The University of Minnesota has received a National Science Foundation I-Corps Site award, a grant aimed at helping science and engineering students and faculty to identify the commercial potential of their discoveries and test those ideas in the marketplace. The University of Minnesota will join a select group of only 14 other I-Corps sites across the country, including MIT, Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"The NSF award provides a unique opportunity for the university to be part of a nationwide innovation network of shared resources, knowledge and entrepreneurial expertise," said Mostafa Kaveh, the University's College of Science and Engineering associate dean and lead on the I-Corps grant. "Ultimately, this program will not only benefit our student entrepreneurs, but it will help to advance Minnesota's innovation economy and develop the next generation of innovation leaders in the state."
The $300,000, three-year NSF grant will support expansion of the University's Minnesota Innovation Corps (MIN-Corps), including support for MIN-Corps' STARTUP course, an intensive course in which students test business model assumptions and receive recurring feedback from instructors and mentors. The grant will also fund seed grants for student entrepreneurs and their teams to explore the commercial potential of promising ideas. Micro grants of about $3,000 will be available for up to 30 teams per year. Teams include an entrepreneurial lead (student), an academic lead (faculty member) and an industry mentor.
The University of Minnesota's I-Corps Site is led by three University partners: the College of Science and Engineering, the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship in the Carlson School of Management, and the Office for Technology Commercialization.
MIN-Corps builds upon a University of Minnesota platform of innovation programs that support University researchers with technology commercialization and business development, such as startup seminars, an entrepreneurial leave program, and technology management courses and seminars aimed at accelerating the translation of research to commercial ventures.
MIN-Corps and other sites in NSF's I-Corps network are also part of a larger national trend to boost education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and promote university-based entrepreneurship. Programs like MIN-Corps provide alternatives to traditional business degree programs by offering applied business and innovation management courses to science and technology majors as an important complement to their technical expertise.
"Once students recognize the commercial potential of their ideas, they get really excited about the possibility of bringing them to life," said John Stavig, Holmes Center professional director and co-lead on the I-Corps grant. "Programs within the I-Corps network help guide and mentor STEM students with entrepreneurial aspirations to broaden their business knowledge and personal leadership abilities."
The U of M has 23,000 students and 2,500 faculty members in STEM programs across the University. During the 2012-13 academic year, there were 331 new inventions disclosed, 148 new patent filings and 14 startup companies launched. All of these numbers are record highs for the University of Minnesota, indicating strong upward trends in both innovation and technology commercialization.
"We are surrounded by amazing talent at the U, with new invention disclosures being filed every day," said Russ Straate, associate director for the Office of Technology Commercialization's Venture Center. "We are constantly looking for new ways to tap into and maximize this pipeline, and our goal is to help scientists and innovators develop the business experience, contacts or resources they need to translate those ideas into marketable products. This program is meant to help our students and faculty make the necessary connections and to fill in those gaps."