Courtesy of Cornell University

September 28, 2022

Cornell Awarded $15 Million to Lead a Northeast Region NSF I-Corps Hub, After Initial Rejection

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The National Science Foundation has granted Cornell $15 million over five years to oversee the establishment of the Innovation Corps Hub, a group that will support science and technology entrepreneurship in rural and ​​economically underserved regions.

Cornell has had an NSF I-Corps Site since 2011, and has led an I-Corps Node, an innovation-enhancing training program, with the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology for six years. The NSF grant funds the partnership for the I-Corps to work with Cornell faculty, Ph.D. students and postdoctoral associates to help them figure out how to turn an invention in the lab, like clean energy inventions, into a commercially viable new venture. 

The Interior Northeast I-Corps Hub aims to expand the nation’s geography of innovation by developing a regional I-Corps innovation network that can become a repeatable, inclusive model of education and workforce training designed for and by innovators based in rural regions and small cities. For Cornell, students can gain experience that can lead to innovation of new products and companies. 

The program officially launches on Jan. 1. Cornell, along with partnering universities, will lead the charge in administering regional courses and entrepreneurial curriculum, to build an innovative and inclusive network of innovators in the area. Using the scientific method to inform business model design, STEM researchers participating in I-Corps courses work to connect with potential customers and ensure the solutions they’re developing fill a pressing market need.

“This kind of activity has been a huge driver of economic growth,” wrote Tom Schryver, founding executive director of Center for Regional Economic Advancement and IN I-Corps director in a statement to the Sun. “The idea is that the grant funds will be used to develop entrepreneurial skills and capability in technologists, which will increase the impact of research, number of new ventures formed, and likelihood of success of those new ventures.”

IN I-Corps covers areas from New Hampshire to West Virginia and seeks to restore economic vitality in areas that are economically underrepresented.

According to Schryver, the $15 million will be split across 10 recipients over five years. The main use of funds is to run what NSF calls “regional cohorts”, which areI-Corps courses that are run for innovators. Each partner institution will then recruit participants and lead regional cohorts using the central curriculum and courseware resources. 

“The grant will enable us to develop and grow the innovation economy throughout our region, catalyzing the impact of the bright ideas and world-leading research coming out of the Northeast in our ongoing effort to solve society’s big challenges,” College of Engineering Dean Lynden A. Archer wrote in a statement to The Sun.

Prof. David Putnam, biomedical and biomolecular engineering, is also a faculty lead member for IN I-Corps and associate dean of innovation and entrepreneurship. “What this means for Cornell is that our students get active training and mentorship that can lead to new products and companies,” Putnam said. “What it means for Upstate New York is that the economy can be continually promoted through the creation of new jobs and opportunities.”

Cornell, as its lead institution, is responsible for the infrastructure of the IN I-Corp which involves managing the programs and courseware and curriculum as well as track student participation and outcomes.

There are also funds for new research focusing on identifying effective support systems and practices in helping aspiring tech entrepreneurs succeed. The courses place an emphasis on improving diversity within the entrepreneurial community and helping individuals settle down in rural regions, as opposed to big cities like New York City, where most venture capital money has been historically deployed.  

“Students are trained very well about how to do science through their University training, but without an entrepreneurship mindset, these great technological advances would not leave the academic lab and will be lost. That is bad for society,” Putnam said. “This grant will help to create societal impact because new products can be brought to the market to benefit society.”