Benefits to the Academic and Entrepreneurial Leads.  As a participant in the Milwaukee
I-Corps program, you will participate in a process that is the “state of the art” in new venture development.  You will experience and practice the customer discovery process that will inform your thinking about forming a company or commercializing a technology – and may also impact they directions for your research and the strength of future proposals.  You’ll become an NSF funded investigator, which will make you eligible for funding opportunities including the national I-Corps program ($50,000 team grants).  In addition, you will have the opportunity to work with a group of smart, motivated and committed business leaders, entrepreneurs and researchers – and become part of a growing network of innovators and entrepreneurs in the Milwaukee area.

Commit to the Sessions.  Teams have committed to participating in all of the sessions.  Teams are asked to review the materials for each session in advance so that we can focus our time together as a group on interactions rather than “content delivery.”  In the exceptional case where a team member cannot participate in person, the other members of the team are responsible for managing their participation via Skype or other video conferencing method.

Commit to the Customer Discovery Process.  The customer discovery process is an essential building block of the Lean LaunchPad process.  You will be challenged to conduct 40 customer interviews, and this is not easy.  You will struggle with this … everybody does … it will get easier with practice and you will get better.  You will be challenged to ask questions in a very particular manner that will get past the “fluff” and get to the real data.  In the end, these skills will serve you in many ways that you might not imagine.  You need to “get out of the building” if you’re going to learn.

Suspend Thinking on Your Technology.  Scientists and researchers obviously spend a great deal of time (sometimes a whole career) working on their technology, but in this program, we ask you to set that aside.  You will be asked to avoid “pitching” your technology.  This can be difficult – since you may have committed a career in developing breakthrough technology.  But by committing to the customer discovery process, you will develop insights that go beyond what you’ve learned so far, and teams have to commit to this process.

Log Your Customer Interviews.  We provide a shared resource for all teams to document their customer interviews.  It is important that teams document each interview.  This will allow the teaching team as well as your Mentor to review and offer feedback on your interview.  More importantly, it will give you a chance to reflect on what you learned and how you could improve your future interviews.

Treat Contacts with Respect.  Your Mentor and other members of the program will help open doors for you to conduct your customer interviews.  Business contacts are valuable, and someone who offers you an introduction is putting their reputation on the line.  So teams are expected to treat these contacts with respect and professionalism.  Being prepared, being efficient and respectful of people’s time, following up with thank you’s goes a long way cementing these important relationships that could be invaluable as you move forward.

Cautions Regarding Intellectual Property.  This process is about customer discovery and not the technology, but is understood that there may be important intellectual property that relates to your work.  It is not practical in this group setting to ask all participants to sign confidentiality agreements.  In conducting customer interviews – at this early stage – it is simply not reasonable to ask for these agreements.  So you need to avoid talking about details of your technology that could compromise your intellectual property rights.  You are encouraged to talk to the technology transfer organization at your institution for guidance.  You should be able to complete this process without talking about the details of your technology (which could constitute and “enabling disclosure”) by focusing on the customer – their problems, needs, etc. – rather than pitching your technology.