By Journal Sentinel of the
The National Science Foundation has awarded a $300,000, three-year grant to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to become an “Innovation Corps” site to recruit and train 90 teams to commercialize their research over the next three years.
UWM is collaborating on the project with Marquette University, Medical College of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Concordia University Wisconsin.
The I-Corps program, part of the federal agency’s National Innovation Network, is the “gold standard” for accelerating ideas into the marketplace, said Brian Thompson, president of the UWM Research Foundation.
“This is a way to excite faculty about entrepreneurial thinking and how research can be applied to real products that can get to market,” said Ilya Avdeev, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Milwaukee program.
Each year the program will choose 30 teams of three — an academic, an entrepreneur-minded associate from the school and a mentor from the private sector — in a competitive process, Thompson said. They will receive federal funding of as much as $2,400 and participate in an eight-week training program that uses lean start-up methods pioneered by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank.
The National Science Foundation asked Blank in 2011 to help develop the I-Corps program and train scientists and engineers to do a better job of starting companies.
During their training, teams will evaluate their core value proposition, potential customers, key activities and underlying financial model.
“We’re not the experts, we run the process and we want to keep people honest about this,” Thompson said. “We’ll be asking ‘do you just believe that or did you hear it from customers?'”
At the end of the training, each team will make a ‘go’ or ‘no go’ decision, Thompson said. Organizers will help those that decide to go forward make connections with angel investors, and organizations like gener8tor and BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Inc., he said. Those that aren’t ready to go forward will be better equipped to spot opportunities for future commercialization, he said.
Either way, teams will have tested and developed their business models, and should be well-positioned to take the next steps, Thompson said. Those steps could include federal grants or private investment, he said.
I-Corps teams can originate from student work, or institutional or industrial projects, Thompson said. Organizers will run a shorter pilot program, involving 10 teams, this summer.