Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) - the $6.8-billion U.S. government agency that supports research
in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering - is changing
the startup landscape for scientists and engineers. The NSF has
announced the Innovation Corps - a program to take the most
promising research projects in American university laboratories and turn
them into startups. It will train them with a process that embraces experimentation, learning, and discovery.
The NSF will fund 100 science and engineering research projects every
year. Each team accepted into the program will receive $50,000.
To commercialize these university innovations NSF will be putting the
Innovation Corps (I-Corps) teams through a class that teaches
scientists and engineers to treat starting a company as another research
project that can be solved by an iterative process of hypotheses
testing and experimentation. The class will be a version of the Lean LaunchPad class we developed in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, (the entrepreneurship center at Stanford's School of Engineering).
This is a big deal. Not just for scientists and engineers, not just
for every science university in the U.S., but in the way we think about
bringing discoveries ripe for innovation out of the university lab. If
this program works it will change how we connect basic research to the
business world. And it will lead to more startups and job creation.
AN INCUBATOR FOR ENGINEERS
The NSF Innovation-Corps program (I-Corps) is designed to help
bridge the gap between the many scientists and engineers with innovative
research and technologies, but little knowledge of the first steps to
take in starting a company.
I-Corps will help scientists take the first steps from the research lab to commercialization.
Over a period of six months, each I-Corps team, guided by experienced mentors (entrepreneurs and VC's) will build their product and
get out of their labs (and comfort zone) to discover who are their
potential customers, and how those customers might best use the new
technology/invention. They'll explore the best way to deliver the
product to customers, the resources required, as well as competing
technologies. They will answer the question, "What value will this
innovation add to the marketplace? And they'll do this using the business model / customer development / agile development solution stack.
At the end of the program each team will understand what it will
takes to turn their research into a commercial success. They may decide
to license their intellectual property based on their research. Or they
may decide to cross the Rubicon
and try to get funded as a startup (with strategic partners, investors,
or NSF programs for small businesses). At the end of the class there
will be a Demo Day when investors get to see the best this country's
researchers have to offer.