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Baltimore Convention Center
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
14 - 18 April 2019
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NSF I-Corps Program

During an engaged and interactive morning session, Viktor Brandtneris of Brandtneris Consulting discussed the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program using the Los Angeles innovation node as a case study. Now in its fifth year, the commercialization program, via an eight-node national network with more than 80 sites, helps qualified scientists and engineers move their work from university labs into the field through an immersive and hands-on approach.

Showcasing the Los Angeles node—which has already extended beyond its founding universities of UCLA, USC, and Caltech to include UC-Riverside, UC-Irvine, Cal State-LA, UC San Diego, ASU, Arizona State University, University of Nevada, and the University of Washington—Brandtneris discussed the I-Corps funding and implementation model which enables a consortium of multiple universities to train and build teams of STEM researchers, principal investigators and grad students, exposing them to commercialization processes around their ideas. They don’t write business plans, Brandtneris says: "It's all about pulling together a functioning business model."

The I-Corps National Course Curriculum is developed by entrepreneurs and taught by entrepreneurs, and the seven-week program includes an in-person, three-day kickoff workshop; five weekly webinars; and an in-person, two-day closing workshop. The program enables 100 interviews with potential customers, at an average pace of about 15 interviews a week, and includes a $25,000 to $50,000 non-diluted grant dedicated to customer discovery.

"You aren’t going to learn anything you weren’t going to learn anyway," notes Brandtneris. "The difference is that you learn it in seven weeks, spending somebody else’s money. The funding is there to get you out there."

Successful teams—of which there are currently 1,200 nationally—can apply through a screening process; the program also recruits potential teams by walking university research halls and knocking on doors.

"You must have a technology with significant risk but high reward potential to qualify," says Brandtneris, who also works with SPIE on its business-focused pitch competition, the decade-old Startup Challenge. "Please note, this means no apps! We want clear, defined intellectual property. We are taking a chance on technology that most people won’t, helping researchers access that next step in the commercialization process."