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SLUStart I-Corps

SLUStart I-Corps is a program managed by the Research Innovation Group in Saint Louis University's Office of the Vice President for Research. It is designed to help University researchers as well as community inventors and innovators extend their focus beyond academia and the laboratory.

By participating in SLUStart I-Corps you can get help pursuing your innovation or new venture concept and possibly qualify for up to $50,000 in non-dilutive financial support.

SLUStart I-Corps helps participants ensure that their research and innovations will have greater economic and societal benefit. It integrates the original SLUStart program and the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Site program at Saint Louis University. As such, SLUStart I-Corps projects that qualify as NSF I-Corps Site projects have full access to the NSF I-Corps ecosystem.

SLUStart I-Corps aims to:

  • Train participants in the lean startup methodology (i.e., customer development process) popularized by Steve Blank.
  • Increase the quality and impact of research conducted at Saint Louis University.
  • Advance the commercialization of SLU intellectual properties.
  • Increase the effectiveness of inventors and innovators in the St. Louis, Missouri area.
  • Increase the participation of underrepresented groups, such as women and African-Americans, in entrepreneurship and the technology industry.

If you have questions about SLUStart I-Corps, contact Malcolm Townes in the Research Innovation Group at malcolm.townes@slu.edu. To participate in the program, submit your application.

 Submit your SLUStart I-Corps application

Eligibility

SLUStart I-Corps eligibility

The following groups are eligible to participate in SLUStart I-Corps:

Group 1: Anyone who is pursuing at least one of the following endeavors:

  • The commercialization of SLU intellectual property
  • The advancement and maturation of a particular line of SLU research

Group 2: Anyone pursuing their own concepts for innovations or new ventures who satisfy at least one of the following criteria:

  • Members of the SLU community (i.e., faculty, staff, post-docs, graduate students, undergraduate students or alumni)
  • Partnering with a SLU school, academic unit, center of excellence or other division to pursue their innovation or new venture
  • Appropriately affiliated with a SLUStart I-Corps partner organization
  • Residents of the greater St. Louis, Missouri area

SLUStart I-Corps projects that qualify as NSF I-Corps Site projects are eligible to receive up to $2,000 in financial support (while funding lasts) during their participation in the program to help cover costs associated with investigating the commercial potential of the concept.

NSF I-Corps Teams Program eligibility

Participants pursuing projects that meet all of the following criteria also qualify to apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams Program, where they will receive additional training and up to $50,000 in financial support to continue investigating the commercial potential of their concepts:

  1. The project must qualify to be funded by the NSF.
  2. The primary team members pursuing the project must have successfully completed the cohort sessions and fieldwork of the SLUStart I-Corps program.
  3. The participants must provide documentation of at least 10 completed customer discovery interviews for the project.
  4. The project must be closely affiliated with SLU based on at least one of the following criteria:

    - Pursuing the commercialization of intellectual property assigned to SLU.

    - Led by SLU faculty, staff or students, whether or not the project is pursuing commercialization of intellectual property assigned to SLU.

    - Led by individuals from the community pursuing commercialization of extraordinary technology for which there is documentation of a potential research collaboration or sponsored research project (including Small Business Innovation Research  [SBIR] and Small Business Technology Transfer [STTR] projects) with SLU faculty.
  5. A person eligible to serve as principal investigator (PI) for federally funded projects according to  SLU policy must serve as the PI for the project applying to the NSF I-Corps Teams program. 

Below is a link to the full solicitation for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program.
https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18515/nsf18515.htm


 Submit your SLUStart I-Corps application


SLUStart I-Corps Team

Malcolm Townes
Site co-PI and Program Manager
malcolm.townes@slu.edu

Ken Herold     
Instructor and Mentor
kenneth.herold@slu.edu

Steven Epner 
Instructor and Mentor
steven.epner@slu.edu


Participant Resources

Recommended Resources
  • Blank, S., & Dorf, B. (2012). The startup owner's manual: The step-by-step guide for building a great company. BookBaby.
  • Blank, S. & Mullaney, K. (n.d.). How to Build a Startup [online course]. Available from https://www.udacity.com/course/how-to-build-a-startup--ep245
  • Christensen, C. (2013). The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business model generation: a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. John Wiley & Sons.
  •  Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., & Smith, A. (2014). Value proposition design: How to create products and services customers want. John Wiley & Sons.

 

FAQs

What are the benefits of participating in SLUStart I-Corps?

There are several benefits to participating in SLUStart I-Corps:

  • Increase your ability to identify promising lines of research that will fair more competitively with potential funding agencies (for SLU researchers).
  • Qualify to pursue funding grants of up to $50,000 from the NSF I-Corps National Teams program to further the development of your concept.
  • Minimize the probability of failure when commercializing research and launching new business ventures by learning the methodology that most successful entrepreneurs use to start their businesses.
  • Increase the quality and impact of research projects and innovations.
  • Increase your ability to attract funding and outside investors.
  • Increase your ability to successfully compete for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grants.
  • Increase your ability to differentiate yourself with potential employers during your job search (for graduate and undergraduate students).
  • Develop skills that will help advance your career whether you're a university professor, an aspiring community entrepreneur or a student still looking forward to your first post-college job.
  • Test entrepreneurship as a career option with very low personal risk.
Does participating in SLUStart I-Corps convey any ownership interest in my venture to Saint Louis University?
No, simply participating in SLUStart I-Corps does not convey any ownership interest in your venture or company to SLU.  Moreover, SLU does not require or request any ownership interest in projects in order to participate in the SLUStart I-Corps program.
How is the program structured?

The standard program is currently structured as several components covered in two cohort working sessions (each lasting about four to six hours), with one to two weeks between the working sessions during which participants conduct fieldwork (i.e., customer discovery interviews). 

The instructors and mentors are available to provide one-on-one assistance to you on an as needed basis as your schedule allows during the time between cohort sessions and on an on-going basis after the conclusion of the cohort sessions.  Participants pursuing projects that qualify as NSF I-Corps Site projects and who plan to apply to the NSF I-Corps National Teams program must attend a third cohort session that typically lasts two to four hours. 

Additionally, SLUStart I-Corps has the flexibility to accommodate  other structures to fit the schedule and availability of participants and partners. The standard program can be condensed into a time frame as short as one week or the content can be further subdivided and delivered over a period of several months.

What kind of time commitment is required to participate in SLUStart I-Corps?

Under the standard program structure, both working sessions typically last about three to four hours each. The meeting days and times for the cohort working sessions are scheduled according the availability of the cohort participants.  In many cases, cohort sessions are scheduled on weekends or weekday evenings for the convenience of participants. 

Additionally, participants are expected to spend time outside of the working sessions applying what they've learned to pursue their concepts. However, how much time you spend outside of the working sessions is at your discretion.

Are there any costs associated with participating in SLUStart I-Corps?
There is no cost to participate in SLUStart I-Corps.
When are cohorts held for SLUStart I-Corps?
We accept applications to SLUStart I-Corps continuously.  We form cohorts on a rolling basis whenever we have a minimum number of participants to form a cohort (typically at least three projects).
For what type of expenses can the financial support be used while participating in SLUStart I-Corps?

SLUStart I-Corps projects that qualify as I-Corps Site projects are eligible to receive up to $2,000 per project in financial support (while funding lasts) during their participation in the program to help cover costs associated with investigating the commercial potential of their concepts. This funding can be used for eligible expenses such as:

  • Registration fees and travel expenses to attend relevant conferences to interview target potential customers and key partners.
  • Purchases of data and information to prepare for and facilitate customer discovery interviews, such as:
    - LinkedIn subscription
    - Email finder services (e.g., RocketReach.co, Anymailfinder.com)
    - Membership list purchases
  • Expenses associated with products and services used to conduct and document customer discovery interviews, such as:
    - Subscription to LaunchpadCentral.com
    - Transcription services
  • Development of prototypes and minimum viable products (MVPs) to use during customer discovery and customer validation.
  • Purchases of the following approved reference materials:
    - Blank, S., & Dorf, B. (2012). The startup owner's manual: The step-by-step guide for building a great company. BookBaby.
    - Christensen, C. (2013). The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business Review Press.
    - Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business model generation: a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. John Wiley & Sons.
    - Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., & Smith, A. (2014). Value proposition design: How to create products and services customers want. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Once a minimum number of customer discovery interviews have been conducted, the allocated funding can be used for well-focused research and development related activities that support further customer discovery and advance the technology towards commercialization such as:
    - Creating minimum viable products
    - Developing prototypes
    - Conducting in silico, in vitro, and in vivo experiments

Other expenses not listed above are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

How do I request reimbursement for expenses while participating in the program?

SLUStart I-Corps Program

  • Before incurring the expense, you must obtain pre-authorization by sending an email to the program manager providing details about the planned use of funds.  The program manager will respond indicating whether or not the expenses are reimbursable.
  • Once you've received preauthorization you can incur the expense.
  • After incurring the expenses, submit an itemized invoice and copies of all receipts to the program manager.  To claim mileage, please include a Google Maps screenshot of the route and mileage with your reimbursement request.

NSF I-Corps Teams Program

  • Expense reimbursements for the NSF I-Corps Teams Program are processed through the sponsoring institution (e.g., Saint Louis University).  However, guidelines for what are acceptable uses of funds are provided by the agency.  There is no expense preauthorization process for the national Teams program.
  • After you've incurred the expenses, submit an itemized invoice and copies of all receipts to your institutional contact.  You can submit reimbursement requests as you incur the expenses; there is no need to wait until your participation in the national cohort is completed before submitting requests for expense reimbursement.  For efficiency purposes, we recommend that you submit your expense reimbursement requests every two weeks.
  • To claim mileage, please include a Google Maps screenshot of the route and mileage with your reimbursement request.
What are the requirements for receiving a certificate of completion?

Each SLUStart I-Corps participant on a project that successfully completes the cohort sessions and provides documentation of completing a total of at least 5 customer discovery interviews will receive a certificate of completion.

How do I apply to the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program?

Only participants and projects that satisfy the eligibility requirement may apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams program.   The NSF uses a pre-selection process for this program.  The basic process is as follows:

1.) For projects that do not already have an NSF lineage (i.e., were not originally funded by the NSF), complete a local or regional I-Corps Site program, such as SLUStart I-Corps.  For SLUStart I-Corps, the requirements comprise the following:
     - Complete the first cohort session.
     - Begin conducting customer discovery interviews.
     - Complete the second cohort session.
     - Conduct at least 15 customer discovery interviews by the time your ready to apply to the national I-Corps Teams program
     - Submit the Participant Deliverable Report (provided by instructor)
     - Complete a third session (typically about two hours) specifically focused on preparing to apply to the national program.

2.) Prepare a two-page (maximum) executive summary that describes the following:
     - Team Members: Composition and roles (entrepreneur lead [EL], technical lead [TL], industry mentor [IM], plus  any additional co-EL, co-TL or co-IM) of the team members proposing to undertake the commercialization feasibility research and a brief  description of each member’s qualifications.
      - Principal Investigator:  Principal investigator (PI) and a brief description of their connection to the team.  The PI must be qualified to serve as the PI of record for the institution.  In many cases the PI will also be the TL but the roles can be split.
      - Lineage:  Relevant current/previous NSF awards (including participation in an I-Corps Site program) establishing team eligibility.
      - Technology:  Brief description of the core technology.
      - Application/Market: Brief description of the potential commercial application.
      - Current Plan: Brief description of the current commercialization plan.

3.) Submit your executive summary to the SLUStart I-Corps program manager and instructors for review and feedback.

4.) If everything is in order, submit (via the I-Corps Teams Web Form) your two-page (maximum) executive summary and letter of recommendation from a senior member of the I-Corps site program staff.

5.) If invited, participate in an initial telephone interview with the NSF I-Corps National Program Management Team. This includes the entire project team as specified in item 2 above.

6.) If invited, participate in a second telephone interview with the NSF I-Corps National Program Management Team and Instructors. This includes the entire project team as specified in item 2 above.

7.) If pre-selected to participate, submit your official application and proposal to the NSF through Saint Louis University.

The NSF accepts submissions of the executive summary on a continuous basis.  The telephone interview process is fairly quick, perhaps two to four weeks.

Below is a link to the full solicitation for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program.
https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2018/nsf18515/nsf18515.htm

What can a community venture do to increase its chances of being selected for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program?

The following are actions that a community venture can take to increase its chances of being selected for the NSF I-Corps National Teams program:

  • Conduct additional customer discovery interviews so that you have between 10 and 15 completed interviews by the time you apply to the national Teams program.
  • Strengthen your connection with Saint Louis University to make your venture more appealing to the NSF. One suggestion for doing this is to establish a relationship with a SLU faculty member who is doing research in a related field and define a preliminary scope of work (SOW) for a possible research collaboration such as an industry sponsored research project or an SBIR proposal. (This only has to be preliminary and does not need to be a firm commitment at the time you apply to the national Teams program).
  • Clearly define your technology so that you can make the case for how it aligns with the NSF mission and why the agency should support its development and commercialization.
  • When assembling the three-person team you will need to participate in the national Teams program (i.e., entrepreneurial lead, technical lead and industry mentor), select an industry mentor who is committed to actively participating in the program alongside you and has industry connections that can help you obtain customer discovery interviews.
When are cohorts conducted for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program?

National Teams Program cohorts are typically conducted in the fall, spring, and summer. The full cohort schedule can be found at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/teams.jsp.

What does the NSF consider to be "technology" in making their selections for participation in the National Teams Program?

The NSF does not provide an official definition of technology. As such, it is incumbent upon applicants to make the case for what they are claiming is technology and how it aligns with the mission of the agency.

How can the NSF I-Corps Teams Program be used to help provide financial support to graduate students and post docs?

If you're looking for ways to help financially support graduate students and post-docs, the NSF I-Corps Teams program might be one option to consider. The NSF I-Corps Teams program provides an opportunity for graduate students and post-docs to receive a stipend of up to $15,000 over a six-month period to investigate the potential of commercial applications for early-stage university technologies. Graduate students or post-docs may serve as entrepreneurial leads (EL) for three-person teams that spend at least 20 hours per week engaging with potential users to gain insights that will inform decisions about the direction of future research needed to further advance the technology towards commercialization. 

The teams receive a $50,000 budget to cover expenses associated with these activities and up to $15,000 of the budget may be used for stipends for the entrepreneurial leads.  To qualify to apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams program, the graduate student or post-doc must first participate in SLUStart I-Corps, unless the project was previously funded by the NSF.

The basic process is a follows:

  1. Submit or confirm submission of a disclosure for the technology you will work on or select another SLU technology on which you wish to focus.

    - Contact the Research Innovation Group if you're interested in selecting another SLU technology.
  2. Submit an application to SLUStart I-Corps.
  3. Successfully complete a SLUStart I-Corps cohort during which you will begin investigating the potential of commercial applications for the selected technology.

    - Each project is allocated up to $2,000 (while funding lasts) to cover expenses associated with cohort activities.  Once the cohort is successfully completed, the balance of the allotted funds may be used for well-focused research activities that will support future commercialization of the technology including minimum viable product (MVP) creation, prototype development, and in vitro and in vivo experiments.
  4. Recruit a technical lead (TL) and an industry mentor (IM) to form your three-person team.

    - The technical lead must possess the requisite background and skills to serve as the point person for technical aspects of applying the technology in potential commercial applications.  Possible candidates include another graduate student or post-doc, faculty member, or industry professional.

    -  The industry mentor should be someone with relevant industry experience and useful connections. 

 Once these steps are completed, the graduate student or post-doc can apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams program.