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It seems that NSF only supports researchers affiliated with academic institutions. For instance, if a researcher is in the industry, is there a chance to get funding from NSF for a pure academic research?

Let's say the researcher's employer is not a scientific/research establishment, maybe it's a manufacturing plant, and the researcher's interest has nothing to do with his/her daily job.

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    There are non-academic research institutions/companies in industry that employ researchers to do research for them. Are you including them in your question, or asking only about the case where the research is totally not supported by the employer? – ff524 Jan 6 '15 at 1:05
  • @ff524, both cases are interesting, but the totally unsupported case is most interesting to me. – Aksakal Jan 6 '15 at 1:30
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    Generally speaking, it's my understanding that NSF grants are awarded to institutions (to be used by the PI), not to individuals (with the exceptions of some fellowships for grad students and postdocs, which have other specific eligibility requirements) – ff524 Jan 6 '15 at 2:20
  • @ff524, I had the same suspicion that NSF do not grant the researcher but grants the institution. – Aksakal Jan 6 '15 at 2:40
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Another answer quotes the Grant Proposal Guide, which is of course the essential resource.

The NSF does solicit proposals (like other agencies) for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

But I'd also say that whenever you have questions about NSF funding for a research idea, I'd figure out an appropriate program officer and send them an e-mail. For example, I'm in chemistry, so I go to the NSF chemistry website and guess an appropriate sub-program.

In general, I send an e-mail saying something like:

Hi, I have a research idea that I think might fit in your program but I have some questions. Would there be a good time to talk this week? [etc.]

Sometimes I'll even get a call back promptly from the program officer, or a polite message that program X might be a better fit, etc.

In all cases, the NSF program officers want to fund the best research they can, so they are very helpful at suggesting appropriate approaches (e.g., if it's possible for them to fund your idea).

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    +1 for figure out an appropriate program officer and send them an e-mail – JeffE Jan 6 '15 at 6:48
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NSF's Grant Proposal Guide section I.E addresses eligibility. I.E.3 addresses for-profit corporations and states:

  1. For-profit organizations - US commercial organizations, especially small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering research or education. An unsolicited proposal from a commercial organization may be funded when the project is of special concern from a national point of view, special resources are available for the work, or the proposed project is especially meritorious. NSF is interested in supporting projects that couple industrial research resources and perspectives with those of universities; therefore, it especially welcomes proposals for cooperative projects involving both universities and the private commercial sector.

My read of this is that it is certainly possible for a company to submit a proposal, but the introductory language certainly hints that not all programs will allow for-profits to submit:

Except where a program solicitation establishes more restrictive eligibility criteria, individuals and organizations in the following categories may submit proposals:

Which is to say that many RFPs limit submissions to categories 1 and 2 from that list (universities and other non-profits, respectively).

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