The I-Corps Program at UToledo
I-Corps helps you bridge the gap between university research labs and the marketplace. It teaches you how to identify market opportunities for your technology and develop a commercialization strategy.
You will attend online webinars each week while conducting customer interviews. Each team has a business mentor to help guide the discovery process.
The program is open to any UToledo faculty, student or community team with an innovative idea that can benefit society. Teams should include a Technical Lead and an Entrepreneurial Lead.
The team’s innovation should be a result of a STEM research project or be able to generate such a project. It can be a new technology, a product, service or process.
It should be scalable and the team should have the potential to quickly gain traction in the market. It is hoped that the innovations can be transitioned to a NASA mission program or commercialized outside of NASA.
The I-Corps curriculum provides an entrepreneurial learning experience using the Lean LaunchPad and Business Model Canvas methodologies for university researchers commercializing their technologies. The teams learn to conduct customer interviews and develop a business plan as they move forward with their project. Teams will complete a minimum of 15-20 in-person or video interviews with stakeholders. This is an important step in determining the commercialization landscape for the team’s technology and to evaluate the potential for a successful product-market fit.
If you want to develop a product that truly solves a customer problem, it’s essential that you conduct proper customer discovery. This process involves gathering customer feedback and conducting interviews to learn more about your target market’s problems, pain points, and needs.
Interviews can be conducted in a variety of ways, including face-to-face, over the phone, or online. Regardless of the type of interview, it’s important to ask non-leading questions and listen carefully for answers. Additionally, it’s vital to record your interviews and take notes.
In addition to testing your core business assumptions, customer discovery also allows you to develop an effective business model and find product-market fit. This is a key step in the Lean Startup methodology, which places value on validated learning. As a result, you’ll save time and money by avoiding costly mistakes that could have been avoided with a little bit of research.
Business Model Development
A business model is a visual diagram that describes how a company creates, delivers and captures value. It includes descriptions of customer segments, key operational tasks, resource requirements and details about how the business generates revenue. A business model is a critical element in determining product-market fit and commercialization plans for SBIR/STTR grants.
To develop a business model, teams will use a tool called the Business Model Canvas developed by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010). This tool encourages discussion, analysis and leverages creativity to design a business model that meets customer needs.
A business model should identify at least three customer types and one problem to focus on. Then, teams should narrow down the list of possible solutions to a maximum of three that are feasible in terms of costs and resources. This will help them focus their efforts in conducting further customer discovery interviews. Also, it will help them narrow down the direction of their business model development process.
Often, teams will seek further funding to help them bring their ideas to market. The icorp program will teach you how to identify potential funders and connect you with local mentors to guide your search. The national I-Corps network also provides a wide range of support through the NSF I-Corps National Cohort, regional I-Corps Nodes and Hubs, VentureWell, and other partner programs.
The team’s Technical Lead (TL)/Principal Investigator (PI) must have deep and direct technical expertise in the actual core technology about which the I-Corps(tm) team is exploring commercial potential. The TL/PI will typically serve as the proposal point of contact and manage the I-Corps(tm) award funds.
Teams may be composed of faculty, staff and students from the university. However, the team must focus on STEM-based research and innovation to be eligible for NSF I-Corps funding. The team must be able to demonstrate that their invention/innovation is capable of meeting an unmet need in a market.