NATIONAL NSF I-CORPSTM
The National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-CorpsTM) program is designed to prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and to accelerate the transfer of cutting-edge, NSF-funded research into commercial success. Through extensive customer engagement, teams are able to validate potential applications of their technology. The curriculum is an immersive 7-week program designed to avoid building a product that no one wants; the number one reason startups fail.
Teams—composed of academic researchers, student entrepreneurs and business mentors—participate in the curriculum via online instruction and on-site activities through one of the NSF I-CorpsTM Hubs. Teams are expected to complete at least fifteen customer interviews a week, which means that over the 7-week course, teams will have contact with over 100 potential customers. For more information on the I-Corps program, visit the NSF I-Corps Teams page.
Benefits of the Program
- Understanding why your technology has value and to whom.
- Finding a market for your technology that had not been previously considered.
- Gaining an appreciation for what it takes to commercialize technology and the barriers to adoption.
- An expanded network of like-minded peers, instructors, investors, customers, and mentors.
- An accelerated approach to prevent years of wasted time, money and resources.
- The program is supported by NSF-Certified I-Corps instructors and a $50,000 grant from the NSF.
Required Team Composition
- Entrepreneurial Lead (EL): This person must be committed to pursuing the project (including potentially seeing it forward after I-Corps). They attend all cohort meetings and are the primary person conducting customer discovery interviews and presenting on behalf of the team. EL’s are typically graduate students, Ph.D. students, or postdocs and should expect to spend approximately 40 hours per week on this project during the 7-week program.
- Technical Lead (TL)/Primary Investigator (PI): I-Corps grants must go through a university. The PI is the faculty member who is authorized to receive the grant on behalf of the university. The TL may be another graduate student or postdoc from the faculty member’s lab. In I-Corps, the TL supports the EL and attends all cohort meetings. The TL should expect to spend approximately 15 hours per week on this project during the 7-week program (kickoff and finale weeks may require more than 15 hours).
- Industry Mentor (IM): This person helps the team understand the industry landscape, manages confirmation bias during the customer discovery interviews, and connects them with stakeholders in the industry. The IM should expect to spend approximately 15 hours per week on this project during the 7-week program (kickoff and finale weeks may require more than 15 hours).
Eligibility for NSF I-Corps
- Obtain NSF lineage:
- From a prior NSF research grant OR
- Successful completion of a local or regional I-Corps program
- Develop a deep technology/STEM innovation
- Have the right to pursue the Intellectual Property (team members or sponsoring university owns it)
- Open to the customer discovery process
- Completed at least 20 customer discovery interviews before applying to NSF I-Corps
- Commit to attending all cohort meetings and conducting 100 customer discovery interviews during the 7-week cohort
More information about team composition and eligibility can be found on the NSF I-Corps website.
- Understand and commit to all participation requirements for NSF I-Corps: Upcoming Dates, FAQ’s, and Introductory Webinar.
- Complete a local or regional I-Corps program.
- Obtain a letter of support from your nominating academic institution using this template. The letter should be from the regional/local I-Corps program director or instructor most familiar with the team. It should indicate why your team would be a good fit for the NSF I-Corps program as well as your level of participation and performance in the regional I-Corps program.
- Prepare an Executive Summary using this template.
- Request a preparation interview with the I-Corps Application Support Team by emailing email@example.com. Include your letter of support and Executive Summary in the email. All interviews are done via video conference.
- Attend an interview with the I-Corps Application Support Team. Teams are evaluated on a combination of factors, including the commercial readiness of technology, the potential market impact of innovation, and the team’s commitment and qualifications. The I-Corps Application Support Team will provide guidance and feedback on your application.
- Address any issues cited by the I-Corps Application Support Team before filling out the NSF I-Corps Teams Executive Summary Form.
- Participate in a screening interview with an NSF Program Officer. Unlike other federal grants, the application and approval process usually completes in under 30 days.
- If invited by NSF, submit a proposal in response to Solicitation 21-552.