The Hub trained 297 individuals from 17 different institutions to understand the challenges inherent in creating successful startups.
Since launching in January 2022, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Northeast I-Corps Hub has rapidly established programs and opportunities to help researchers evaluate their technological discoveries for the potential to address societal and industry needs.
In its first year, the Hub trained 297 individuals from 17 different institutions throughout the Northeast in the I-Corps customer discovery process, which involves conducting interviews with potential customers to understand the challenges inherent in creating successful startups based on scientific and technological discoveries.
The hub’s eight inaugural institutions, led by Princeton University, brought together researchers, mentors, teachers and innovators throughout the Northeast to build and nurture a supportive innovation ecosystem.
Throughout the year, the Hub held six Propelus I-Corps training programs, in which research teams explore how their discoveries can help potential customers and meet industry needs as a startup or venture. The Hub instructor team also designed and launched a second training series called Novus consisting of a half-day of instruction followed by self-paced coursework. The Hub also hosted several panel discussions as part of its Innovating Together online event series featuring experts from regional accelerators in conversation with I-Corps instructors and graduates.
The Northeast Hub trained 94 teams across six Propelus programs, each a four-week course involving classroom time, industry mentorship and numerous customer interviews. Participating teams a $3,000 NSF grant to be used for travel to conferences or other means of interacting with potential customers.
Nineteen teams from the Northeast Hub were accepted to the national I-Corps Teams program, where they delved deeper into the customer discovery process and earned a $50,000 NSF grant. Teams that went through the Northeast Hub programs have attracted an additional $950,000 in follow-on funding to further the development of their entrepreneurial ventures.
This summer, the Hub introduced Novus, a half-day program followed by self-paced coursework that introduces participants to I-Corps methodology, and allows participants to gain hands-on experience with I-Corps and learn how they may benefit before committing to Propelus.
Novus is open to individuals or teams of university researchers and regional tech entrepreneurs. Participants get a first taste of the I-Corps methodology, which includes how to articulate a hypothesis about customer needs, understand their market, and test their hypothesis through conversations with potential customers.
The Hub also introduced the Innovating Together series, an online event that hosts different entrepreneurship programs for researchers to learn about opportunities available to them outside of and in tandem with I-Corps.
Panelists in the Innovating Together series included leaders at IndieBio, HAX, Foundation Venture Capital Group, Activate and Merck Digital Sciences Studio. Innovating Together events are free and open to the public, and aid in recruiting teams by introducing researchers to the I-Corps community.
Growing opportunities for all
Throughout its programs and activities, the I-Corps Northeast Hub demonstrates its commitment to inclusivity and diversity, and aims to contribute to future prosperity and global competitiveness by training the next generation of innovators from all backgrounds.
Activities that promote diversity include building a mentor network of successful and diverse individuals throughout the startup lifecycle, ensuring that Hub instructors and mentors reflect the diversity of the region, and enhancing efforts to recruit participants belonging to groups historically underrepresented in entrepreneurship.
The hub engaged 56 mentors and instructors in 2022, 57% of which are women. Fifty-three percent of the teams trained in the Propelus program in 2022 contained at least one woman, and 22% contained at least one individual from underrepresented groups.
Partner institutions and Delaware State University, a historically black university or college (HBCU), co-lead the hub’s efforts to establish new partnerships with minority-serving institutions.
Princeton University team PolyGone, formerly Project Plastics, developed a water treatment filter designed to remove microplastics from global water supplies. The team went on to participate in the national I-Corps Teams program.
“We were able to get in touch with our market, and find out what their pain points are so we could design our technology to address them. It was a great way to validate both our technology and our team as experts in the field.”
-Yidian Liu, Princeton University
Rowan University team Fledgling Foundry is developing a virtual reality educational experience to teach people trade skills such as leatherworking, metalworking, textiles, and other “exotic” skills that are useful for practical and creative endeavors, such as cosplay.
“Thanks to the I-Corps program I grew my skills as an entrepreneur, communicator, and person. I’m very excited to see what future opportunities in my research I have to ‘get out of the building’ again.”
-Garrett Williams, Rowan University
Low-power resistive random access memory
A New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) I-Corps team has developed a new memory device structure that could enable faster data processing, higher storage capacity, and reduced power consumption for applications such as laptops, cell phones, data centers and cars. The team is exploring the further development of their technology, an improved version of resistive random access memory (RRAM), and is considering applying to the national I-Corps Teams program as a next step.
“I-Corps was our first step toward finding potential customers. It was very rewarding, and we learned a lot from the teaching team such as how to approach a potential customer and how to conduct an interview.”
-Mustafa Yousef, NJIT
Looking to the future
The I-Corps Northeast Hub leaders and community members kicked off 2023 with an online information session, a Novus program at Rutgers University and an online Innovating Together event, all in early January.
In early 2023, the Hub welcomed Drexel University and Yale University as the newest members of the Hub. The Hub will leverage Drexel’s and Yale’s deep expertise in experiential learning and entrepreneurial training as the Hub enters another year of growth and expansion.
“We look forward to helping more researchers bring their ideas and discoveries to the world as we work together to chart new paths to innovation,” said Christina Pellicane, I-Corps Northeast Hub lead instructor and assistant director of innovation at Princeton University.
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