The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen Cornell University to host a new Innovation Corps (I-Corps) node that will promote entrepreneurship in higher education and increase the success rate of high-tech startups in upstate New York. As the lead organization in the Upstate NY Alliance for Entrepreneurial Innovation, Cornell will partner with the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester as part of a five-year, $4.2-million award to strengthen the region’s innovation ecosystem.
NSF and the Innovation Ecosystem
NSF is a U.S. government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all of the non-medical fields of science and engineering. With an annual budget of over $7 billion (FY 2016), NSF funds approximately 25% of all federally-supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities. NSF doesn’t operate its own laboratories, but instead issues competitive, limited-terms grants to individuals or small groups of investigators who conduct research on their own campuses.
As part of this effort, NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) helps turn these scientific and engineering discoveries into commercially-viable technologies that can support regional economic development. Accordingly, the I-Corps program connects academic researchers to larger technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities. By preparing scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory, I-Corps broadens the impact of select, NSF-funded, basic-research projects.
NSF and the I-Corps Program
Under the I-Corps program, NSF grantees learn to identify product opportunities that can emerge from academic research. Through guidance from established entrepreneurs and a targeted curriculum, scientists and engineers receive entrepreneurship training while learning to translate their discoveries into technologies with near-term benefits. Knowledge from NSF-funded basic research usually advances a particular scientific or engineering discipline, but some results demonstrate broader applicability.
To participate in the I-Corps curriculum, teams of university researchers, student entrepreneurs, and business mentors receive training on-line or through on-site activities. The I-Corps Teams that assemble at I-Corps Nodes also identify and support ideas that can add value to regional industries and economies. In addition to creating and implementing tools and resources, I-Corps Teams work collaboratively with other I-Corps Nodes across the country.
NYS and the National I-Corps Nodes
The I-Corps Node that Cornell University will host is the newest addition to a growing national network, and the second I-Corps Node in New York State. The other NYS-based node is hosted by City University of New York in partnership with Columbia University and New York University. The original I-Corps Node was at Stanford University in California, but NSF now funds nodes across the United States. Host locations include Georgia, California, Maryland, Michigan, California, and Texas.
In a recent article in the Cornell Chronicle, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering explained the importance of this NSF I-Corps award. “This program,” said Lance Collins, “is designed to advance the technological ecosystem by providing scientists and engineers with the resources they need to turn their discoveries into products, process solutions, and viable businesses.” The result, Collins added, “will have a positive impact on society and the regional economy.”