Five academic institutions in Milwaukee are joining forces to form a local site of the National Innovation Network that will recruit and train 90 entrepreneurial teams over the next three years. With training, the teams will conduct deep research into their chances of starting a viable business or find new pathways to market.
The effort funded by a $300,000 National Science Foundation Innovation-Corps (NSF I-Corps) grant brings together academic researchers, graduate students and business networks to grow the local economy through research-generated ideas that are honed in collaboration with industry.
Led by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the site’s partners include Marquette University, the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and Concordia University of Wisconsin.
“Through this site, we’re able to bring the proven I-Corps model of commercializing innovation to Milwaukee, where academia already works closely with the private sector,” said Brian Thompson, president of the UWM Research Foundation. “This will be a powerful complement to our city’s evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Accepted teams will be guided through a Lean LaunchPad program, which will lead them in customer discovery, find them mentors and link them to sources of early-stage funding. The teams will make a decision about whether to proceed to market within six months of completing the program.
Each team in the I-Corps program will consist of an academic lead (a faculty member or a post-doctoral student), an entrepreneurial lead (typically a graduate student) and a mentor with business experience.
Cohorts will consist of 10 teams that convene three times per year for three years. Each team will receive a mini-grant to use on their endeavor and access to the facilities and collaborators provided by the sites’ academic members.
Milwaukee-area resources enhancing the site include the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium, the Water Equipment & Policy Center at UWM and Marquette, the Global Water Center, the drug-discovery consortium Bridge-to-Cures, and the Clinical & Translational Science Institute of Southeast Wisconsin, funded by the National Institutes of Health and administered by MCW.
The UWM Research Foundation will help coordinate the network and supporting curriculum. Here what each partner has to say about I-Corps:
- “For it to truly succeed, the Milwaukee region needs a broader network of academic and industry partners focused on bridging research to commercialization,” said Kristina Ropella, interim Opus dean of engineering at Marquette. “I-Corps will expand the pool of students and faculty who understand and are actively engaged in the discovery and commercial application of STEM research in a city that lags in startups.”
- “This program will help bridge the gap between the academic discoveries of our faculty, staff, and students and the marketplace,” said Andrew Greene, director of the Biotechnology and Bioengineering Center at MCW. “Partnerships are powering innovation and entrepreneurship across the region, positioning Southeast Wisconsin to build an even greater reputation for discovery.”
- “At MSOE, we try to inspire an entrepreneurial mindset in our students and encourage them to work with the MSOE Center for Entrepreneurship,” said Fred Berry, MSOE vice president of academics. “By participating in the national I-Corps program, we are giving them another opportunity to take their efforts to the next level.”
- “This program provides a perfect way for innovators to find complementary expertise across institutional boundaries,” said Daniel Sem, Concordia professor of pharmaceutical sciences and CEO of Bridge to Cures. “This project will provide essential mentoring to help faculty and student health care entrepreneurs as they seek seed funds from Bridge to Cures.”
- “The formula used by the Milwaukee’s I-Corps site leverages investments in basic research from the National Science Foundation, innovative curriculum, and student agents of change, such as UWM’s Innovation Fellows,” said Ilya Avdeev, UWM assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
By Laura Otto