Three Texas universities were granted $3.75 million in funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to engage in a three year program and create a regional innovation hub with the purpose of turning academic research into useful technology with commercial applications. The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program awarded Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University for the assignment.
The Southwest Alliance for Entrepreneurial Innovation Node, the coalition established between the three universities, is the first node of its kind in the southwest and mid-continent region of the country, and was delegated with teams of university scientists and industry experts to develop life-changing products. The NSF is willing to support not only research on fundamental science and engineering, but also science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education related to the effort as well.
“Universities are the birthplace of new ideas and the epicenter of life-changing research,” stated the managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Brad Burke. “This new NSF I-Corps initiative is a paradigm shift that will facilitate a cultural change in universities and research centers designed to take researchers’ creativity and innovation to the commercial level. It will be a driver for higher education and university research to become much more entrepreneurial.”
One of the goals of the I-Corps program is for scientists and engineers to reflect on how to transform federally-funded projects into commercial ventures. “The I-Corps program is no doubt one of the nation’s signature programs for promoting entrepreneurship and startup creation, and we are, of course, honored by the designation,” said the vice president for research at UT Austin, and now also the lead partner in the node, Juan Sanchez.
“Having an I-Corps node established in Texas represents a unique opportunity for researchers and institutions across the state and region to leverage existing research efforts into new business initiatives that will benefit society at large,” he added. It offers potential partnerships with 33 institutions in the southwest region, which means more than $600 million of NSF funding in fields like bioscience, K-12 education, materials energy research, geosciences, engineering, psychology, oil and gas, water filtration, and entrepreneurism.
“NSF looks for broader impacts, so involving schools in our system and region is a way to broaden and advance the I-Corps initiative,” explained the executive director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, Richard Lester. “One of our far-reaching goals is to teach this process to other universities in the region.”
In order to apply for the I-Corps Team program, each candidate has to create a three-person team that includes an NSF-funded researcher, a business mentor, and a graduate student, known as the “entrepreneurial lead.” If the application is accepted, each team is automatically awarded a six-month $50,000 NSF grant to support the commercialization of their research idea, as well as they will be able to attend an official NSF I-Corps NSF I-Corps training at one of the national nodes.