How the CHIPS and Science act can revolutionize US tech diversity
In his remarks about the new CHIPS and Science Act, President Joe Biden proclaimed “we’re going to support entrepreneurs and technology hubs all across the country, including historically Black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions, Tribal colleges. We’re going to tap into the greatest competitive advantage we have: our diverse and talented workforce that’s urban, rural, and suburban.”
The president’s words highlighted the critical yet underreported focus of the legislation — to expand opportunities to Americans who have been historically excluded from science and technology industries. These advances could be revolutionary for many American inventors.
The CHIPS and Science Act directly addresses the barriers commonly faced by those historically excluded in science and technology by expanding access to education and skill development. It also reaches beyond the “pipeline problem” by addressing systemic barriers against underrepresented founders, such as access to capital, caregiver responsibilities, harassment and discrimination. While these aspects haven’t received as much attention as the law’s historic investment in domestic chip manufacturing, the “science” half of the new law will generate significant social and economic advancement.
More inventors like Dr. Maria Artunduaga, founder of Respira Labs, will be able to see their inventions come to life through the robust implementation of CHIPS and Science. Artunduaga is a physician-scientist turned inventor-entrepreneur. After her grandmother passed away due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Artunduaga left clinical medicine to find a solution that would prevent similar deaths from occurring. She participated in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) and secured grant funding to advance the use of sound to monitor lung function and detect respiratory issues before they become life-threatening emergencies. With COPD as the third-leading cause of death in the United States, Artunduaga’s invention has the potential to change millions of lives.
The new law will also help inventors like Katherine Jin. A university design challenge to fight Ebola and a visit to West Africa to meet with frontline healthcare workers led Jin and two colleagues to invent Highlight, an additive that temporarily colors disinfectants made with bleach, so users can ensure they have properly treated a contaminated surface. Together Jin and her co-founders Jason Kang and Kevin Tyang then launched Kinnos to empower people to disinfect surfaces with confidence and provide society with peace of mind through visible disinfection.
CHIPS and Science is an investment in the ingenuity of inventors like Dr. Artunduaga and Jin. The legislation is the most comprehensive effort in history to create opportunities in science and technology for women, people of color and other underrepresented groups. The inclusion of equity and opportunity provisions — such as expanding access to research funding and STEM education and ensuring that people of color and other underrepresented groups have information about these opportunities — signifies an important shift in thinking. It acknowledges that America can only maintain its position as a leader in global technology if we harness the full extent of American talent and ingenuity.
The CHIPS and Science Act represents a sea change in American innovation policy, and robust implementation of this law will help ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to participate fully in the innovation ecosystem. Another important effort is the Council for Inclusive Innovation, a body chaired by Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo charged with developing a national strategy to broaden participation in innovation. Congress and the Administration should also expand data collection and sharing to increase the information available on the diversity of our inventors. Before the end of the year, Congress should pass and the President should sign the IDEA Act, which would require the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to collect inventors’ demographic data on a voluntary basis and make that data available for research.
At its core, the CHIPS and Science Act will help ensure America can compete — and win — on the global stage. Policymakers understand that prioritizing equity is key to building that future.
Funding and fully implementing the equity and opportunity provisions of the CHIPS and Science Act, as well as advancing other policies to broaden participation in American innovation, will help empower the next generation of American inventors and entrepreneurs and allow our nation to remain a global technology superpower.
Holly Fechner is the executive director of Invent Together, an alliance of universities, nonprofits, companies, individuals and other stakeholders committed to addressing diversity gaps in invention and patenting.