Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
We are delighted to announce a new collaboration between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to empower entrepreneurial scientists and advance the Lab-to-Market priorities set forth in the President’s Management Agenda. The Federal government invests over $130 billion on research and development (R&D) each year, and the President’s 2015 budget supports a sustained commitment to accelerate the transfer of promising Federally-funded technologies from the laboratory to the commercial marketplace.
Some academic researchers and entrepreneurs who receive SBIR or STTR funding from NIH will now be eligible to participate in a pilot of the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program that is specially tailored for biomedical technologies. First launched in 2011, the NSF I-Corps program is based on the “Lean Launchpad” curriculum developed by entrepreneurship expert Steve Blank to improve how tech start-ups bring their products into the marketplace. This intensive, mentor-driven experience is changing the way that NSF-funded researchers think about the commercialization process, and now it will be available for NIH-funded researchers as well.
As part of the I-Corps program, researchers learn key Lean Launchpad principles, such as:
- Commercializing a new invention requires the identification of a viable business model, not just an increase in the technological maturity of an invention.
- Discovering the elements of a successful business model (e.g. value proposition, customer segments, sources of revenue) requires gathering evidence to test and refine their initial hypotheses by talking to many different potential customers and partners—leaving the lab and “getting out of the building”.
- Developing prototypes and getting early feedback on these prototypes from customers can reduce the time and cost associated with the commercialization process.
- Gathering strong evidence that validates their business model can increase the likelihood that an investor will back their startup.
NSF-funded scientists and engineers who participated in I-Corps teams have described the experience as life-changing, and have gone on to achieve a very high success rate for competitive Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards.
NIH and NSF will team up to adapt the I-Corps curriculum for biomedical entrepreneurs who have already started a company and have received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I awards. NIH provides over $700 million of these research and development awards to small businesses each year. NIH SBIR/STTR Phase I awardees from participating Institutes in the pilot will be able to apply for administrative supplements to allow them to participate in the NSF I-Corps program. Additionally, NIH will help scale up I-Corps by allowing existing NIH-funded programs — including NIH Centers for Accelerated Innovation (NCAI) and Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs (REACH), which focus on academic researchers with technologies that have not yet led to the formation of a startup or have been licensed by an existing company — to apply to become new NSF I-Corps sites.
Researchers and entrepreneurs who participate in these new I-Corps programs will receive training at I-Corps sites, which are part of the National Innovation Network started by the NSF. This network provides faculty and students with mentorship opportunities, entrepreneurial training, and modest funding to enable them to move their ideas from the lab to the market. NIH will evaluate the pilot I-Corps program by determining whether participants are more successful in applying and receiving Phase II SBIR/STTR awards, assessing how well the participation in I-Corps served the business needs of the company and long term, in attracting follow-on funding, and ultimately, commercializing their inventions.
Although the I-Corps program is not even three years old, it has already generated promising results and created the intellectual framework for an evidence-based approach to research commercialization. We’re excited to see how this partnership supports the missions of NSF and NIH, and in turn, helps increase the already considerable extent to which NIH-funded research grows the economy, creates jobs, and saves lives.