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Innovation Impact

Purdue University and the Krannert School of Management are helping early stage startups in Indiana navigate the “valley of death” to commercialize their technology through the National Science Foundation’s “Phase 0” pilot program for its Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Node.

Purdue is one four institutions that make up NSF’s Midwest I-Corps Node, which is one of seven university clusters across the country selected to pilot the new program. Under Phase 0, non-academic teams will be eligible to participate in the national I-Corps program and then receive follow-on startup and commercialization services (I-CorpsGo) as they prepare for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 submission.

Nationwide, 86 universities have been designated I-Corps sites and are supported by eight I-Corps Nodes to administer I-Corps training, which is designed to increase commercialization success and improve the quality and acceptance rate of applications for SBIR Phase 1 seed funding. The highly competitive SBIR program offers progressively larger investments as companies move through the second and third phases.

“The pilot is focused on non-academic startups rather than the university-based teams that I-Corps currently serves,” says Matthew Lynall, a clinical associate professor of management and director of Purdue’s I-Corps site. “University teams that have gone through I-Corps have experienced a success rate five times higher with their SBIR applications than the national average. But with a few exceptions, we haven’t been sending non-university teams from Indiana through I-Corps.”

The universities of Michigan and Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which are part of the Midwest I-Corps Node, will pilot the Phase 0 program in their states.

Purdue is partnering with Elevate Ventures, an early stage investment firm and partner of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, to identify promising teams across the state that could benefit from I-Corps’ intensive training.

“We refer to a ‘valley of death’ for startups between the academic world and the commercial world, and, since being established in 1982, SBIR has been a really important resource to help small businesses bridge that gap,” Lynall says. “Venture capitalists like to see the technology further along than the stage at which it typically leaves a university or an early-stage startup.”

Eight to 10 teams from each of the seven I-Corps Nodes will participate in the pilot year of the Phase 0 program, which will help teams prepare for the national I-Corps program and, following the program, address common issues in startup formation, such as incorporation, hiring initial employees, licensing and negotiation of intellectual property, accounting, marketing, and fundraising, among other challenges.

To qualify, teams or companies should have developed a “deep technology,” should consist of two or more entrepreneurs and should plan to submit an SBIR Phase 1 application by December 2018, according to the Midwest I-Corps Node website.

University teams who are normally eligible for the traditional I-Corps program cannot participate in the pilot, although Lynall anticipates that NSF will make the program available to all I-Corps teams once the pilot has been completed.

For more information on the Midwest I-Corps Node and the NSF pilot program, visit https://www.midwesticorps.org/programs/sbir-phase-0/.