What is the purpose NSF I-Corps?
The National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) is a federally funded program to help prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory, and accelerates the economic and societal benefits of basic-research projects that are ready to move toward commercialization. Through I-Corps, NSF grantees learn to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from academic research, and gain skills in entrepreneurship through training in customer discovery and guidance from established entrepreneurs.
How is NSF I-Corps structured?
The program connects academic researchers with the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities through the work of I-Corps Teams, I-Corps Sites and I-Corps Nodes, which combined make up the National Innovation Network. I-Corps Nodes are designed to support regional education, infrastructure and research around innovation. The Nodes deliver an innovation-enhancing training program based on the curriculum used to support NSF I-Corps Teams. They develop near-term tools and resources that will impact and expand the benefits of the entire I-Corps program across the Nation. They also identify and pursue longer-term research and development projects that advance the goals of the I-Corps program. The I-Corps Nodes work together and with I-Corps™ Sites to build, draw upon and sustain a national innovation ecosystem that further enhances the creation of technologies that benefit society.
What is the base methodology of I-Corps?
I-Corps is based on the Lean Launchpad (LLP) Methodology, which is basically the scientific method for identifying a business opportunity for a product, service or innovation. LLP enables the systematic identification of knowledge gaps in order to understand the most appropriate path forward for their concept. Built around the concept of Customer Discovery, LLP helps match the value proposition of a product, service or innovation with a customer segment that pay for the value being provided.
How are UNCG & NCAT Involved in I-Corps?
In 2016, a team from UNCG’s JSNN successfully completed a National Level NSF I-Corps program. Thereafter, it was decided that the Greensboro region could benefit from the LLP methodology and NSF I-Corps program to enable university innovators, nurture the local innovation ecosystem, and contribute to the grander national innovation ecosystem. In February 2017, in collaboration with NCAT, UNCG’s Office of Research & Engagement submitted an application to become an NSF I-Corps Site. Through a competitive evaluation process, in August 2017, UNCG + NCAT were awarded a 5-year, $500,000 grant to become established as an I-Corps Site. Along with UNCG + NCAT, *** were also selected in 2017, joining UNCC as the only other NSF I-Corps affiliated programs in NC.
What is the structure of UNCG + NCAT’s I-Corps Program?
The UNCG + NCAT I-Corps Program will feature the LLP Short-Course, encompassing multiple 4-5 week cohorts throughout the year, with a goal of training 30 teams each year on the LLP Methodology. Teams consist of at least a student Entrepreneur Lead (EL), faculty Primary Investigator (PI) and Mentor. These teams will be in cohorts of 5-10 teams, receiving “mini-grants” up to $10,000 to fund their customer discovery process, prototyping, and other seed expenses the team. Teams will be expected to complete 20-30 customer discovery interviews throughout the cohort timeline, with a goal of developing a clear direction in which to take their innovation upon completion.
Who is eligible for the UNCG + NCAT’s I-Corps Program?
The UNCG + NCAT I-Corps Program is open to current UNCG and NCAT Undergraduate and Graduate students, Faculty, Staff and recent alumni. Ideally, teams will be complete with at least 3 members – student Entrepreneur Lead (EL), faculty Primary Investigator (PI) and Mentor. If individuals are unable to form a complete team, they are still encouraged to apply as we will be able to assist in developing a completed team.
What are the benefits of I-Corps?
The Entrepreneurial Lead (EL) could be a Post-Doctoral scholar, graduate or other student or other personnel with relevant knowledge of the technology and a deep commitment to investigate the commercial landscape surrounding the innovation. The Entrepreneurial Lead should also be capable and have the will to support the transition of the technology, should the I-CorpsTM project demonstrate the potential for commercial viability.
The I-Corps Teams Mentor (IM) will typically be an experienced entrepreneur with proximity to the institution and experience in transitioning technology out of Academic labs. The I-Corps Teams Mentor must be a third-party resource and may be recommended by the proposing institution. The I-Corps Mentor will be responsible for advising the team through the I-CorpsTM process and helping the team navigate the business ecosystem in the specific application area(s).
The Technical Lead (TL) will typically be a faculty member, senior research scientist or postdoctoral scholar with deep and direct technical expertise in the actual core technology about which the I-Corps team is exploring commercial potential. Typically the Technical Lead will also serve as the proposal Principal Investigator (PI).
Not long ago, Taylor Mabe was advancing to the sixth round of American Idol and touring with a metal band called Swift. Now he is a CEO of a biomedical company, 3i Nanotech.Read more at the Triad Business Journal
NEW Program for Graduate Students
UNC-Greensboro and N.C. A&T State University will use the funding to establish an Innovation Corps site in the city. The $500,000 will be given to the program over a period of five years.
The five-week program in Greensboro, which starts in October, is open to UNCG and N.C. A&T students, faculty and alumni, said Justin Streuli, director of the North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG and an I-Corps coordinator.
“This is one of the biggest impacts for UNCG and A&T — in terms of developing startups as well as an entrepreneurial culture — we’ve seen in a while,” he said.
The projects the I-Corps site will look to support will be those focused in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields. This includes a portable, biosensor for disease diagnostics, which is being developed by Taylor Mabe, an UNCG Ph.D. student at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.
Mabe is working to develop the device with Jianjun Wei, an associate professor at UNCG. He said he is participating in the I-Corps program to develop business skills.
Mabe said the program will also help the team determine which diagnostic tests they should focus on when preparing the device to be commercialized.
“We’re pretty confident in the technology but we don’t know which way to take it,” he said. “We’re hoping the discovery process will lead us to the right fit for the technology.”
The I-Corps site will operate out of HQ Greensboro, a co-working space, and will support 30 entrepreneurial teams this year. I-Corps will provide teams with grants ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 to help fund customer discovery activities, developing prototypes and other expenses, Streuli said.
NEW Program for Graduste Students
What is the difference between NSF I-Corps and the Greensboro I-Corps program?
The NSF (National Science Foundation) I-Corps is a national program. It provides funding which is disbursed to institutions to promote science and innovation. The Greensboro I-Corps program is a part of the NSF’s Innovation Corps initiative, which is a regional program to benefit Greensboro and the Triad by spurring innovation and entrepreneurship.
What will this program look like?
There will be three cohorts of students and faculty in a given year. Each cohort will last 5 weeks, during which each team (generally UNCG-A&T students and/or faculty members) will have to meet at least 25 potential buyers of the product or service that your team will develop. Funding will be granted to help defray cost associated with these meetings, such as travel and lodging expenses. Upon successful completion of the program, we sincerely encourage our I-Corps graduates to apply for the national program once they meet the minimum requirements.
I have a great idea, but how will this program help me implement it?
This program will provide structured mentorship and funding to further your team’s business or research ideas. In addition to the funding that each team is granted, each of the meetings that your team holds throughout the program will yield invaluable information. The mentorship component is provided every meeting during the program, when each of the teams meet at HQ Greensboro and discuss the successes and meetings each respective group has had and held.
Is the entire team required to participate in the seminars, workshops, and on-site assignments?
Every member of the team should be fully immersed in the process and committed to the time and tasks required. However, the entrepreneurial lead is the team member responsible for completing the assignments.
What should I do about my IP or patent pending?
Although confidentiality is a requirement of the program, we highly recommend you consult with UNCG’s North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center (NCEC) or the Innovation Partnetship Services Office (IPSO) to discuss any concerns you may have prior to applying. Both are located on the first floor of the MHRA building on UNCG’s campus.
Will my idea qualify for this program?
Great question! Just contact Justin Streuli with any questions you have regarding the Greensboro I-Corps program. You can also check the requirements of the NSF I-Corps program here: https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=504672
Can you help me find a team or a mentor?
Yes, contact the NCEC today!