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NSF and NIH I-corps elevate innovators

Image by Tania Rodriguez from Pixabay

We often talk about and recommend that our clients get involved in the I-Corp programs that some federal agencies have. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are the common ones our clients tend to gravitate to; where they can articulate their critical business hypotheses and then collect real data to validate or invalidate those ideas. We at the CTC are advocates of these “Lean Startup” activities and we provide programing that are based on the Federal I-Corp initiatives.

NSF started their program around 10 years ago which has various levels of participation and activities. In addition to the vigorous national level program are programs at the regional “nodes” and shorter programs at the more localized “sites.”

A focus of the national NSF program is on academic researchers who are considering commercializing a technology that results from their academic work. Historically, this national program has been open only to academic labs and the I-Corp grant funding ($50,000) would go to the professor’s lab to essentially fund the business model validation activities. A requirement to participate in the national program is that the professor has had previous NSF funded research or a previous NSF ‘pedigree.’

The national program, therefore, often has not been accessible to our clients who are in small companies who have yet to receive an NSF SBIR or other funding. One way to take advantage of the learning, however, is to apply for and participate in our local I-Corp site in Milwaukee. We commonly promote this opportunity to our clients and have functioned as business mentors for our teams who are selected for this program. Information on our local Milwaukee site can be found here: https://icorpsmilwaukee.org/One advantage of participating in the NSF I-Corp site, is that this would give you the needed NSF pedigree to apply for and participate in the national program.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to promote the program at the regional level. Generally, we’ve promoted either the national program or the local site but have been less attentive to the regional node activities. Our closest Midwest Regional Node is housed at the University of Michigan and more information here: https://www.midwesticorps.org/

I received an email recently from this node promoting some valuable training classes that they are providing over the next several weeks. This is an advantageous time to participate as these classes are virtual and at no cost. I do note that that eligibility to participate in the regional node is midway between the eligibility for the local sites and the national program. While a previous NSF pedigree is not required to participate in the regional node, they do require the applicants to be university based. You can find out about registration for the regional node classes or the local site from the websites.