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NSF I-Corps

About

As a faculty or student researcher, how do you bridge the gap (sometimes called a “black hole”) between the university research lab and the marketplace? It’s no easy task to advance your work to the point that businesses or government agencies recognize its commercial potential. It requires entrepreneurial skills to identify market opportunities for the discoveries emerging from your research. The good news is you can gain these entrepreneurial skills through the real-world, hands-on, immersive NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program.

Over the course of a five-week remote training program, seasoned entrepreneurs will teach you how to test the market through customer discovery and how to create a business strategy. The assumption/hypothesis-testing, customer-focused discovery process will help you gather important insights to maximize the impact of your innovation. 

You will participate as a team of three (technical lead, entrepreneurial lead and mentor) with other teams in an I-Corps cohort. I-Corps teams who complete the training may be eligible to receive a seed grant through the ASU NSF I-Corps. High-performing teams could be in a position to gain acceptance into the national I-Corps program, which provides grants totalling $50,000 or more for continued customer discovery efforts.

Through I-Corps, NSF addresses four urgent national needs: training an entrepreneurial workforce, translating technologies, enabling economic impact, and nurturing an innovation ecosystem. 

ASU encourages and supports the recruitment of veteran, women and underrepresented minority participants in this free program held virtually on Zoom. Details will be shared with all accepted participants in advance of the first session. 


Eligibility requirements

Eligible I-Corps teams seek to maximize the impact of an innovation, whether that innovation is technological, educational, societal, etc. The idea or technology must be scalable and potentially patentable. ASU-owned and non-ASU-owned concepts/technologies are eligible.

All teams must:

  • Have, at minimum, an entrepreneurial lead and a technical lead who fall into one of these categories: ASU student, ASU alumnus who graduated within the past year, ASU faculty member, ASU staff or SkySong Innovations.
  • Have a team member or advisor who is PI eligible.
  • Not have prior SBIR/STTR funding or investment greater than $75K for the technology.

Participation commitment

You are expected to complete a formal ASU I-Corps Site training program, fulfilling the reporting requirements, and leverage ASU I-Corps Site grant funds in accord with the ASU-I Corps funding guidelines.

Pending a “go” decision following an approved ASU I-Corps Site training program, you are expected to apply to the I-Corps National program(s), or for SBIR/STTR awards, and to work toward commercializing the technology.


Curriculum

Below is a sampling of the program curriculum during the five-week program, designed to prepare you for the I-Corps National program.

Customer segments

In this session, instructors provide an introduction to the TEST course and teach how customer discovery directly correlates to the chances of creating a successful business.

Value propositions

The second session defines the term value proposition, and teaches the importance of quantifying your competitive advantage. The session also covers how to approach and obtain customer interviews and a template for the interview.

Channels and customer relationships

The Channels session introduces how a company delivers its message. The session explains how awareness, interest, consideration, and closing strategies can compel a customer to make the purchase. Customer relationships describe how companies can keep and grow their existing customer base, using eight different engagement tactics.

Revenues

The single most important aspect of a business is how it generates income. This session describes how successful businesses implement multiple revenue streams, depending on the customer.

Key partners and key resources

Differentiating between partners and resources can be confusing. This session identifies internal and external operations, and explains how growing companies can bring more of their partner activities in-house.

Key activities and cost structures

This session investigates the primary operations of the business, and how activities, resources and partners drive the costs of the company.

Final presentations

Each team will present their business model canvas, share core elements of their business model hypotheses and key insights from the customer discovery process.

I-Corps National Program

How to prepare an executive summary for the I-CorpsTM National Program

Once you have completed ASU’s five-week I-Corps Site training program, you may be ready to apply to the I-Corps National Program.

Team formation

Identify a set of at least three I-Corps™ team members to participate in the I-Corps™ National Cohort:

  • Entrepreneurial Lead (EL)
  • I-CorpsTM Teams Mentor (IM)
  • Technical Lead (TL)

Typically, team members who complete your regional program will constitute the team for the National Cohort. However, occasionally not all three members of your regional team will be able to go to National due to schedule conflicts and other commitments. In that case, it is important for at least the EL or TL from your regional program to be part of the National team for continuity with the new member.

The Entrepreneurial Lead (EL) could be a postdoctoral scholar, graduate or other student, staff member, researcher, 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-Corps™ Teams 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 should be a third-party resource and may be recommended by the proposing institution. The I-Corps™ Teams Mentor will be responsible for advising the team on its progress through I-Corps™ and will usually have contacts in the industry area(s) being explored. Other than their direct expenses for program participation, Mentors are not compensated through I-Corps™ Teams awards – Mentors are part of a volunteer cadre of entrepreneurs.

The Technical Lead (TL)/Principal Investigator (PI) 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 TL/PI will also serve as the proposal point of contact.

Teams may have an additional member in the role of co-EL, or co-TL. Teams with more than four members will not typically be supported.

Contents of the executive summary

Prepare a one- to two-page (maximum) executive summary that describes the following:

  • Team Members. Composition and roles (EL, TL, IM, plus any additional co-EL, co-TL or co-IM) of the team members proposing to undertake the commercialization feasibility research and a brief description (one page) of each member’s qualifications.
  • Proposal Principal Investigator. Proposal Principal Investigator (PI) and a brief description of their connection to the team. In most cases the PI will also be the TL. The PI is the person who will be designated as the recipient of the NSF I-Corps™ National Cohort grant. It is important to check with your institution that the person assuming the role of the PI is eligible to receive NSF funding. If the PI is not eligible to receive NSF funding, the Site Lead may assume the role of the NSF PI and manage the award funds.
  • Lineage. Relevant current/previous NSF awards establishing team eligibility. The lineage is typically an NSF grant number. For your Site, the number is: 1548031. If teams from your institution did not go through your regional program but are applying based on NSF research grant funding, they should use the award number for their research grant.
  • Technology. Brief description of the core technology.
  • Application/Market. Brief description of the potential commercial application.
  • Current Plan. Brief description of the current commercialization plan.

When the proposed I-Corps™ Team is applying based on participation in a local or regional NSF-supported I-Corps™ training run by a current I-Corps™ Site or Node, a senior member of that I-Corps™ Site or Node staff must provide a recommendation for the team’s consideration in the I-Corps™ Teams program. The technology underlying the effort will need to be consistent with NSF requirements on intellectual merit and represent a significant technical innovation.

NSF contact:

Forward the executive summary to: icorps-apply@nsf.gov

Once we review your executive summary, you will be contacted about next steps.

Telephone interviews

Teams that describe projects with viable commercialization potential will be scheduled to engage in a telephone interview with NSF’s I-Corps™ Management Team. The purpose of this conference call is to assess the proposing team’s capabilities and commitment to the program. At the conclusion of this initial call, teams may be invited for a second telephone interview that includes both the NSF I-Corps™ Management team and instructors of the I-Corps™ Teams Curriculum. At the successful conclusion of both conference calls, teams may be invited to submit full proposals.


Testimonials

What participating teams had to say about the I-Corps Spring 2022 experience:

“I really appreciate the excellent feedback we received from Denise and Ji Mi on our inquiry process, which helps us to have a much clearer vision on which customer segments we should target and how to analyze the ecosystem. Thanks to Sherilyn for providing all the info and making this an easy-to-follow workshop.”

“I really like the contents and assignments, which help us to learn and practice customer discovery. The breakout room sessions are very helpful and I like the mock interviews the most.”

“This is my second time partaking in the I-Corps workshop. I believe this program is extremely helpful for not only entrepreneurial purposes but for professional purposes, too.”

After participating in I-Corps with ASU, these teams took their hands-on knowledge to apply for the NSF Nationals and received funding.

  • Argos Vision introduced a new method for accelerating neural networks using FPGA accelerators, and have tested this method on PYNQ boards. Read the impact of Argos Vision on the city of Phoenix in this ASU News article.
  • CODA Consulting built technology to enhance the visibility and efficiency of complex logistic operations. 
  • FlexBioTech developed rapid affordable point of care diagnostics for infectious disease and cancer screening in low-resource environments.
  • MyHealthStory by HealthTechApps, Inc.’s technology platform assists Screenagers, youth and young adults tell their health story. The technology platform includes an iOS app, ML/AI cloud processing, and a HIPAA-compliant web portal that measures both baseline and monitoring brain health data to support clinical decision making and user engagement.

Apply

Applicants should have an active interest in commercializing developed technology, creating a startup and continuing on with their venture upon completion of the program.

Registered teams will participate in six required sessions:

Orientation: Friday August 26, 2022, from 1:00-2:00pm MST
Training program: Every Friday, September 9 – October 7, 2022, from 1:00-3:00pm MST


Meet the team

Denise McKenzie

Lead Instructor, NSF I-Corps program

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