Dan Freeman speaks at the Fast Forward event at the Horn Program's Venture Development Center in April. Freeman is principal investigator of a new NSF grant that will further catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware.

I-Corps Site

UD team wins NSF funding to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship

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11:15 a.m., June 2, 2014--The University of Delaware has won a $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps Sites Program (I-Corps Sites).

The three-year project, “I-Corps Sites as an Ecosystem Catalyst,” will be led by Dan Freeman, director of UD’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, and Dan Flynn, associate dean for research in the College of Health Sciences.

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The purpose of an I-Corps Site is to nurture and support multiple local teams to transition their ideas, devices, processes or other intellectual activities into the marketplace. The funding is provided only to academic institutions that already have innovation or entrepreneurial units.

“This award places UD in select company with MIT, Stanford, Michigan, USC, Carnegie Mellon and others as one of just 20 schools to receive direct funding as part of NSF’s National Innovation Network,” Freeman says. 

“It will serve as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship across the entire campus over the next three years,” he adds. “We’re excited to add I-Corps Sites awards to First Step, Hen Hatch, and the other pre–seed funding and support mechanisms we’ve established here at UD.”

The award will provide grants of up to $3,000 for almost 100 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-based projects focused on market validation for new technologies. Funded teams will participate in a co-curricular training program focused on the Lean Startup methodology, which offers a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and getting products into the customers’ hands faster. 

Project teams will typically consist of three or more members, including a faculty member serving as principal investigator, a student working as the entrepreneurial lead, and an external mentor from the Horn Program network. 

For Flynn, the NSF funding is an opportunity to align First Step, an undergraduate research and entrepreneurial program in the College of Health Sciences, with the Horn Program’s Venture Development Center.

“I could envision other programs similar to First Step developing in areas such as energy research or food security, with novel undergraduate ideas and inventions feeding into the entrepreneurial programs that the Horn Center has so successfully developed,” he says.

All principal investigators funded through the I-Corps Sites grant will become eligible to apply to the national I-Corps Teams program, which provides larger grants to support further market validation efforts. 

“According to NSF data, participating in I-Corps Teams increases the chances of winning an SBIR I (Small Business Innovation Research) grant by about three times,” Freeman says. “Thus, the small grants awarded through the I-Corps Sites program will provide an enhanced opportunity for startup teams to receive up to $100,000 in additional grant support.”

A request for proposals for the first round of funding will go out later this summer. Details will appear in a UDaily announcement. Those who are interested in being notified when the RFP is available can send an email to hornprogram@udel.edu with “Request RFP for UD’s NSA I-Corps Sites Program” in the subject line. 

Article by Diane Kukich

Photos by Doug Baker

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