A new collaboration between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will give NIH-funded researchers training to help them evaluate their scientific discoveries for commercial potential with the aim of accelerating the translation of biomedical innovations into applied health technologies.
I-Corps at NIH is a pilot of the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program specially tailored for biomedical research. Academic researchers and entrepreneurs with Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) Phase 1 awards from participating NIH institutes will be eligible to apply to I-Corps at NIH.
The I-Corps curriculum at NIH will be a nine-week boot camp in which experienced, business-savvy instructors work closely with teams of researchers to help them explore potential markets for their federally funded innovations. I-Corps grantees use a hypothesis-validation approach to customer discovery that resonates with scientists and engineers. While I-Corps instructors typically have a wide range of expertise, the I-Corps participants from NIH will be taught by instructors who have biomedical business experience.
“This new collaboration with NIH is further evidence of the flexibility and efficacy of the I-Corps model,” said Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for Engineering. “Translating basic biomedical research to the marketplace has its own particular set of challenges, which we recognize. By focusing and adapting the I-Corps curriculum to the life sciences, we expect biomedical researchers will be better-equipped to enter the business arena.”
Providing tools for prospective entrepreneurs
Four NIH institutes will participate in the pilot program: the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
Michael Weingarten, director of the NCI SBIR Development Center, said he and his colleagues initially reached out to NSF because they witnessed the difference I-Corps lessons made for the graduates. To date, more than 300 three-person teams have completed the NSF I-Corps Teams training, including those supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E).
“I-Corps will help teach NIH-funded start-ups how to build scalable business models around new technologies they’re developing for the detection and treatment of disease,” Weingarten said. “The program sheds new light on how companies can deal with important business risks such as protecting intellectual property and developing regulatory and reimbursement strategies.”
A sustainable innovation ecosystem
In addition to the pilot, existing NIH-funded programs can apply to become new NSF I-Corps sites to broaden the I-Corps network. These programs include the NIH Centers for Accelerated Innovation and Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs, which focus on academic researchers with technologies that have not yet led to the formation of a startup or have been licensed by an existing company.
All people and organizations involved in I-Corps become part of the NSF-established National Innovation Network, a nationwide web created to leverage the community that has developed among the grantees to increase the program’s impact.
Source: National Science Foundation press release, adapted. Image credit: NSF. I-Corps at NIH is a trademarked term.