While it’s been quiet here on the CSUPERB blog, we’ve been travelling, consulting, building relationships and developing programming for a new NSF-supported Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Biological Site for the CSU!
All the leg-work led to today’s system-wide call for Teams and Applications for CSU I-Corps opportunities this fall. Contact CSUPERB, find an FCG member or ask at your campus research office to get details about our first CSU I-Corps informational webinar at noon on Friday, June 20th (sent out as part of a system-wide email today).
The last time CSUPERB formulated a strategic plan,* we decided to add an emphasis on entrepreneurship education. Our simple aim is to teach CSU researchers about “what is needed to take a life sciences idea to a commercial product.” In 2012 we organized the CSUPERB-I2P Early-stage Biotechnology Commercialization Challenge – an immersive entrepreneurship experience for CSU science, engineering and business students. Based on our experience with that program and the CSUPERB Entrepreneurial Joint Venture grant program, we submitted a grant proposal to NSF’s I-Corps Site program last May.
Due to the government shut-down and other federal budget wrangling, NSF didn’t make I-Corps Site awards until this May - but we did win an award! As a result we now have NSF backing to expand and institutionalize our biological sciences entrepreneurship educational programming.
The CSU I-Corps will:
- sponsor the newly reconfigured CSUPERB Early-stage Biotechnology Commercialization Challenge for students (team registration deadline this fall is September 8th),
- award microgrants ($2500) to CSU student and faculty entrepreneurs,
- co-host regional workshops and meetings for curious academic researchers and nascent entrepreneurs, and
- build an even more responsive network of alumni, campus partners, industry professionals and biotechnology experts to support CSU researchers interested in biotechnology commercialization.
This I-Corps Award is significant for the CSU. Recipients of CSU I-Corps microgrants will be eligible to apply for NSF’s I-Corp Team grants. Until the Site awards were granted, only NSF PIs had access to this program.
CSU I-Corps programming will help CSU researchers build teams and the skills to compete for follow-on funding from NSF, but also SBIR/STTR, NCIIA E-Team and on-ramping opportunities at incubators and accelerators. I should also note that NIH is embracing the I-Corps program** so soon there may be follow-on funding opportunities from that agency as well.
Our status as an I-Corps Site also gives us access to cutting-edge curriculum and resources of the National Innovation Network (NIN) that NSF has created, in addition to the life science entrepreneurship curriculum we’re developing with San Diego State University’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center (Alex DeNoble, co-PI), Zahn Center (Cathy Pucher) and College of Sciences (Stanley Maloy, Dean & SPC member). I attended the NIN meeting in April and brought home to the CSU many of the ideas and approaches I heard about there. The nationwide network of PIs continues to meet by videocon monthly – we have much to learn from each other about commercializing federally funded ideas!
Recognizing the work needed to build a solid and responsive network of alumni and partners, we also wrote a proposal to the CSU’s STEM VISTA program. We are fortunate that not one, but two, VISTA members will be joining the CSUPERB program office in July to help us with organizational capacity building, student outreach and matching mechanisms for teams and mentors! We are really looking forward to working with the AmeriCorps VISTA organization – you can imagine the energy and can-do effectiveness “domestic” Peace Corp members will bring with them to CSU I-Corps! We hope their enthusiasm and talents will engage students enrolled at urban and rural, biotech hub-based and far-flung campuses across California in biological sciences entrepreneurship. I learned at the NIN meeting that NCIIA has a similar cadre of NSF-funded Epicenter innovation fellows (watch the cool ~1 minute video here). In fact the Spring 2014 cohort of University Innovation Fellows includes a Cal Poly alum! We plan to share notes on effective outreach and student engagement with the Epicenter program as well going forward.
After we submitted the I-Corps proposal in May 2013, Steve Blank and UCSF offered a LeanLaunch Pad course for life sciences (lessons learned can be found on his blog!) Blank’s team discovered what we did running the I2P Challenge: it is critical for researchers to get out of the lab and off campus to talk with potential customers and industry experts about product development concepts, customer channels and regulatory affairs. We partnered with an amazing array of campus innovation centers and biotechnology industry associations to organize meetings and workshops for curious academic researchers statewide – we have a partnership meeting in a couple of weeks to start scheduling!
We all hope that these immersive experiences will set researchers up for future success – whether it’s licensing out a promising idea, finding additional financing, taking a job at a start-up company or deciding more research and development is needed to commercialize a biotechnology idea. At minimum - students say the team-based entrepreneurship experiences are eye-opening and lead to valued, real-world skills. I found out this week that Warren Smith and Manmeet Singh (Sac State’s 2014 I2P first place finishers) won an NSF I-Corps Team grant, suggesting CSUPERB’s biological sciences entrepreneurship pipeline is primed!
CSUPERB gets glee in breaking down barriers between scientists, engineers and business folks. We are grateful that NSF and AmeriCorps have provided fuel to continue our work for the next three years!
*During the Fall 2014 CSUPERB will embark on new strategic planning discussions for 2015-2018. If you have ideas, suggestions or quibbles – contact us or your FCG and SPC representatives!
**I linked to the Science article about I-Corps above, but I do recommend reading it for background strategies and outcomes expected for this type of an entrepreneurship education program. For more scholarly background, I also suggest Roman Lubynsky’s Kauffman Foundation article. From it you’ll get a very good sense of how long it really takes to commercialize research-based ideas as compared to technology-based ideas (and why many of us think researchers have perverse incentives – SBIR grants – to form bioscience companies too early)! As I crafted the I-Corps proposal last spring, I collected these and other biotechnology entrepreneurship education resources at our Scoop.it site.