be subject matter experts. Proposals should be written accordingly.

Applicants are encouraged to contact members of the Cornell Atkinson leadership team to discuss their ideas prior to submission in order to help strengthen proposals by addressing AVF goals and identifying potential collaborators or partnerships.

The center is offering information sessions on Zoom to help prospective applicants on Tuesday, January 16th from 2-3 p.m. (RSVP) and on Thursday, January 25th from 10-11 a.m. (RSVP). Faculty members considering submitting proposals are encouraged to attend. Please contact Kurt Fritjofson for more information.


Principal Investigators and Eligibility

We continue to prioritize interdisciplinary, multiple-investigator research projects addressing complex real-world problems that require a range of perspectives and expertise to solve. We encourage teams of faculty investigators from different Cornell departments and colleges to apply, but collaborators within a single department can be considered if they have sufficient breadth of expertise and perspective. We will consider single-investigator proposals if there is a clear and compelling justification that explains why a multiple-investigator approach is not appropriate. All PIs must meet Cornell’s principal investigator (PI) eligibility criteria.


Optional Feedback Letters (due by 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, January 19, 2024)

Applicants may submit a letter requesting feedback ahead of submitting a final proposal. Cornell Atkinson Faculty Directors will review and provide feedback on all letters submitted. The letter must be limited to one page and include a clear statement of the potential real-world impact of the project. Letters will be accepted through our online portal. The application portal link can also be found on the Cornell Atkinson website.

Note – these letters are not considered in the full proposal review process.


Full Proposals (due by 11:59 p.m. ET Friday, March 8, 2024)

Full proposals will be accepted through an online application portal. Submit the full proposal online at this link. The application portal link can also be found on the Atkinson website.

The complete proposal must consist of a cover sheet, a narrative with supporting information, and a budget. Awards will be made for projects of up to 24 months duration.


Proposal Instructions

  1. Go to the online submission page and fill in the cover sheet
  2. Provide an abstract in non-technical language (maximum 300 words) of the proposed This abstract may be used in whole or adapted for AVF announcements and publicity material.
  3. Complete a proposal narrative with supporting information. This must be a single pdf file, with 12-point font, single-spaced, with at least one-inch margins. See instructions for proposal narrative content
  4. Fill in the project budget template (excel spreadsheet). Upload the budget to complete your AVF funding may be used for any reasonable and appropriate research expense. Partial support for research associates, postdocs, and technical staff is permitted. Support for graduate and undergraduate students is permitted. Funding cannot be used to support tenure-track faculty salaries. The maximum AVF budget request is $150,000.

The narrative sections (I-VII) must not exceed FIVE PAGES and must include all the following sections.
Any list of references is not included in this five-page limit.  Use these section headings in your narrative:


Summarize your research topic and its importance. Explain what led you to this topic, including your prior experience (research or other) and the timeliness and importance of the project. Also include the overarching challenge and research questions that you will address and a summary of methods to be used.


Discuss how the proposal advances understanding and fits into the current body of knowledge around sustainability issues (consider academic and non-academic knowledge, for example, knowledge gaps of an NGO or other non-academic partner). Describe how this research is innovative – in its research questions, methods/approach/data collection/ways of knowing, team formation, and/or other aspects.


Summarize how the proposed research has the potential to impact real-world changes and solutions leading to greater sustainability. Explain how the project will change or influence behavior, practice, procedures, or policy to help implement sustainable solutions the world needs. Consider temporal (short, intermediate, and long-term) and spatial (local, regional, national, global) impacts. Include the intended concrete steps on the path to impact (refer to the Theory of Change diagram above).


Describe the potential for external follow-on funding and the possible sources of this funding. Outline how the AVF seed funding will increase the likelihood of securing such funding.


Describe how your project will help establish or strengthen new, important, lasting collaborations within Cornell and/or with external organizations, communities, or individuals. Describe actual or prospective external partners that can apply scale, diverse perspective, or otherwise further the research discoveries of the project, as well as their level of engagement. If local collaborators are included in the research proposal, such as local individuals and/or communities, describe who will be involved in the project, as well as your plan for effectively engaging these collaborators.


Describe how the research will reach across disciplines and/or campus units, including a plan that describes how new, substantive connections will be established to form the interdisciplinary team. If the research does not include multiple or interdisciplinary investigators, clearly explain, and justify why this approach is not needed.


Include clear and appropriate measures of success and explicit milestones with a realistic timeline that can be used to evaluate the team’s progress in advancing sustainability. Include your plan/timeline for involving postdocs, graduate students, or undergraduate students in the research.

Also include (not part of the 5-page maximum):


Provide sufficient information for reviewers to understand the funding request. AVF funding may be used for any reasonable and appropriate research expense. Partial support for research associates, postdocs, and technical staff is permitted. Support for graduate and undergraduate students is allowed. Funding cannot be used to support tenure-track faculty salaries.


Include a brief CV for the lead author and each co-PI. CVs for senior investigators are optional. Strict two-page maximum per investigator. Excess CV pages will be deleted from the final review package.



Investigators awarded AVF funds will:

  • Meet with the Center leadership to discuss the progress of efforts in research, intended applications, desired impacts, development of Cornell and external partnerships, follow-on funding, and milestones met or
  • Submit annual and final reports. Reports should describe results and progress relating to each specific metric of success presented in the original
  • Respond to surveys or other requests for information about the longer-term impacts of the AVF project after the funding ends
  • Acknowledge Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability in all presentations, reports, and publications stemming at least in part from this funding. Guidance for acknowledging your affiliation with Cornell Atkinson can be found on our website.


E-mail with any questions.


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