The D.C. region has plenty of startup programs, yet for technologists there isn’t enough focus on the scientific application and testing of their ideas.
Enter D.C. I-Corps. The National Science Foundation-funded regional program sponsored by a consortium from George Washington University, University of Maryland College Park, Virginia Tech and John Hopkins University.
In the program, teams focus on the customer discovery process, and use applied research to find market viability upfront. Some recent teams to come through the program include:
- Nanochon: 3D printing for orthopedics and tissue engineering
- Aperiomics: a pathogens detection service to help detect viral bacterial, fungal and parasites
- Vector: a micro satellite space launch company
“Going through I-Corps helped put my ideas through a stress test in a meaningful way. I don’t know if I would have started my company without it,” said Benjamin Holmes, CEO of Nanochon — who participated in both regional and national I-Corps programs as a Ph.D. student at GW.
The early-stage startup teams are encouraged to interview 100 potential customers to validate whether their startup ideas have market acceptance.
Teams are strongly encouraged to get out of their labs to do fieldwork and “increase the hit rate for ideas coming out of the university,” said Jim Chung, associate VP for research innovation at GW.
The D.C. Regional Node is one of eight national NSF Innovation Corps nodes. The I-Corps approach is fast becoming a standard model for U.S. Government research agencies to develop in their respective Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR programs. This is likely a key result from its inclusion in the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act passed earlier this January.
More than 5,500 participants and 1,031 teams have been trained locally as part of the seven-week bootcamp that teaches entrepreneurship skills using a Lean Startup philosophy. In all, 45 teams have been elevated to the national I-Corps, where they are funded by a $50,000 research grant.