U-M to Play Leading Role in NSF Project


ANN ARBOR — In a move designed to fast-track more research from the lab to the real world, the University of Michigan was named one of two new nodes of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program, NSF officials announced Wednesday at an I-Corps anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C.

Launched a year ago, I-Corps is designed to train select NSF-funded scientists and engineers how to extend their focus beyond basic research and toward practical applications that have value in the marketplace. The first training sessions were held at Stanford.

Now, educators at U-M and Georgia Tech will join Stanford in offering regular workshops for researchers and educators from across the country. U-M received a $1.5 million grant to implement the program, which is beginning its second year of a three-year pilot. The grant provides an expansion over the initial training mission, and makes U-M an I-Corps node, tasked with expanding the I-Corps network to a broader community within Michigan, the Midwest, and beyond.

“The Innovation Corps fits perfectly with our work in helping the nation move forward,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. “At Michigan, we are constantly looking to expand the connections that aspiring entrepreneurs need to succeed. That is why we continually invent, innovate, and educate.

“We can always make gains, always achieve more. Research universities are critical to this progress, and at the University of Michigan, we are eager to do our part.”

Faculty from the U-M College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship will train researchers directly. The workshops for researchers will occur several times a year, with cohorts of up to 100 individuals in teams of three. Each I-Corps team will represent a different NSF-funded project that the foundation has chosen. Teams must include an academic researcher, a student entrepreneur, and a business mentor. Cohorts will attend two three-day on-campus short courses that bookend six weeks of online coaching and hands-on outreach to potential customers. U-M’s first workshop is now underway, with 27 teams that include researchers from across the country.

Since its inception in 2011, almost 100 I-Corps teams have participated in the I-Corps program. The curriculum is a hypothesis-based approach pioneered by Michigan alumnus and entrepreneur Steve Blank that merges structured coursework with guidance from experienced entrepreneurs. 

NSF hopes to expand the program to reach over 200 researchers in its second year, with help from two new nodes.

“We’re honored that NSF chose Michigan to serve as an I-Corps node,” said Doug Neal, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and an I-Corps instructor. “It is great recognition of the hard work we’ve been doing and the momentum we have in our entrepreneurship programs.”

NSF I-Corps: www.nsf.gov/i-corps

U-M Center for Entrepreneurship: http://cfe.umich.edu