Commercializing academic research isn’t typically included in the curriculum for scientific training. Entrepreneurial researchers struggle to translate their skills to industry and their inventions into a new company. Finding a market fit, or just navigating the entrepreneurial world can be a hard puzzle to solve. The skills required for success in a start-up differ from skills needed to succeed in an academic lab.
To address this gap, the NSF created I-Corps to help academic researchers commercialize their technologies. I-Corps provides grants and a framework for academic faculty and students to learn entrepreneurship skills and identify valuable product opportunities.
I-Corps works through “Nodes” and “Sites” identified through grant awards to carry out its mission. NSF makes I-Corps grant awards to academic institutions that have existing innovation or entrepreneurial programs in place. In August, the White House announced an expansion of the program extending to organizations other than universities. One I-Corps Site is the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB).
Susan Baxter, PhD, Executive Director of CSUPERB
Operating under the California State University (CSU) system, CSUPERB’s role is to develop a professional biotechnology workforce. In 2014, CSUPERB and San Diego State University (SDSU) were awarded a $300,000 three-year grant to establish an I-Corps Site.
At each I-Corps Site, faculty-led teams and student-led teams can participate to learn how to commercialize their idea. The program provides training, connections to industry, and some funding. At the end of the three-month program, teams present their business model to a panel of evaluators.
The CSU I-Corps program relies on SDEE for mentors, networking, interviews, and guest speakers. CSU I-Corps has 18 student teams starting in the fall. They found mentors for two of the San Diego-based teams at the SDEE Get to Know Your Neighbors event in June. CSUPERB is still seeking mentors for teams outside San Diego (Fresno, Sacramento). If you are interested in volunteering as a long-distance mentor, please contact Dr. Susan Baxter, Executive Director of CSUPERB at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-594-2510.
In our next blog post, we’ll talk to Dr. Baxter to learn more about how mentors engage with the teams.