Uncle Sam earmarks $54M of CHIPS funding for small-biz semiconductor boffinry

Up to 24 outfits to bag taxpayer cash for projects 'developing a viable product or service' for US chip industry

Small businesses wishing they could get their hands on some of those billions of dollars in semiconductor funding being doled out as part of America's CHIPS Act are in luck, as the White House has set aside $54 million for tiny firms with big ideas.

The US Commerce Department said on Tuesday that it had published a funding opportunity for small chip industry players with novel concepts mainly pertaining to metrology, or the science of measurement and its application. Successful applicants will be awarded funds "to explore the technical merit or feasibility of an innovative idea or technology for developing a viable product or service for introduction in the commercial microelectronics marketplace," the department said. 

What that overly wordy statement means is that the Department of Commerce and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are looking for commercially viable research projects in several areas to bankroll using CHIPS Act cash. Among them are measurement services, tools, and instrumentation; innovative manufacturing metrologies; novel assurance and provenance technologies; and advanced metrology R&D testbeds. 

NIST and the Commerce Department expect to explore new tech ideas including compact fieldable cryogenic tech, compact extreme ultraviolet sources, and the seven grand challenges defined in NIST's 2022 Strategic Opportunities for US Semiconductor Manufacturing document [PDF] published in 2022. 

Along with several metrology-related challenges, the seven grand challenges include modeling and simulation semiconductor design and manufacturing and standardizing new materials and processes.

As has been the case with all of the CHIPS and Science Act funding handed out lately, the goal is "to help secure US leadership in the global semiconductor industry," the Commerce Department said. 

Companies pining for a piece of the $54 million pie have until June 14 to apply, and NIST anticipates awarding 24 companies [PDF] with funding as part of the project.

Initial awards for the first phase of the project - a six month period for feasibility research - will top out at $283,500 with an additional $6,500 requestable for technical and business assistance. Applicants also have to ask for phase-two research and development funding as part of their applications, though there's no guarantee they'll be selected for the second phase of the project.

Those that make it past the feasibility stage could see additional awards of up to $1.9 million and an additional $50,000 for additional technical and business assistance for the 24-month R&D phase. 

"CHIPS for America is committed to building opportunities for all businesses, including small businesses, to prosper as we grow the US semiconductor industry," US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said of the announcement. 

"We recognize the high costs associated with innovation in the semiconductor industry," Raimondo added, so the program will offer maximum funding amounts "to ensure opportunity is within reach for all businesses seeking to be part of the US semiconductor ecosystem." ®

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