UMD, GWU, and VT Awarded $3.75M by NSF to Launch Regional I-Corps Node for National Innovation Network

Three top universities in the Mid-Atlantic region are teaming to tackle an enduring challenge: how to translate $60 billion in research funding into new products and companies that benefit society.

Today the University of Maryland, George Washington University, and Virginia Tech jointly announce they are teaming through $3.75 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch a regional Innovation Corps (I-Corps) node with one sweeping goal: find the best entrepreneurial student and faculty researchers and help them bring their discoveries to market.

I-Corps takes researchers through a seven-week program based upon Stanford University's Lean LaunchPad course, with additional elements designed just for I-Corps participants. The program's methodology draws upon decades of experience in Silicon Valley, emphasizing talking to as many potential customers as possible, pivoting in response to resulting insights, building low-cost prototypes to get customer feedback, constantly adapting, and building a scalable business model.

Successful outcomes for I-Corps include a new startup, patent or technology license to a company. The program will also foster a culture of entrepreneurship among researchers and students.

The new Mid-Atlantic I-Corps node is one of three announced today by NSF, with additional nodes supported in California and New York, through a total of $11.2 million in funding. These add to existing I-Corps nodes at Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan.

Collectively, these nodes create the foundation of NSF's plan to establish a National Innovation Network designed to propel research to market.

"I-Corps is aggressive, methodical, and just what our region needs," said Dean Chang, associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, lead institution for this program. "We live in one of the most fertile areas in the country for technology-based research, and our goal is nothing short of finding 300 of the most talented research teams and guiding them through the best technology commercialization program available."

Through the new Mid-Atlantic I-Corps Node, NSF will select up to 50 research teams from across the country each year and send them to the area to be guided through I-Corps. The Mid-Atlantic Node will also offer I-Corps annually to an additional 50 teams of its choosing. With up to 100 teams trained each year for three years, the total could reach 300.

Trainings will be held for seven weeks, up to four times annually.

"Becoming an I-Corp Node is the highest acknowledgement a region can receive from NSF and we are honored to have been selected along with the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech," said Jim Chung, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer for George Washington University. "It is essentially a technology development incubator for the top scientists and engineers in the U.S. That incubator is now available to researchers in the Mid-Atlantic."

In addition to training up to 100 teams per year, the Mid-Atlantic I-Corps Node will establish a mentor development program to attract, train and retain top-notch mentors. It will also create a post-I-Corps support program to help teams with follow-on activities such as continued customer development, minimum viable product (MVP) prototyping, technology transfer and licensing, fundraising, legal services, and hiring executive talent.

Partners will include FounderCorps, Springboard, ACTiVATE and the Maryland Intellectual Property Legal Resource Center.

A new online network created by the Mid-Atlantic Node will tie tools and resources together, while follow-on studies will be conducted to measure the effectiveness of the program.

Expanding into the Mid-Atlantic region could create a 'perfect storm' of the right program meeting a region rife with opportunities.

"Thirty-five of the top 200 U.S. universities in research and development expenditures are located within a four-hour drive of this I-Corps partnership," said John "Jack" Lesko, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. "Those universities collectively conducted $14.3 billion in research in 2010. We will attract and train teams from these top regional academic institutions, as well as from the many federal and state research labs unique to the region, including NASA, NIH and ARPA-E."

The University of Maryland, George Washington University and Virginia Tech pull together a wide and experienced collection of resources and personnel to make the Mid-Atlantic I-Corps Node a success. Collectively, the three institutions have already taken nine teams through the national I-Corps program.

The new regional node presents a unique opportunity for the NSF to leverage the respective strengths of the three institutions, galvanize them as one, and catalyze the region.

"These new nodes will significantly expand our reach in bringing innovation education to faculty and students," said NSF Program Director Don Millard. "The three consortia, with different and distinct industries in their region, are excited about the impact they will have, on and beyond their campuses. The addition of these nodes will significantly help advance the I-Corps program’s National Innovation Network."

"The Nodes are the foundation of a national innovation ecosystem and focus on the front-lines of local and regional commercialization efforts," said Errol Arkilic NSF I-Corps program director. "We are looking to them to provide long-term, critical education infrastructure and feedback to the programs that support the commercialization of our nation’s basic research portfolio."

Published February 21, 2013