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Cornell China Center Innovation Grants

Solar panels at the Bund in Shanghai
Solar panels at the Bund in Shanghai


The Cornell China Center welcomes proposals from interdisciplinary, collaborative teams that will develop innovative research projects that have far-reaching impact in and for China.

Research teams should include two or more Cornell faculty from different departments and engaged collaborators in China. Applications must clearly identify long-term research goals and intended impact, demonstrating a high potential to either attract continuous funding beyond the grant period or help the center to broker more resources for the research on the topics.

The center expects to award up to five grants of between $100,000 to $200,000 each, to be spent over 24-36 months.

Grant Timeline

  • September 28, 2018: Grant information sessions
  • October 10, 2018: 2-page letters of intent (LOI) due by 5 p.m.
  • October 26, 2018: LOI feedback returned to applicant teams
  • November 16, 2018: Full proposals due by 5 p.m.
  • January 15, 2019: Funding decisions announced
  • July 1, 2019: Latest project start date

Priority Themes

The Cornell China Center features a dynamic set of themes that are determined by interest, expertise, and relevance.

During this grant funding cycle, we especially welcome research focused on these initial priority themes:

  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for China and the World: Food security, health and well-being, sustainability, and resilience are all key features of the SDGs, and research in China has real potential to help meet the United Nations’ goals. This theme will promote work in agriculture, health, animal science, and resilience.
  • Technologies for Innovation: Many of the world’s most pressing problems are evident in China and the search for solutions is underway. This theme will promote cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral (industry, academy, government, consumer, etc.) research and education to facilitate the development of innovative new technologies in a range of fields.
  • Contemporary Chinese Society: China has long provided innovative models for governance, social organization, and markets. This theme will promote multiscalar and comparative work within and beyond China.
  • New Urbanization and Real Estate Innovations: China is rapidly urbanizing and experimenting with new forms of planning, design, and management; at the same time, rural areas remain closely connected to urban areas through agriculture, migration, energy, and more. This theme will bring together work on innovative urbanism and rural-urban connections to address the economic, environmental, and social challenges of contemporary urbanization.
  • Chinese Culture(s) and Global Connections: Long before the “Age of Exploration,” Chinese ships sailed the oceans. This theme will foster research on Chinese history, art, and culture, investigating the many connections between China and the world.

The center will also consider projects on other themes that build new collaborations with China.

Interdisciplinary Teams

Applications are accepted from teams of two or more Cornell University faculty who come from two or more separate departments (or significantly different fields of study) to collaborate with at least one highly engaged Chinese collaborator who plans a significant role in the project.

At least two Cornell team members must meet Cornell’s principal investigator (PI) eligibility criteria.

Guidelines for Letters of Intent to Submit a Proposal

The director of the Cornell China Center and the vice provost for international affairs will respond to each letter with feedback on proposed projects for teams to consider in their full proposals.

Please email your letter (max 2 pages) to as a single MS Word or PDF document, including these sections:

  1. A project title, 1-paragraph summary of project aims, significance, and rationale (note China Center priority theme(s) to be addressed if applicable);
  2. Names and affiliations of applicants and collaborators from Cornell and other institutions, including brief statements about how the proposed project builds on and fits into their own (or their organization’s) priorities and work;
  3. An explanation of how the seed funds will contribute to a longer-term research and/or collaboration agenda and fundraising strategy, including any plans to pursue significant external funding based on the proposed research (including specific opportunities if known);
  4. Proposed deliverables, including a final report;
  5. A project timeline, including estimated project begin and end dates; and
  6. Anticipated expenses.

Proposal Submission Guidelines

Compliance with U.S. and Chinese Regulatory Requirements. All projects must be structured to comply with applicable U.S. and Chinese regulations concerning export controls and the management of regulated technologies and data, and projects must satisfy Cornell’s commitment to the free and open publication of research results.

Submit your proposal via this Qualtrics form.

The form will ask that you enter grant and researcher information and upload the proposal as a single PDF document containing these five components: (1) a cover sheet, (2) your proposal narrative, (3) a budget sheet prepared using our Excel template (see link, below), (4) 2-page CVs for PIs and collaborators, and (5) collaborator letter(s). Details are outlined, below.

Your proposal will be read by an interdisciplinary faculty review committee, so it should be understandable to researchers outside your field.


1-page cover sheet:

  • Project title.

  • Total funding amount requested.

  • Project location(s).

  • Project participants (for the lead Cornell PI include name, title, department, school, email address, and department administrative manager name and email address; for all other Cornell participants and collaborators include name, title, institutional affiliation and email address).

  • An abstract (maximum 100 words) of the proposed activity, understandable by the general public, that can be used in publicity material, including project significance, rationale, goals and intended impact.

  • The China Center priority theme(s) that the project addresses, if applicable.

Project narrative (10 pages maximum, single-spaced, size 10 font):

  • A project description including an overview of proposed project activities, a compelling vision of what the project hopes to achieve, clarity on what critical challenge this project addresses, and brief statements about how the project builds on and fits into the priorities and work of participants (3-page max for narrative + up to 1 page for references).

  • A detailed timeline listing grant activities by month, including any needed approvals from Cornell and/or elsewhere for research on human subjects or live vertebrate animals, deliverable completion and buffer time for unexpected delays.

  • It may take a few weeks to establish project agreements and permissions at the university level before funds can be transferred, so target a project start date between March and July 2019.
  • A brief summary of key people to be engaged, including their respective roles in the project.

  • Milestones: A specific timeline of well-defined activities and measurable outcomes from the project.

  • Metrics of success: Specific, measurable indicators that are appropriate and can be used to evaluate the performance of the project.

  • A communication plan for how (and how often) team members plan to communicate to complete the project goals.

  • A follow-on funding plan that explains how the research or activity launched by this grant award will be continued if successful. Include information on potential source(s) of funding and the level and timing of follow-on funding necessary to continue the research or activity launched by this seed grant.

  • Information on any related current and pending support from other sources relevant to the activities proposed for this grant. Use any format that includes the following: project/proposal title, funding source, award amount, award period, relationship to the currently proposed project (e.g., co-financing of materials or personnel, overlapping objectives, use of data or equipment, similar partnerships, etc.). For ongoing work or projects that build off existing work, clarify what the grant will add to work already undertaken.

  • 1-3 photos related to the project for use in Cornell China Center website and other publicity. If selected for a grant, we will contact you for high-quality images (not included in page limit).

Project budget:

Complete this Excel budget template: 

Provide sufficient information in the justification column for reviewers to understand the funding request. If more space is needed, you may attach a second page with budget justification information. Have your department/unit administrative manager approve your budget before submission.


  • Provide brief (2-page max) CVs for each Cornell Principal Investigator.

  • Provide 2-page CVs or bios (in English) of key collaborator(s).

Letter from your collaborator(s):

Provide a letter written by your collaborator(s) indicating:

  • Their support of the proposal submission
  • Their planned role in the project
  • Their experience relevant to the project
  • Their expectations for project impact

If collaborator letters are not in English, please provide a  translation.

Supplemental Information

This information is intended to help detail and clarify the proposal process.

Geographic Scope

We welcome collaborative, interdisciplinary proposals led by Cornell faculty that will generate impact in and for Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and/or Taiwan. We encourage you to consider how to maximize your project’s efficacy, and impact is a key factor that the review committee will evaluate.

Cornell Principal Investigator (PI) Eligibility

Applications are accepted from teams of two or more current permanent Cornell University faculty or senior academic staff who meet Cornell’s PI eligibility criteria and who come from two or more separate departments (or significantly different fields of study) at any Cornell campus (Ithaca, Weill, Cornell Tech, Cornell AgriTech). A Cornell faculty member may lead and/or be a team member for more than one proposal.

It is advantageous for at least one Cornell PI to have prior knowledge of the project region, collaborator(s), and/or research topic—and the ability to function in the local language as relevant to the proposed project. Projects that outline plans to build familiarity as may be necessary for the proposed project are also welcome and eligible for funding. We suggest including plans to mitigate any limitations through local collaborators, interpreters, etc.

Collaborator Eligibility

The Innovation Grants are seed grants intended to facilitate the development of long-term, impactful collaborative work and platforms. Projects should have at least one highly-engaged collaborator who is expected to be in place for the long term, maintains a significant role in the project, and works at an institution (university, research institute, laboratory, private company, foundation, organization, etc.) based in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and/or Taiwan. An external collaborator may participate in more than one Innovation Grant project.


Information and resources for planning for and conducting international projects can be found on the Cornell University Navigate site. An Excel budget template will be available to applicants after the Letter of Intent submission stage. Please consult your department/unit financial administrator with financial questions and request a budget check before you submit your full proposal.

Eligible grant activities include: project staff support (including hourly student employment, graduate student stipends/tuition/health insurance, postdoc/researcher/staff stipends, fringe benefits), travel expenses for research and meetings, workshop-type events related to collaborative research, hosting visitors, data collection, interpretation, translation, website construction, and publication expenses. These grants may provide salary support for a non-tenured Cornell staff person's direct effort on a proposed project with substantive justification that existing resources in the department, college, or central offices are not able to provide adequate support with existing staffing.

Innovation Grants may support project staff effort at collaborating Chinese institutions (e.g., graduate students, postdocs, and research staff), which may involve an MOA between institutions. The collaborating Chinese institution will hire and pay its workers based on its normal hiring rates and standards, oversee the work, and invoice Cornell. This is the preferred and most economical method to fund staff effort of staff abroad. If additional project support is required, other staffing options in China include the following:

  • Direct employment through Ezra (Beijing) Business Consulting Co. Ltd, a Cornell-owed entity, which will include additional expenses of 25 to 30% plus potential legal and translation fees
  • Employment outsourcing through Cornell’s Recruiting and Payroll service provider (FESCO)
  • Procurement of services from a local service provider

Your business service center and department/unit administrator will handle any payments to external collaborators. Please have this discussion within your administrative staff before submitting your proposal.

Ineligible grant activities include: salaries and associated fringe-benefit costs for tenured and tenure-track faculty at Cornell and other universities (including effort for faculty in soft-money positions), teaching buyout, executive education programs, indirect costs (none required for this internal grant), federally unallowable costs, and items not specified in your project budget.

Budget line items are subject to review. The funding will come from an Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs (OVPIA) restricted gift account and will be transferred to the academic department of the lead faculty member, whose department administrator will be asked to create a new restricted gift account to accept these funds. Any unused funds at the end of the project period will revert to OVPIA.

Finalists and their administrative staff will be put in touch with Cornell’s Global Operations Team to ensure that all relevant costs are budgeted; that the project’s legal, financial, safety, and logistical considerations have been addressed; and that best financial management practices and Cornell standards are followed during project administration. OVPIA provides parameters on purchasing and hiring to avoid certain tax risks and legal issues in China. With support from OVPIA, Cornell University legal counsel will review research partnerships and ensure that contracts are written to protect intellectual property.

Memorandum of Agreement

Innovation Grant recipients will be directed to OVPIA to determine whether a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and/or other business service agreements will be needed. An MOA, which is processed through the Cornell MOA Registry (managed by OVPIA), is required in most instances of significant, multi-year collaboration with an international institution of higher education, organization, or other foreign entity. Such relationships typically involve exchanges of people (i.e., faculty, staff, or students) and/or substantive ideas and/or the hiring of project support staff abroad. Innovation Grant projects that do not trigger the need to initiate the MOA Registry process may require a business service agreement—e.g., a consulting agreement, service provider contract, or purchase order—to protect the university’s interests. If Cornell requires an MOA, OVPIA will help the project team to create one.

Research on Humans and Live Vertebrate Animals

All research that involves human participants must be either exempted from review or approved by the Cornell University Institutional Review Board (IRB) before it can be initiated. If you are a member of the Cornell University faculty or staff, or a Cornell University student, and you are the person responsible for the conduct of the study (PI), you must get Cornell IRB approval to conduct your research regardless of where the research takes place. Investigators should contact the IRB office whenever collaborative research is occurring. You should also be aware that your project may need local IRB approval (or the equivalent ethical review) in addition to Cornell's. Please see IRB SOP #14 for more information about IRB requirements with international human participant research. Separate applications for each institution may be necessary; however, in order to avoid duplicate review, an IRB Authorization Agreement may be arranged with the other institution to establish one IRB as the designated IRB to review and approve the research.

All research with live vertebrate animals conducted by Cornell personnel, or using Cornell resources, or paid for with Cornell funds must meet all applicable regulations and university policies regarding the humane care and use of animals and is subject to review and approval by the Cornell IACUC. Regardless of where the work is being done, the Cornell researcher is responsible for ensuring that these policies and procedures are followed.

Project Selection Criteria

A faculty review committee comprising the Cornell China Center’s Academic Director and at least two additional Cornell professors will evaluate proposals, and determine awards and funding levels, based on the following criteria:

  • Intellectual merit and significance (addresses a pressing challenge for China)
  • Fit with center objectives & current priority themes
  • Design of proposed activities
  • Metrics (clear and realistic milestones and indicators of success)
  • Budget (reasonable expenses for anticipated results)
  • Team strength (members from multiple disciplines and countries demonstrate high levels of commitment, enthusiasm for collaboration, and joint planning)
  • Level of impact
  • Likelihood to lead to sustained collaborative work and/or significant external funding

Awardee Responsibilities

Successful project leaders who receive funding are strongly encouraged to participate in opportunities that arise to showcase projects:

  • Participate in occasional events through the Cornell China Center, including attending at least one center annual conference, presenting at a poster session at the Cornell University Global Grand Challenge Symposium (anticipated to be held in Ithaca in fall 2019), presenting at a Cornell-in-China colloquia series for a broad audience in Beijing when you are there for your work, etc.
  • Submit annual grant reports and a final report using a template provided by the Cornell China Center.
  • Prepare an end-of-project public press release on your project results. (Communication staff in the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs are available to help.)
  • Acknowledge the Cornell China Center in all project products (reports, publications, presentations, etc.) that were made possible, in whole or in part, through this grant.