The University of Tennessee is expanding its reputation as a center for innovation and technology commercialization by taking part in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. The University joins the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a member of the I-Corps South Node.
The NSF I-Corps program was established in 2011 as an outgrowth of the organization’s mission to help researchers think beyond the laboratory and identify opportunities for translating research into commercial products that can benefit society. The goal of the program is to help researchers and principal investigators understand the needs of customers before bringing a technology to the marketplace. Hundreds of teams from across the country have participated in the national I-Corps program, spending six to seven weeks interviewing customers and businesses to answer the question: what do customers need and does it align with our research? Teams that successfully complete the national program are awarded $50,000.
I-Corps Nodes, like I-Corps South, act as feeders for the national program. They support regional needs around innovation education, infrastructure and research and work cooperatively to build, utilize and sustain a national innovation ecosystem. At UT, I-Corps South participants have access to resources and programming delivered via the UT Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF), knowledgeable instructors who bring hands-on experience with technology commercialization, and a broad, diverse entrepreneurial network. ACEI and UTRF are co-sponsors of the UT I-Corps South program.
To kick off its membership in the I-Corps South Node, UT will be hosting the I-Corps Fall Regional October 3–19, 2017. This intensive two-week program is a shortened version of the national I-Corps, and it begins with a half-day workshop at the UTRF Business Incubator on UT’s Institute of Agriculture Campus. The workshop covers topics such as the customer discovery process, developing a value proposition, and creating a business model. Participants will conduct a series of interviews with prospective customers to identify their needs and will meet with mentors from the instructional team during virtual office hours. The program wraps up on October 19 when participants reconvene to share what they have learned.
“This program is a great introduction to the national I-Corps program and the resources that are available at UT to support researchers as they navigate the commercialization process,” says Shawn Carson, UT I-Corps South program coordinator and lecturer at the Haslam College of Business.
Participation in UT I-Corps South programming, like the Fall Regional, can be a game changer for researchers who have an idea for a technology or start up but are unsure what steps they need to take to bring their idea to fruition.
“I-Corps can open many doors and get participants started down the right path to opening a business or commercializing a technology,” says Maha Krishnamurthy. “We encourage students, faculty, and entrepreneurs to learn more about I-Corps and see how its programming can help them translate their research into a commercial product that can have a real impact on society.”
The UT I-Corps South program is currently recruiting 10–12 teams of two to four people to participate in the Fall Regional. Potential applicants must be located in the Southeast and have an interest in commercializing research. University-based teams are preferred, though not required. The application can be found at http://icorpssouth.com/registration.
Applications will be accepted June 26–September 29, 2017.