NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program
The National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program is designed to aid academic research and STEM-based innovations in the transition from lab to practical application in society. In partnership with MIT and the NE Regional I-Corps Node, Rensselaer offers a three-week online program to undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff from capital region colleges and universities. Teams start in the Spark program with research-based concepts and conduct interviews with potential customers as well as the business model canvas to understand the potential of launching a startup.
Team ideas or projects can originate from research (funded or unfunded), institutional or industrial projects, as well as STEM-based student work. The topical focus of a project can be (but is not limited to) medical devices, new materials, software, physical products, the internet of things, hardware, wearables, etc. The program provides infrastructure, guidance, resources, networking opportunities, training, and modest funding (up to $3,000 per team) to enable groups the ability to explore the marketplace beyond their campus borders.
Upon completion of the I-Corps regional program, participants may be eligible to apply for the NSF I Corps Team program (an intensive 6-week NSF training with the opportunity to be awarded a $50,000 grant) as well as many other funding opportunities.
This is a real-world, experiential learning program. All participants are expected to commit to at least 3-5 hours per person per week to engage in customer discovery or market research.
Teams will be required to attend their cohort's training sessions on entrepreneurship, one-on-one office hours with the instructors, and a final presentation session where participants will show how their business ideas have developed over the course of the program.
By the end of the program, your team can expect to accomplish some of the following:
- Found general data on the size of your technology’s market and any key market trends
- Analyzed several competitive products
- Interviewed potential customers or end-users
- Completed a standard business model canvas
- Learned about potential sources of early-stage commercialization funding
- Decided whether or not to pursue commercialization of your technology or idea
- Completed much of the research you need to apply for a commercialization-focused grant
Cohorts start every two weeks.
While individuals can apply, preference will be given to complete teams that balance technical competencies and entrepreneurial curiosity. A complete team includes an Academic Lead and an Entrepreneurial Lead.
The Academic Lead will have an academic appointment that would qualify them to submit proposals to the NSF. The AL can also be a Post-Doctoral scholar, or professional staff member, or alumni (only if the EL is a faculty member) provided that person has a deep understanding of the technology that serves as the focus of the project.
The Entrepreneurial Lead is a post-doctoral scholar, a student, professional staff member, or alum with relevant knowledge of the technology and a deep commitment to investigate the commercial landscape surrounding the innovation.
All current New York State Capital Region undergraduate and graduate students, doctoral students, post-doctoral researchers, recent alumni, administrative staff, and faculty are eligible to apply as the Entrepreneurial Lead (EL).
Proposed business technical ventures should be in either the idea, development, or startup stages and have a scalable impact. Business ideas can be from a wide variety of fields including (but not limited to) medical devices, mobile applications, software, physical products, the internet of things, social startups, hardware, wearables, or any other STEM field.
Accepted teams must commit to attending their cohort’s training sessions, office hours with the instructors, and the final presentation day. Failure to complete these elements of the program may be grounds for disqualification from the program and forfeiture and/or repayment of any grant awards associated with the program.
Guidelines for Submissions
- All application materials must be submitted via this submission portal (for all schools).
- Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Space is limited in each cohort.
- Applicants may only be on ONE team per cohort.
Teams must spend their grant awards in the spending windows specified for each cohort. Teams must determine the dates they plan to spend the grant award and apply to the corresponding cohort. Acceptance may be deferred to a later cohort if the selection committee determines the team's spending falls in a different cohort’s spending window.
Participants will be selected on the basis of team, intellectual property/technology strength, and fit with the I-Corps Program mission.
At the start of the program, an itemized financial plan for the awarded funds should be drafted for review.
Types of acceptable expenses are:
- Meetings and Conferences - Cost of admission as well as ancillary costs (i.e., transportation, meals, registration fees, etc.)
- Conferences related to your product/service’s industry
- Meetings hosted by the team for the purpose of customer discovery or market research
- Travel Costs - Costs related to travel, accommodations, and meals while traveling for customer discovery
*During the Covid 19 pandemic, travel guidelines of the host institution must be followed.
- Materials and Supplies - Minimal materials and supplies used to create a prototype (for the product) or pilot program (for services)
- Services - Contracted work will be considered if the proposed work is to be completed by 1) a student of a participating College or University; or 2) a firm that meets RPI’s contractor guidelines. Teams may request reimbursement for SAAS subscriptions that enhance their ability to reach their customer. i.e., LinkedIn Premium
All expenses must be either purchased through the I-Corps Site program administrators or be reimbursed after personal purchase. All expenses must be approved by I-Corps Site program administrators prior to purchase.
Need an idea?
Contact the office of technology transfer on your campus. They may have patents that can be used as the basis of a business idea.