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Building a US innovation network (I-Corps) node in Michigan: 1240409

Principal Investigator: Thomas Zurbuchen
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Jason Owen-Smith, Aileen Huang-Saad
Organization: Regents of the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Building a US innovation network (I-Corps) node in Michigan

Project Description

This project is establishing a founding network node at the University of Michigan (UMich) to successfully replicate the I-Corps curriculum at geographically distributed regions throughout the nation and further study how innovation permeates the academic culture. Although the current I-Corps program trains the nation’s researchers in cutting-edge customer development methods, it does not offer additional support for start-ups once the go/no-go decision is made. Providing such support to local teams can offer great benefit, since most researchers are unlikely to relocate to the most active geographical regions of entrepreneurial activity. Building a robust network of innovation nodes across the country is critical to help support potential startups; therefore, this project offers a path toward leveraging a connected group of knowledgeable and highly experienced groups to help mitigate the issues and risks associated with creating new enterprises.

The UMich node will deliver the I-Corps hypothesis/validation-based (Lean LaunchPad – LLP) curriculum that focuses on Customer Development Methodology to cohorts of NSF-designated teams on a semi-annual basis. This will allow for training and development of I-Corps teams in an alternate location, while additionally increasing the breadth/depth of training and helping to scale the overall impact of the I-Corps program. UMich organized a team of trainers to present the I-Corps curriculum to I-Corps teams and help expand the pool of prospective I-Corps faculty who are able to teach the I-Corps curriculum, work with the selected teams, and help to further inform the national innovation network.

Broader Significance

The establishment of an I-Corps node at the UMich is fostering the pursuit of both short-term and long-term research and development projects to help achieve the goals of the NSF I-Corps program. The node is researching, analyzing, and leveraging data from the I-Corps education, training and opportunity development efforts to: 1) develop an understanding of how institutions can improve support for innovation ecosystems; 2) create and share methods for successfully scaling effective practices and models that foster innovation; 3) explore how the network can enable new collaborations among geographic regions to support commercialization opportunity development, independent of geographic locations; 4) examine and track the I-Corps teams’ dynamics, activities, and outcomes; and 5) identify and propose improvements to the I-Corps curriculum materials, training practices, and national innovation network utilization.

The UMich node is expanding the I-Corps cadre of innovation experts that are disseminating effective practices, fostering a change in culture (particularly in academia) and helping to mentor others in their business development efforts on a national scale. The UMich node has the potential to have a positive influence on future research direction at all universities. While the I-Corps training program doesn’t increase overall research activity, it encourages a culture among university researchers to pursue areas in which there are confirmed industrial/societal needs. Furthermore, UMich has a set of existing entrepreneurship programs that can be leveraged to support I-Corps.

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