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Reflections on the I-Corp Training Experience

This article originally appeared on SBA.gov. Guest blog post by Javier Saade, Associate Administrator for Investment and Innovation, and G. Nagesh Rao, Chief Technologist & Entrepreneur in Residence

“We are not interested in your sales pitch, put them away, we are interested in helping you better understand how you can effectively commercialize your technology better.” –Steve Blank (I-Corp Lead Instructor & Lean Startup Guru)

Earlier this month we had the fortunate opportunity to be invited to observe the inaugural training session of NIH’s I-Corp program at Microsoft Corporation’s offices in Washington DC, where cutting edge scientists met innovative business leaders. This training endeavor was designed and adapted, from NSF’s original program, to help train life scientists in being better and smarter entrepreneurs with their prototype development as a result of their SBIR Phase I grant funding. As we watched Steve Blank and his cohort of lean startup instructors engage with the presenters we could not help but describe the I-Corp instructional experience as a “Shark-Tank meets a mini-MBA course”.

The I-Corp program is designed to help scientist-entrepreneurs become more business savvy rooted in applying the principles of “evidence-based customer discovery” as they develop their prototypes. Now, what does that really mean? Basically helping scientists get out of their “basic” research and development mindset and think more “applied” and practical driven. Ensuring scientists better understand who is going to be the beneficiary of this technology and why.

So why does this even matter? In a global world of competitiveness with countries like Germany, Japan, China and India doubling down efforts on their technological innovation ecosystems, it is imperative for the US to facilitate a new way of applied science and design thinking.

Facilitating new methodologies around cross-collaborative plays between science, business, and even legal professions helps small businesses come to light faster, agile, and more competitive than ever before. I-Corp helps bridge that knowledge divide between business and applied science, by educating and training research scientists to be a bit more entrepreneurial and incorporate design thinking and practical applications of use around science and technology development.

As we can see from this 2014 report by Battelle and R&D magazine, America has stiff competition from the emerging economies (China, India, Brazil, etc…) as well reinvigoration from the Western European Bloc (Germany, UK, France, etc…).

It stands to be the case that the US needs to retain its competitive edge in order to effectively compete globally and foster wealth creation from an economic and knowledge development return. In essence I-Corp helps make that happen and we here at SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation support the pioneering work of NSF that introduces novel and innovative means in successfully commercializing high-tech federally-funded research. We see this human capital development as one of many facets of our efforts in helping “Seed America’s Future” through our oversight of the SBIR/STTR program.

About the author

Javier Saade

Javier Saade is the Associate Administrator of the US Small Business Administration's Office of Investment and Innovation.

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Comments

I was a guest cohort at the October 2014 Gathering and it was fun. I'm going to try to get into the Spring Cohort 2016 Session. I definitely want to be a part of this before the funding ends.

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