The National Science Foundation (NSF) created the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program to help accelerate the transfer of academic research into the marketplace. The NSF teamed worked with leading entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley to apply the “lean launch” methodology to help faculty-based researchers understand markets for their technologies. Initially in 2015, UWM and the UWM Research Foundation were awarded a three-year grant from NSF to bring this important program to Milwaukee, creating the first NSF I-Corps Site in Wisconsin. The grant was renewed in 2018. The UWM Research Foundation has also brought this powerful methodology to the Catalyst Grant Program to enhance commercialization outcomes.
The Milwaukee I-Corps site supports not just UWM, but other academic institutions in Milwaukee as well – including the Medical College of Wisconsin, Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and Concordia University. In 2016, UWM was awarded a supplemental award from the NSF to extend I-Corps into UWM’s College of Nursing. Additional support for the NSF I-Corps program has been provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) through their Entrepreneurial Support Pilot Program.
The I-Corps program uses a disciplined, hypothesis-based approach to explore markets. I-Corps teams bring together academic researchers with industry mentors to explore the needs of the market using a structured “customer discovery” process. The program challenges researchers not to talk about their science, but instead probe fundamental needs by conducting face-to-face interviews.