Carnegie Mellon University
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NSF I-Corps Site Program

Through the Innovation Corps (or I-Corps) Site program at Carnegie Mellon University, NSF grantees learn to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from academic research, and gain skills in entrepreneurship through training in customer discovery and guidance from established entrepreneurs. Teams can receive up to $2,500 in grant funding to conduct customer discovery, market research or purchase supplies to create a prototype for their STEM technology. 

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Since 2014, the CMU I-Corps Site program has trained over 150 teams across all 7 CMU schools. After participation in I-Corps, 20 teams have gone on to participate in nationally ranked accelerator programs and, in total, teams have received more than $60M in follow on funding. 

  • attend required CONNECTS seminars and seven cohort progress meetings for focused customer discovery training and valuable networking with past and present I-Corps site teams and mentors (see program schedule for more information)
  • receive reimbursement for up to $2,500 for eligible customer discovery expenses (domestic travel to industry trade shows, visits to potential customers and/or developing prototypes, participation in cohort curriculum is required to be eligible for reimbursement)
  • 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 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
  •  Team composition (the Swartz Center can assist with finding team members):
      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: All teams are assigned a mentor for the duration of the program
  • Must commit to attending required workshops and cohort meetings (seven 2 hour evening cohort meetings and CONNECTS seminars as per program schedule)
  • Must perform a minimum of 30 customer interviews by the end of the cohort
  • Participate in survey at end of cohort for program evaluation 

PI and Co-PIs: Kit Needham, Melanie Simko, Robert Dammon, David Mawhinney and Robert Wooldridge

Program Manager: Melanie Simko

Entrepreneurs-in-Residence: MaryDel Brady, Stephan Mueller, Dawn Rucker and Kit Needham 

Liaison, Center for Technology Transfer: Reed McManigle