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NSF I-Corps Program

Since the 1950s, the NSF has poured huge resources into U.S. research universities. To spur practical returns on its investment, the NSF has now set up a multi-layered program, the Innovation Corps (or I-Corps), to accelerate the commercialization of university research. I-Corps Sites focus on regional and local opportunities, whereas I-Corps Nodes train national teams.  

NSF I-Corps logo

As part of its mission to foster regional growth, Carnegie Mellon's Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship administers an I-Corps Site at CMU through an NSF grant.

NSF I-Corps Program Activities

The CMU I-Corps Site builds upon Carnegie Mellon's demonstrated strengths in fusing technology and entrepreneurship, in broadening participation for underrepresented groups and in collaborating with regional stakeholders. Our Site program recruits exploratory business ventures started by faculty, staff, students and recent alumni, training up to 30 Site Teams each academic year to accelerate business exploration and creation. The curriculum focuses on agile innovation tied to customer discovery, and the program supplements the curriculum with intensive networking, expert guidance and financial support for projects.Upon acceptance into the I-Corps Site program, you and your team will:

  • attend a minimum of six weekly entrepreneurship seminars provided by our CONNECTS series (approx. 1.5 hours each)
  • attend required cohort progress meetings 1-2 times per month for focused customer discovery training and valuable networking with past and present I-Corps site teams and mentors
  • receive a mini-grant up to $2,500 which can be used for domestic travel to industry trade shows, visits to potential customers, developing prototypes and other customer discovery expenses
  • become part of the Project Olympus incubator program (see Benefits to Becoming a PROBE [pdf])
  • have a dedicated mentor who will meet with your team twice a month to provide you with business expertise, advise on pitch development and help grow your network of contacts
  • have priority opportunities to showcase your venture at LaunchCMU events and the Olympus Show & Tell
  • receive guidance in writing proposals for the national I-Corps Team program, SBIR/STTR grants, regional accelerator programs and external funding opportunities
  • obtain eligibility to apply for an I-Corps National Teams cohort $50,000 grant award if no previous NSF lineage
  • Carnegie Mellon faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, staff, and recent alumni are eligible to apply.
  • Eligible projects must be in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) discipline
  • Must have at least a three person team consisting of:
      An academic lead: will serve as Principal Investigator (PI), typically CMU Faculty/Staff
      An entrepreneurial lead: can be a student, faculty/staff, or recent alumni
      A business mentor: The Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship can assign you a mentor 
  • Must commit to attending required workshops and cohort meetings (approximately six 1.5 workshops and six 1.5 hour evening cohort meetings, see program schedule [pdf])
  • Must perform a minimum of 30 (ideally 50) customer interviews by the end of the cohort
  • Participate in focus study at end of cohort for program evaluation 

PI and Co-PIs: Lenore Blum, Robert Dammon, David Mawhinney, Andrew Moore and Robert Wooldridge

Special Advisor: Merrick Furst, Georgia Tech/Flashpoint

Program Manager: Melanie Simko

Entrepreneurs-in-Residence: Will Kaigler, Craig Markovitz, Robb Myer and Kit Needham 

Liaison, Center for Technology Transfer: Reed McManigle