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About the NCIIA

The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA)

As a non-profit organization with the purpose of advancing technological entrepreneurship in U.S. higher education, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) combines a clear educational vision with successful programmatic experience and responsiveness to the resource needs of our membership.

The NCIIA was established in 1995 with support from The Lemelson Foundation, the legacy of prolific inventor Jerome Lemelson (1923-1997). Lemelson believed that teaching invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship to young people is the most effective way to bring forth the next generation of innovators–generating new products, creating employment opportunities, and strengthening the national economy. With this vision in mind, The Lemelson Foundation helped create the NCIIA, an organization that would support and encourage invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship education at institutions of higher learning throughout the United States by offering grants for curricular development, and by supporting E-Teams ("E" is for excellence and entrepreneurship), multidisciplinary teams of students, faculty, and industry mentors.

The NCIIA is a structured as a membership association, with more than 200 institutional members nationwide. NCIIA members include many top colleges and research institutions, public and private, in each region of the U.S. In addition to a semi-annual grants program, we offer resources and networking opportunities to our members. Over the seven years since its establishment, the NCIIA has become a key player in the higher education community, and an important source of both idea-sharing and essential resources.

Since 1999, the NCIIA has operated under the umbrella of Five Colleges, Inc., a 501(c)(3) consortium comprising Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance fosters invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship in higher education as a way of creating innovative, commercially viable, and socially beneficial businesses and employment opportunities in the United States. The program was founded on the premise that invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship are essential components of the higher education curriculum and vital to the nation’s economic future. The NCIIA works with colleges and universities to build collaborative experiential learning programs that help nurture a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs with strong technical and business skills and the tools and intention to make the world a better place.

Educational Philosophy

The NCIIA supports creative, interactive, and hands-on pedagogical approaches that help students recognize the relevance of their work both for their own professional futures, and for the benefit of humankind and the national and global economy. Students who participate in NCIIA programs begin as competent technologists, and become, through their experiences, technological entrepreneurs.

Faculty and student participants in our funded projects work in multidisciplinary teams that bring out each participant’s strengths, enabling team members to effectively acquire skills and knowledge from one another. Our student participants view themselves as professionals, and learn deeply about their field through hands-on experience. The opportunity to work on real-world projects with faculty, mentors, and other professionals in the field addresses learning needs frequently not met in a typical classroom.

A typical E-Team develops within a graduate or undergraduate course. In the context of the course, members of the team develop a concept for a technological innovation that they and their professor feel shows promise for successful commercialization. The E-Team then expands its membership, bringing in students and faculty with backgrounds in business and other relevant fields, as well as mentors from industry. When the core team is assembled, and has completed basic market research that validates the idea’s commercial promise, they apply for an Advanced E-Team grant. Grant decisions are announced approximately six weeks after the application deadline, enabling successful projects to continue work in the next semester or over a summer. The grant supports the team through prototype development, patent research, and pre-commercialization activities. The team also uses grant funds to purchase equipment and software, and to compensate advisors for legal, technical, and marketing advice.




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