Wednesday 27 February 2013

The U.S. National Science Foundation I-Corps Program: The Goal is Commercialization

The I-Corps Program is a collaboration between the U.S. National Science Foundation [NSF], Kaufmann Foundation and Deshpande Foundation designed to help bring government funded—NSF funded—inventions to market.  As fellow blogger, Neil Wilkof has discussed, the valley of death is a real problem and a search for effective solutions is ongoing.  The I-Corps Program is another attempt to solve the problem.  The I-Corps Program started out on July 28, 2011 with a plan to fund 100 projects per year at $50,000 for each project.  Basically, the program has several parts:

There are three distinct components of I-Corps: Teams, Nodes and Sites. I-Corps Teams are composed of the principal investigator(s) (PI), an entrepreneurial lead (EL), and a mentor. The I-Corps Nodes serve as hubs for education, infrastructure and research that engage academic scientists and engineers in innovation; they also deliver the I-Corps Curriculum to I-Corps Teams. The I-Corps Sites are academic institutions that catalyze the engagement of multiple, local teams in technology transition and strengthen local innovation.

Here is the I-Corps Teams’ role:  

Over a period of six months, each I-Corps team, composed of the principal investigator, a mentor, and an entrepreneurial lead, will systematically identify and address knowledge gaps to ascertain the technology disposition: What resources will be required? What are the competing technologies? What value will this innovation add? The I-Corps program will also pilot innovative merit review processes through which promising discoveries emerging from NSF-funded research projects will be identified quickly and efficiently for financial support as well as for mentorship through the national network.

A key component of the program appears to be the required curriculum for all I-Corps teams based on a Stanford “Lean Launchpad” course that is described as “The I-Corps curriculum provides real-world, hands-on, immersive learning about what it takes to successfully transfer knowledge into products and processes that benefit society.  . . . [T]he entire I-Corps Team will be engaged with industry; talking to customers, partners, and competitors; and encountering the chaos and uncertainty of creating successful innovations. Getting out of the laboratory/university is what the effort is about.”  The Lean Launchpad course was developed by Stanford faculty member Steve Blank and is available online here via Udacity. 

According to Xconomy and TechnologyTransfer Tactics, the program is being expanded to include more than the original I-Corps I-Core Sites and/or Nodes—Stanford University, Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan.  Now UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, George Washington University, City University of New York, New York University and Columbia University will participate as I-Core Sites and/or Nodes.  Are there any similar programs in other countries?

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