I-Corps Goes Virtual
I-Corps programming is designed to teach STEM researchers and emerging student entrepreneurs how to “get out of the building” and converse with potential customers to identify the best product-market fit for their innovations. Typically, this involves in-person workshops where participating I-Corps teams receive entrepreneurship training, as well as opportunities to conduct customer discovery in the field to determine if they are solving a real-world problem with a sizeable market opportunity, or if they need to pivot with their idea.
In the midst of a global pandemic, I-Corps has adapted to accommodate social distancing guidelines in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. This means that programming for the NSF I-Corps Teams and Regional I-Corps Courses are now being held online. What does this mean for current and future programming?
UNY I-Corps Regional Courses
All upcoming UNY I-Corps Regional Courses will be held online until further notice. The virtual format for this programming spans three weeks and includes six class meetings via Zoom (1-2 hours), and two one-on-one instructor check-ins (15-20 minutes).
The content for these courses remains as valuable as ever. During the first three online sessions, teams will learn how to:
- Identify their top customer segments;
- Develop hypotheses about the value proposition they offer each segment; and
- Learn how to find and effectively interview potential customers about their problems/needs.
Over the next two weeks, teams are expected to speak with 30 potential customers—via video or phone conferencing—as part of the customer discovery process. Each week, the cohort will join a one-hour video conference call with instructors to check-in, share their progress, and receive coaching.
The program will wrap-up with a final virtual session at which time, teams will present their findings, receive feedback from instructors, and learn about progressing their ideas with the help of additional NSF I-Corps and other entrepreneurial programming options.
Check out the UNY I-Corps website for a list of upcoming regional courses.
NSF I-Corps Teams
This year, the Spring and Summer 2020 cohorts of the NSF I-Corps Teams shifted to a virtual format, and it is very likely that the Fall 2020 cohorts will be virtual as well; however, the mission and the valuable training participants receive during the intensive seven-week innovation and entrepreneurship training course remains consistent.
“The course translated surprisingly well to the virtual format and the participants were extremely grateful that NSF decided to move ahead with the program,” said Deborah Streeter, Professor Emeritus at Cornell’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management, is a national-level NSF I-Corps instructor and the chair of the UNY I-Corps Node curriculum committee.
Streeter recently wrapped up instruction for a Spring 2020 cohort that was supposed to take place in Atlanta, Georgia, but was quickly shifted online due to the pandemic.
“Overall, more of the teams were able to exceed 100 interviews—the highest, for example, is nearly 160 interviews! One very difficult challenge for the teams was to approach people in the security and health industries, as COVID-19 has left potential interviewees either depleted or completely inaccessible. Despite this, teams have approached the experience with great vigor and commitment.”
Provided with mentoring and up to $50K in NSF funding, selected teams are expected to complete over 100 customer discovery interviews to collect first-hand evidence for or against product-market fit for their innovations. At the completion of the program, teams will be able to:
- Identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from academic research;
- Gain entrepreneurship skills through training in customer discovery and guidance from established entrepreneurs; and
- Develop stronger applications for NSF SBIR/STTR funding (up to $1.5 million)
Tom Schryver, Executive Director of the Center for Regional Economic Advancement and visiting lecturer at Cornell’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management, recently observed the first NSF I-Corps Teams cohort to be moved online due to COVID-19. Led by the New England Regional Innovation Node at MIT, the Spring 2020 cohort was originally planned to convene in Boston, Massachusetts from March 31 through May 15, 2020. Despite the move to a virtual format, instructors, mentors, and participants were fully engaged.
“While the circumstances are less than ideal, we are excited about the opportunity to develop and deploy I-Corps materials that can be used by participants across the region,” said Schryver. “Participants made tremendous progress in the virtual format, and it was great to see the deep engagement in our video meetings. We’re excited to use this model to expand our reach.”
Stay up-to-date on the latest available NSF I-Corps Teams cohort opportunities.