NIH Researchers Join NSF Innovation Corps

On June 18, NSF announced a program for training NIH researchers in evaluating their scientific discoveries for commercial potential. The program, dubbed I-Corps™ at NIH, is a pilot of the NSF Innovation Corps™ (I-Corps) program aimed at accelerating the translation of biomedical discoveries into applied health technologies (see”NSF ‘Audacious Experiment’ Still Audacious But an Experiment No Longer,” IMR July-Aug. 2014, p.1).

Like the I-Corps classes, the NIH version is a nine-week course for three-member teams of SBIR and STTR Phase 1 grantees that include a C-Level corporate officer, an individual with business development experience in the target industry, and a program director/principal investigator.

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.”

Michael Weingarten, director of the National Cancer Institute SBIR Development Center, which is leading the pilot, 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.”

New Model for Commercial Biomedicine

“We now know the traditional translational medicine model of commercialization is wrong,” stated Prof. Steve Blank, whose Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford University birthed The I-Corps curriculum (see

“We believe that a much more efficient commercialization process recognizes that 1) there needs to be a separate, parallel path to validate the commercial hypotheses and 2) the answers to the key commercialization questions are outside the lab and cannot be done by proxies,” Blank added. “The key members of the team, CEO, CTO, Principal investigator, need to be actively engaged talking to customers, partners, regulators, etc.”


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