Major Bay Area universities join commercialization network
University of California Berkeley, University of California San Francisco, and Stanford University have joined forces to form a node, the NSF Bay Area Regional I-Node Program, as part of the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) national commercialization network, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The network was established by the NSF with the support of private investors and academic institutions, and aims at educating the next generation of creative, technologically-savvy entrepreneur-scientists.
The national network’s objective is to boost commercialization of science and technology being developed at several US universities, by raising awareness of the value of entrepreneurship among science and engineering faculty and students. The Bay Area node is one of three new nodes to join the I-Corps programme. Other nodes are the DC, Maryland, Virginia region I-Corps Node, led by Dean Chang, director of MTECH Ventures at the University of Maryland, in collaboration with George Washington University and Virginia Tech; and the New York City Regional Innovation Node (NYCRIN), led by Gillian Small, Vice-Chancellor for Research at the City University of New York, in collaboration with New York University and Columbia University.
In 2012, the original I-Corps Node at Stanford University was joined by one at Georgia Tech and one at the University of Michigan. The latest round of NSF grant solicitations has now expanded the network by awarding a total of over $11 million USD to three new consortia of universities, with each node receiving about $3.7 million USD each. “The nodes are the foundation of a national innovation ecosystem, and focus on the front lines of local and regional commercialization efforts. We are looking to them to provide long-term, critical education infrastructure and feedback to the programs that support the commercialization of our nation’s basic research portfolio,” said Errol Arkilic, NSF I-Corps program director, regarding the recent expansion.
The Bay Area node was restructured in the latest round of grant awards to include UCSF and UC Berkeley in addition to Stanford University, and will be led by Richard Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and Steve Blank, Silicon valley entrepreneur and lecturer who was associated with the programme since its inception. The network will encourage students and faculty to generate innovative research that has commercial impact. According to the NSF website, there are three distinct components of I-Corps: Teams, Nodes, and Sites. I-Corps Teams are formed by a principal investigator (usually a senior member of faculty), an industry mentor, and a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow, who acts as entrepreneur lead, furthering a specific commercialization project. I-Corps Nodes serve as regional hubs, and administer a curriculum of online classes and workshops to Teams that have been selected to participate in the programme. I-Corps Sites are individual participating institutions that provide academic support to their own Teams, and facilitate technology transition from academia to industry.
The I-Corps curriculum follows the Lean Launchpad framework, which was developed by Steve Blank and others. This training programme focuses on business models, rather than business plans, and emphasizes multiple rounds of customer feedback for model optimization. The framework originated from a course Steve Blank taught at UC Berkeley on customer development.
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