Friday, June 17, 2016

On May 26, the von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center successfully completed its third year and seventh Cohort as an NSF I-Corps site. To celebrate, the Center threw a reception for all the students, faculty, and mentors who have participated, ending the night with presentations from Spring Quarter’s 12 teams. During the final presentations, teams presented their ideas, target markets, and lessons learned from customer interviews conducted throughout the quarter.

Each of the mentors ranked the presenting teams categories of progress throughout the program, as well as quality of presentations. Each and every mentor believes that the teams have developed significantly from their initial idea pitches to their final presentations.

For example, the idea for Catalyst Technologies was initially developed in India.  Through customer discovery and market research, Lenord Melvix, the Entrepreneurial Lead, pivoted his focus from Indian to small American hydroponic farmers who were interested in seeing how his solutions could significantly cut their operation costs.

Dr. Seth Alexander of GenTag Solutions identified that designing multiple "all-in-one kits" that allow technicians to tag and capture RNA are much more useful and potentially profitable than his initial offering of a "do-it-yourself" method for clinical and academic researchers. He was able to gather this crucial information through the customer discovery process, an important tactic taught by mentors at the Center.

Armando Armillo of Saros created unique 3D Printers for community maker spaces and individual hobbyists. Through the customer discovery process,  these customer segments revealed the need for a niche quality of 3D printing between high-cost industry grade and the slower, lower-cost consumer grade 3D printing.

Saharnaz Baghdadchi of Singular Imaging, a team from the Phase II group, is developing a single-pixel imaging microscope that reduces the time and cost of stem cell tissue sample processing.  Through customer discovery, researchers confirmed that a beneficial application of the microscope is its high-definition quality, providing images of greater depth for brain imaging research.

Over the past three years, the von Liebig Center (vLC) has trained approximately 100 teams (250 student and faculty participants) in the process of starting a company using the customer discovery process and lean startup methodology.  The two-phase program has resulted in over 2,780 customer interviews conducted, and 19 teams have since filed patents, 44 teams have created prototypes, and 9 teams have gone to the NSF I-Corps Teams (National) program.

According to a survey sent out to the teams, participants revealed that the best part of the (vLC) I-Corps program was the focus on mentor relationships, the cultivation of the entrepreneurial mindset, the understanding the customer discovery process, and enhanced presentation skills.

“The best part of the I-Corps program was going through the process of determining the value of your technology,” says Dustin Fraley of the HeatSeq project. “Great framework for developing a business plan and justifying why your technology is needed through potential user interviews,” Fraley said, commenting that it was an invaluable experience.

Beyond commercialization of technology, the von Liebig Center also hopes to impart and encourage an entrepreneurial mindset in students, faculty, and staff that will help in job searches, identifying other areas of research that are translatable, and writing more competitive grant proposals. This is in line with the vision of Don Millard, the Deputy Division Director of the Engineering Education and Centers (EEC) Division at the National Science Foundation. Millard has held this philosophy since the NSF I-Corps program was founded. Millard attended the Institute of the Global Entrepreneur launch on June 2nd and met with the Center about the strong outcomes UC San Diego’s NSF I-Corps site has produced.

“The best thing I learned was entrepreneur-like thinking. I'm currently looking into other potentially translatable technologies in my lab with the mindset imparted to me by the I-Corps program,” says Wangzhong Sheng, from the AMDepot project.

The NSF I-Corps program will be offered again in Fall 2016. Applications are open and teams will be selected in September. Click here to apply!

As a tribute to the success of NSF von Liebig Center, 5 out of the 8 finalists in the UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge -- NanoVR, Pain Measurement Technologies, Clip Diagnostics, Locana, and Genrix – had participated in the vLC I-Corps program and were awarded funds towards their projects by placing in the top 3 of their track.

Read more about the winners here, and take a look through Priya Bisarya’s experience here

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