Designation as a NSF I-Corps University Site has allowed RIT to broaden its early stage entrepreneurship outreach to the RIT community. The Simone Center provides I-Corps training to students and faculty groups with a number of general requirements.
The Simone Center integrates I-Corps curriculum into three core pre-seed commercial programs. These programs differ by length and target group.
Each member of the teams who participate in the NSF I-Corps Site Program are expected to contribute at least 3 to 5 hours per week to customer discovery and market research related activities. By the end of the program teams are expected to complete some of the following deliverables:
After the successful completion of the program, teams may decide to launch their startup or choose whether or not to pursue commercialization through further NSF I-Corps funding of up to $50,000. This can be accomplished by attending short courses held by NSF I-Corps Nodes and also applying for the NSF I-Corps National Program. These programs are much more intensive and rigorous than the NSF I-Corps Site Program.
Teams work closely with an assigned mentor with technical and industry expertise to provide assistance throughout the program. Mentors and teams will meet regularly to monitor progress and provide guidance through customer discovery and business development.
NSF Team Composition
The standard NSF I-Corps Program proposed that each team be composed of a Principal Investigator (PI), that is a lead researcher and an Entrepreneurial Lead (EL), that is a business startup lead. The Simone Center requires both a lead researcher and an entrepreneurial lead, but allows for larger and diverse commercialization teams depending on the project.
Concept Maturity and Viability
Incoming I-Corps teams typically possess various levels of business and technology readiness levels. There are no particular “right” levels for entering the program. The Simone Center will screen each team and project to determine their appropriateness for the program. Once accepted into the program, each team will be required to provide a completed “project maturity” assessment to explore the state of customer discovery, business model and technology advancement.
Student Incubator. Student teams are screened/pre-approved before entering the Student Incubator Program. Students may get course credit for entering the program or students seeking to advance their concepts on a full time basis may gain co-op credit. The Student Incubator offers a full 15-week I-Corps curriculum. As part of the RIT I-Corps Site program, teams may be eligible for a $3,000 grant through NSF. This grant money may be employed for customer discovery (including travel), prototyping or co-op stipends (for those wishing to make this project into a full time co-op experience). Because of the large number of student teams in the I-Corps program, only the most motivated, active and successful teams receive I-Corps funding. The screening process includes a “project maturity” evaluation that enables the teams to understand their potential path to funding. To schedule an informational or screening interview please email Dana Wolcott.
Full-time Saunders Summer Start-up Accelerator Program. Student teams may also apply for the highly competitive full-time, summer-based accelerator program. This program provides living stipends to team members, a small prototyping fund, office space, active mentoring and (when appropriate) hands-on assistance from the RIT MakerSpace network. The accelerator program is based upon NSF I-Corps curriculum and augmented by expert seminars on customer discovery approaches, entrepreneurial funding techniques (including SBIR approaches), effective team development, entrepreneurial marketing, etc. After completion of this program, teams have clear “go or no go decisions”, significant customer, market, and business model development learnings and some form of minimum viable product. To schedule an informational interview or apply please email Rupa Thind.
RIT faculty play many roles in RIT’s I-Corps program. Sometimes, faculty transfer their applied research to student teams, which then enter into the student track. Other times, faculty work with students as research/technical mentors. When faculty seek to lead and explore an effort to commercialize their research, they enter a faculty-dedicated 4 week I-Corps seminar.
Faculty I-Corps Seminar. Faculty seeking to advance and explore the commercial potential of their research enter this program. Beginning in 2017, the program is offered twice a year in the fall and spring semesters. The seminar is composed of four I-Corps sessions. Consistent with the I-Corps approach, faculty lead teams focus on the customer discovery (getting out of the lab) and business model development.
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