This short course introduces participants to the key concepts and methodologies used in I-Corps, which is the rigorous market assessment and validation program pioneered by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Teams that successfully complete this short course will be eligible to apply for either the NSF I-Corps program or the regional DC I-Corps program. Both programs use the same curriculum, largely based on current “Lean Startup” methodologies, and focus on early customer discovery and business model generation. Teams that apply and are accepted to the NSF I-Corps program will receive a $50K grant. Teams that enter the Regional program will not receive funding, but will work with a regional network of advisors and have access to a regional accelerator program and venture mentoring service.
We recognize that some innovators and researchers don’t have the time to commit to a full six-week I-Corps program. This course is meant to introduce you to the key concepts covered, and to help you determine the next steps in potentially commercializing your technology or building your existing startup. The vast majority of I-Corps participants walk away with significant, unexpected findings that change the direction of their work. This short course is a perfect introduction to I-Corps methodologies and the teaching team will help assess what subsequent program makes the most sense for your team. Come find out how the I-Corps process can help you!
What makes a team?
Teams can be made up of one to three members. Each team must have a Principal Investigator (PI), who is the primary researcher or inventor behind the technology. We also highly encourage teams to have an Entrepreneurial Lead (EL). The EL is often a graduate student, post-doc, or highly motivated undergraduate student committed to the project. In some cases, the PI and EL roles are filled by the same person. Both the PI and EL will be expected to conduct customer discovery interviews, and each should think of this as a “half-time” job over the two weeks. Each participant should plan to commit 10-15 hours per week to the course.
Teams may also include an Industry Mentor (IM), who should be an experienced entrepreneur or business executive. The IM plays a critical role in the NSF and Regional I-Corps programs, which cover six-to-seven weeks. Teams should bring an IM to this short course if they have one, but this role is not required for participation.
What will you do?
Teams will create detailed customer profiles that clearly identify and distinguish between beneficiaries, users, decision makers, influencers, and payers in their target markets. More importantly, teams will have to understand and clearly articulate why each of these customer types would value the product or service from the customer’s perspective (i.e., determine the value proposition for each customer type).
Why should you enroll?
Most researchers, technologists, and startup founders in all industries make a similar assumption – they presume that what they are working on has inherent value in the market. Sometimes this turns out to be true, but often it does not. Even for technologies with obvious benefits (e.g., a therapeutic drug), founders often misunderstand the market they are entering. They focus on technical risk while neglecting customer risk, which is a general way of saying that they do not identify clear product-market fit or viable business models necessary for commercializing their technology. The DC I-Corps program is specifically designed to help teams reduce customer risk, and therefore increase the odds of your success. Again, the “Introduction to I-Corps” program will act as a qualifier for teams to be considered for enrollment in the full regional and national I-Corps cohorts.
The program is free for participants, but requires a significant effort over the course duration. The program is immersive and experiential, as the teaching team creates an experience that reflects the chaos, uncertainty, and demands of a real startup company. Each participant should expect to put in 10-15 hours per week on the project. The program is designed to generate a maximum impact over a relatively short duration, and should be considered a required first step for anyone interested in commercializing a technology or product, whether through a startup or licensing arrangement.
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