NSF I-Corps: About

NSF Innovation Corps or "I-Corps," is an initiative designed to prepare scientists and engineers to expand their focus beyond the laboratory and increase the impact of basic research. Tech Launch Arizona was selected as an I-Corps site in early 2016.

This grant provides TLA with annual funding for the next three years to distribute to selected I-Corps applicant teams. These funds will be split among 30 teams per year to help them move innovative research toward commercialization. Each team grant will last for one to three months and can total up to $3,000.

The I-Corps prioritization of identifying intellectual property with the greatest potential for social and economic impact and then moving it towards commercialization is directly in line with Tech Launch Arizona’s mission.

Program Goals

With the I-Corps Sites Program, NSF is trying to achieve a number of goals:

  • Accelerate the commercialization of new technologies, products and processes that arise from the nation’s academic institutions.
  • Nurture students and/or faculty who are engaged in projects having the potential to be transitioned into the marketplace.
  • Develop formal, active, local innovation ecosystems that contribute to a larger, national network of mentors, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors.
  • Encourage collaboration between academia and industry.
  • Prepare local teams to engage competitively in NSF’s I-Corps Teams Program (I-Corps Teams) and in SBIR and other competitions that support entrepreneurship.
  • Contribute to a National Innovation Network (NIN) of I-Corps Sites, Nodes, Mentors, and alumni-Teams from these entities.
  • Build the pipeline for the National Innovation Network by proactively identifying the developing I-Corps Teams that are competitive at a national level.

TLA is an I-Corps Site

What is the difference between an NSF I-Corps Site and I-Corps Teams?

I-Corps Site (Local Program) I-Corps Teams (National Program)
$3,000 for customer discovery $50,000 for customer discovery and minimum viable product
3-week course 2-month course
Interview 12+ customers Interview 100+ customers
Programming in Tucson Programming at I-Corps Node (the UA is partnered with the Los Angeles node.)
As NSF funding, recipients become eligible for I-Corps Teams Requires history of NSF funding of the technology within the past 5 years

Academic institutions that serve as catalysts for engaging teams in commercialization and local innovation are I-Corps SitesThe UA/TLA is an I-Corps Site, and I-Corps Site Teams are awarded grants of up to $3,000.

I-Corps Nodes are hubs where the NSF has placed infrastructure and resources for engaging and educating academic scientists and engineers in innovation. I-Corps Nodes educate national-level I-Corps Teams, which receive $50,000 awards. The University of Arizona is a university partner of Innovation Node-Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Regional I-Corps Node.

I-Corps Teams are each composed of an academic lead, an entrepreneurial lead, and a mentor. The academic lead is generally the same person as the PI. The PI is responsible for overall grant management and must meet the PI eligibility requirements of the University of Arizona.

I-Corps funds will be designated for such teams working on UA-connected technologies, including:

  • Inventions arising out of the work of UA-employed researchers and faculty.
  • Technologies being developed by companies connected to the UA through the Arizona Center for Innovation (AzCI), the UA incubator at the UA Tech Park.
  • Student-developed technology innovations that demonstrate the potential for commercial and social impact.

Key benefits to I-Corps teams include engagement in the I-Corps curriculum and access to the National Innovation Network (NIN). The NSF Lean Launch curriculum provides entrepreneurial education and coaching maximize their opportunities for success. The NIN is a national pipeline of collaborators, mentors and partners.

Considering Applying for NSF I-Corps?

Check out these videos of participants from the first cohort.