Nina Robson, Wesley Tang and Iulian Mocanu (CSU Fullerton) – a Summer Sprint CSU I-Corps Team – attended the Biocom Open House (July 2017) to conduct learning interviews with San Diego biotech professionals. Photo Credit Katie Gardner Photography.

“Keep in mind that successful companies are less about the original idea and more about the learning, discovery and execution.” – STEVE BLANK


Fall 2017 CSU Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) Short Course

The Fall 2017 Cohort is now full.  The teams will be at work Sept. 11, 2017 – January 31, 2018.  Plan on attending the 30th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium (Jan. 11-13, 2018) to see their final Lessons Learned presentations!

Who: Teams of CSU faculty, student and/or staff researchers working with a biotechnology industry mentor (no more than 4 members total = 3 CSU team members + 1 industry mentor)

  • Teams must have a biotechnology-focused idea based on a CSU-based research project. At least one team member must have real, hands-on ties to a biotech-related CSU research lab or project. CSUPERB defines biotechnology as a fusion of biology and a technology. As a result, research-based ideas should fall into one of these categories: therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics, digital health, environmental monitoring, instrumentation, bioinformatics/algorithmic tools, assistive technology, biofuels or agricultural biotech.
  • Ideally, industry mentors should have biotechnology start-up experience, product development expertise in a related biotechnology, or deep understanding of Lean Startup methods.  Mentors should be able to help teams network and identify experts and potential customers to interview. Industry mentors should be available to work with and consult with teams in person or remotely during the fall. Teams can use our mentor handbook to help recruit a suitable industry mentor. Industry mentors do not have to attend webinars and in-person activities during the fall; however, they should meet with their teams on a recurring basis during the fall.
  • If the team consists of only CSU students and an industry mentor: 1) the team must include at least one team member with hands-on ties to a CSU biotechnology research lab or project, 2) the team must include science/engineering AND business students and 3) CSU faculty or staff member must serve as administrative contact.
  • Teams are eligible whether or not they have filed invention disclosures with their campus research offices.

When: September 11, 2017 – January 13, 2018.  Think of CSU I-Corps as a course, with all the work that might suggest!

How: CSU I-Corps will cover participants’ travel to and from in-person meetings, as well as lodging and meals during the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium.  Teams will also win $2500 microgrants to help advance their research-based ideas.

Why: The National Science Foundation (NSF) describes I-Corps™ as “a set of activities and programs to prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broadens the impact of…basic-research projects.” Work with industry professionals to learn about biotechnology commercialization, grow your professional network, and explore entrepreneurial opportunities that build on basic research. Based on lessons learned, participation may open doors to follow-on funding opportunities at NSF, as well as other sources of funding.

CSU I-Corps Short Course Learning Objectives:

  • Experience working with a team to identify problems and propose solutions
  • Learn about evidence-based entrepreneurship as taught by NSF I-Corps™ nodes and sites nationwide
  • Apply evidence-based entrepreneurship concepts via customer discovery
  • Gain familiarity with life science commercialization
  • Grow and build off-campus professional networks
  • Present lessons learned to a panel of industry experts

Want more background?  View the slide deck from January’s CSU I-Corps information session at the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium.


During Fall 2017, teams interview potential customers and partners to find a problem-solution fit for their biotechnology. Teams attend webinars together to learn about the customer discovery process, business model canvas concepts, business communications, legal, regulatory and reimbursement issues. Webinars are taught by experienced life science entrepreneurs, industry professionals and faculty associated with CSU I-Corps.

To smooth the work of moving product concepts out of the lab, teams win CSU I-Corps™ microgrants ($2500) that can be spent over a five-month period (September 15, 2017 – February 28, 2018).  CSU I-Corps microgrants can be used to interview and work with mentors, advisors and potential partners. Microgrants are best used to attend relevant industry meetings to meet potential customers or partners. After Fall 2017 customer discovery, microgrants can be used to fabricate prototypes and/or to buy research materials and supplies for proof-of-concept work suggested by industry experts and customers. In addition to the $2,500 microgrant, CSUPERB will reimburse travel to the two in-person cohort meetings (Sunday, October 22, 2017 and the final presentation weekend at the 30th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium, January 11-13, 2018).


Call for Teams – June 2017
Application Deadline – Monday, August 28, 2017, 5 pm pacific time (but applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis)
Applicant Team Interviews – Rolling interviews until September 8 or until cohort #7 is filled
Microgrant Awards Made – September 2017
Intro to CSU I-Corps Webinar – Monday (noon – 1:00 pm; Zoom), September 11, 2017
Webinar 1 – Friday, September 15 (noon – 1:30 pm; Zoom)
Webinar 2 – Friday, September 29 (noon – 1:30 pm; Zoom)
Webinar 3 – Friday, October 13 (noon – 1:30 pm; Zoom)
In-person Cohort Meeting – Sunday, October 22, San Diego State University (all day)
Webinar 4 – Friday, October 27 (noon – 1:30 pm; Zoom)
Webinar 5 – Friday, November 17 (noon – 1:30 pm; Zoom)
Final Lessons Learned Weekend – January 11-13, 2018 (Santa Clara Marriott; all weekend)

All CSU I-Corps webinars and in-person meetings are MANDATORY for all team members.  All CSU I-Corps short course webinars will be held on Fridays, noon – 1:30 pm (setup at 11:45 am).  Webinars are participatory Zoom videoconferences.

The Detailed Fall 2017 Short Course Syllabus is here.


Both undergraduates and graduate students are eligible as team members. Student team members must be CSU students in good standing. Faculty mentors serve as Entrepreneurial Leads (active team member; PI) or Administrative Contacts (ACs; administrative role only). ACs must commit to help student team members with the application process, make contact with campus research or technology transfer offices, file paperwork needed to order supplies, get travel approvals and reimbursements, and file invention disclosures at your campus research office, if needed.


This is a real-world, experiential learning program. CSU I-Corps is an intense program with a relatively high workload during the fall and winter break. Your time commitment involves attending webinars, reading homework, making presentations and getting off campus to interview experts and potential customers or partners.

Teams will attend a series of webinars (see schedule above) to learn Lean Startup concepts from the CSU I-Corps Teaching Team. The aim of I-Corps programming is to create entrepreneurial experiences “with all the pressures and demands of the real world.” Teams will get off campus to explore commercialization strategies, complete homework assignments, and schedule and attend recurring meetings with their Industry Mentor. In this way teams will get feedback continuously to hone product concepts, improve their understanding of biotechnology markets, and formulate commercialization pathways.

Previous teams report working between 80-100 hours over the fall term. This means team members spend 3-5 hours weekly 1) designing experiments to test commercialization hypotheses, 2) meeting to synthesize feedback and make plans, 3) reading, 4) watching assigned videos and doing homework assignments, 5) talking with industry mentors (IM), and 6) interviewing industry experts and potential customers or partners off-campus.  You must “get out the building” and interview ~30 customers or experts over the course of the fall.  If you and your teammates cannot commit to this level of work during the Fall 2017 term, this opportunity is probably not for you.

If selected, teams will:

  • participate in a series of regularly scheduled webinars designed to teach teams about the customer discovery process, business model canvas concepts, business communications, legal and biotechnology regulatory issues;
  • use an experimental method to iteratively and continuously test whether your biotechnology product, service or process concept meets a real market need;
  • work with a teaching team, mentors and advisors drawn from CSUPERB’s statewide network of biotechnology industry associations, alumni and campus-based innovation centers;
  • assess (and re-assess!) a biotechnology idea’s maturity, problem-solution fit, and follow-on funding strategies, based on feedback from customers and advisors;
  • present product concepts and lessons learned to panels of industry professionals during a final, in-person weekend;
  • gain remarkable access to industry mentors and leadership opportunities on which to build a career, a company, or your next proposal idea; and
  • gain eligibility for the NSF’s I-Corps™ Team Grant program (and $50,000 follow-on funding).

On the Final Lessons Learned Weekend, CSU I-Corps teams present their product concepts, justify the problem-solution fit, and describe lessons learned to external evaluation panels.  Teams’ success will be gauged by the amount of learning they do over the course of the Challenge.


    1. Form CSU I-Corps Teams –  Teams should start forming now (see team composition information above); this is the hardest part of the application process!  Teams have time between now and September 15 to recruit an Industry Mentor (IM); teams do not have to have an IM identified to apply for the short course.   Our industry partners hold networking events – they are excellent opportunities at which teams can identify and recruit IMs.  See partner websites for upcoming events. If teams have trouble identifying an IM, let CSUPERB know and we can help.
    2. Complete Fall 2017 CSU I-Corps Application and Submit –
      • Applications should be submitted by the faculty mentor/PI or administrative contact, if applicable, using the CSUPERB Sharepoint Application portal (Linked Here), uploaded to the SharePoint portal
      • All applications must include a completed (and signed) Signature Form (linked here), uploaded to the Sharepoint portal
      • A sample application is available here so teams can prepare their application before entering the electronic system.
      • This is a competitive program; one-sentence answers to questions on the application will not be competitive.
    3. Pencil the mandatory Fall 2017 CSU I-Corps dates (above) into your calendars now!
    4. Interview with Teaching Team – The CSU I-Corps Teaching Team will interview eligible applicant teams by videoconference. All team members (and the Administrative Contact, if applicable) must attend the interview.  CSUPERB will schedule interviews after applications pass administrative review. Decisions will be made based on team commitment, the team’s understanding of the work and schedule involved, their familiarity with NSF I-Corps, as well as their understanding of their intellectual property position.

Selection Criteria:

Applicants do NOT need previous commercialization experience, a developed venture concept, or any protected intellectual property in hand. The short course is designed specifically for curious researchers and nascent academic entrepreneurs.

Teams will be selected by the teaching team based on a complete online application received by the deadline, the applicants’ biotechnology-relevant research background, the team’s availability during the short course calendar, and a desire to learn about biotechnology commercialization.  All teams will interview with the teaching team before selection.  Selection decisions will be made quickly so that teams can plan ahead.  Applicants will be notified of selection decisions by email.  We expect to fund up to 12 teams.

If you have questions about the Summer Sprint, your eligibility, the application, finding an industry mentor, or the selection process, contact CSU I-Corps ( or call CSUPERB (619-594-2822).

Award decisions will be made on a rolling schedule until September 8.

The CSU I-Corps Student Challenge is funded by the National Science Foundation, as part of the I-Corps Sites™ program. Email or call the program office (619-594-2822) if you have questions about this program.