NC State, UNC Join National Program to Accelerate Research Commercialization

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Two North Carolina universities are part of a federal program that will provide entrepreneurship training to academic researchers across all fields of science and engineering so they can bring new solutions to the marketplace.

North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among 10 universities participating in the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Hub program for the mid-Atlantic region. The others are:

  • University of Maryland, College Park

  • Carnegie Mellon University

  • George Washington University

  • Howard University

  • Johns Hopkins University

  • Penn State University

  • University of Pennsylvania

  • Virginia Tech

I-Corps Hubs encompassing 36 additional universities will represent four other regions across the United States.

Altogether, the five Hubs and 46 universities will comprise a National Innovation Network that will include NSF-funded researchers, entrepreneurs, local and regional entrepreneurial communities, and other federal agencies. The Network’s goal is to help researchers learn how to translate fundamental research results into marketable solutions that benefit society.

Each I-Corps Hub will receive $3 million over five years.

“The I-Corps Hubs will bring together diverse scientists and engineers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry partners from every part of our country, providing everyone with an opportunity to solve key challenges and spur economic growth, including new startups and new jobs," said Linda Blevins, NSF deputy assistant director for engineering.

The I-Corps program, established in 2011, connects NSF-funded academic researchers across science and engineering with the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities to help create a National Innovation Network. The program is designed to support the commercialization of technologies that grow from discoveries in fundamental science and engineering.

The I-Corps Hubs will:

  • Create and implement tools, resources and training activities that enhance the nation's innovation capacity.

  • Identify, develop and support promising research that can generate economic value.

  • Gather, analyze, evaluate and use the data and insights resulting from the experiences of those participating in local, regional and national I-Corps programs.

  • Provide opportunities to diverse communities of innovators.

  • Share and leverage effective innovation practices on a national scale to improve quality of life throughout the nation.

"For 10 years, the NSF I-Corps program has been critical to fostering the creative spirit and entrepreneurship that enables NSF-funded research to be translated into new products and services and contribute to the nation's economy," said Blevins. "I am delighted to launch the first of our I-Corps Hubs, which will form the foundation for strengthening and scaling this innovation ecosystem.”

North Carolina impact

“The I-Corps program has proven to be an effective means for introducing academic innovators to the world for entrepreneurship,” said Rob Lindberg, Ph.D., vice president for science and technology development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “We’ve witnessed first-hand how participation in the program has improved the entrepreneurial sophistication of NC State teams, resulting in highly competitive submissions to the university’s Chancellors Innovation Fund and NCBiotech’s Translational Research Grant program. The creation of a mid-Atlantic I-Corps Hub that includes NC State, UNC-Chapel Hill and other world-class research universities could be game-changing.”

NC State has been home to an I-Corps Site since 2017, with 102 teams having participated in the program. During that time, 20 startups have been launched, and $3.7 million in follow-on funding has been generated by I-Corps teams.

“This is an exciting opportunity for NC State to build upon research and commercialization with our peer universities,” said Mladen Vouk, the university’s vice chancellor for research and innovation. “Research commercialization truly embodies our mission at NC State: uniting science and technology to tackle challenges and bolster social and economic development across the world.”

At UNC the I-Corps Hub will be managed by Innovate Carolina’s life sciences startup accelerator team KickStart Venture Services and the Institute for Convergent Science.

The Hub aims to train 100 teams locally and send 15 of these teams to participate in a national I-Corps program over a five-year period. 

“Serving as an I-Corps site will help drive an entrepreneurial mindset in our researchers, reduce the time it takes to translate their ideas to the marketplace, and ultimately, enable the transformation of UNC-Chapel Hill’s inventions into both social and economic impact,” said Mireya McKee, interim director at KickStart Venture Services and site director for UNC’s I-Corps program. “It’s really important we have this proven program that helps startups, and I’m looking forward to collaborating and working with other institutions to iterate and optimize the program for all the different types of startups we work with here at Carolina.”

Barry Teater, NCBiotech Writer
Fri, 09/17/2021 - 15:46