By Jed L. Taylor, Director of Operations, University of Illinois Technology Entrepreneur Center

One day the airplane you fly on will be safer because its GPS device uses authentication technology being commercialized out of the lab of Professor Grace Gao at the University of Illinois. Perhaps the network at your bank will be protected by Veriflow, Inc., a startup of Professors Brighten Godfrey and Matthew Caesar from the Computer Science Department in Urbana, Illinois. Your life may even be saved because of a mobile application that records complete blood count (CBC on a chip) – a diagnostic scanner developed and being commercialized by the team from Dr. Rashid Bashir’s lab. Each of these professors is working to commercialize their technology through the University of Illinois’ NSF I-Corps Site.

In 2013, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) and EnterpriseWorks at the University of Illinois one of their I-Corps Sites. The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) is a set of activities and programs that enables scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and build companies. The purpose of the program is to ensure that these academic innovators and inventors realize the full potential of their discoveries.

At the Illinois Site we focus the curriculum on ‘customer discovery’ using the lean startup methodology. The teams concentrate on validating their market size, value proposition, and customer segment. After going through the program, these entrepreneurs are in a position to apply for the National Program and government SBIR grants, (federal grants worth up to $1.5 million to help small businesses commercialize technology) or, at a minimum, they have validated commercial demand of their innovation and moved one step closer towards commercialization.

We recently completed our first year of operations. In the first twelve months, there were four cohorts with 29 teams completing the program. While the program was open to the entire campus, close to 70% of the teams were from the College of Engineering (see info graphic). In addition to the University of Illinois teams, 5 teams from the community also went through the program. These local teams had heard about I-Corps while participating in one of EnterpriseWorks’ many entrepreneurial programs offered to the community. 

The Technology Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Illinois is really excited about the upcoming year. We have already filled all eight slots for our next cohort and have partnered with the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE) at the University of Chicago to create joint cohorts. The Chicago tech ecosystem is booming and this partnership with CIE gives both our students and faculty an opportunity to work together with some of the top entrepreneurs in Chicago to commercialize cutting edge research. Teams will participate in cohorts located in Chicago at the CIE as well as in Champaign at EnterpriseWorks.

The true economic impact of this program is felt when these teams successfully commercialize their technologies and build their teams here in Illinois. In just twelve months, the 29 teams that completed the program have raised over $4M (see info graphic below for breakdown) in outside funding, conducted over 250 interviews with potential customers and several have launched beta products.

The I-Corps program is a prime example of what can be quickly and effectively achieved when universities, government, and industry partner with one + Add New Categoryanother. The partnerships forged through the I-Corps program give our brilliant inventors the support they need to take risks, become entrepreneurs, compete more effectively for funding, and commercialize their inventions at home in Illinois. One day, the benefits of these new companies and products created in Illinois will benefit all of society.

Watch and Listen:

What is I-Corps?

Technology Entrepreneurial Center (TEC) Illinois


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EnterpriseWorks Chicago
A startup for startups, EnterpriseWorks Chicago (EWC) is a university based operation charged with creating a robust entrepreneurial community to nurture commercialization and accelerate viable high technology startups throughout the Chicagoland community.

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