NIH – Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) at NIH Program for NIH and CDC Translational Research (Admin Supp Clinical Trial Not Allowed)

October 30, 2018 by School of Medicine Webmaster

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the nation’s medical research funding agency, making important discoveries in basic research and translational medicine that improve health and save lives. Successful biomedical research depends on the talent and dedication of the scientific workforce, and the NIH supports many innovative training programs that foster scientific creativity and exploration, with the goals of strengthening our nation’s research capacity, broadening our research base, and inspiring a passion for science in future generations of researchers.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are NIH’s engine of innovation for developing and commercializing novel technologies and products to prevent, diagnose, and treat human disease. These are Congressionally-mandated set-aside programs for domestic small business concerns (SBCs) to engage in research and development that has the potential for commercialization. Both programs seek to increase the participation of small businesses in Federal research & development (R&D) and to increase private sector commercialization of technologies developed through Federal R&D.

Through this funding opportunity announcement (FOA), the NIH, together with the CDC, seeks to accelerate the development and commercialization of new technologies, products, and services that arise from projects supported by currently funded SBIR and STTR Phase I grants. It is anticipated that NIH and CDC investments in the I-Corps at NIH program will strengthen the U.S. innovation ecosystem by addressing challenges inherent in the early stages of the innovation process. Uniformly, I-Corps provides teams with a great deal of understanding around concepts in the business model canvas including customer segments, key activities, and revenue streams. It also educates teams around important areas of commercialization relevant to life sciences, specifically medical reimbursements, regulatory strategy, and pre-clinical development. Another defining feature of the I-Corps program is the practice of customer discovery. Teams are expected to talk to at least 100 individual stakeholders in the ecosystem, and they are expected to branch out from their base institutions to conduct these interviews. As a result, teams build a wide network, and for some, the outcomes include securing revenue-generating service contracts and investment deals with strategic partners. Testimonials from previous participants may be found in archived webinar recordings:

Program Description

The goal of the I-Corps Program is to accelerate the translation of biomedical research to the marketplace by providing training to SBIR and STTR awardees in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. Under this program, the NIH and CDC foster the development of early-stage biomedical technologies, focus on teaching researchers how to gain a clearer understanding of the value of their inventions in the marketplace, and ultimately how to advance their technologies from the research lab into the commercial world. This program is designed to complement activities within the scope of the parent SBIR Phase I (R43) or STTR Phase I (R41) grant or the Phase I portion of an SBIR/STTR Fast-Track grant (R44/R42, respectively), to help accelerate the commercialization of new products and services derived from NIH- and CDC-funded technical feasibility studies.

Through this program, I-Corps teams will participate in an entrepreneurial immersion course. The I-Corps curriculum uses a hypothesis-driven method of customer discovery in order to gain insights into the issues associated with technology commercialization. As part of this program, participants are required to get “out of the lab” and gather information by conducting a large number of interviews (i.e., 100+) with potential customers, strategic partners, and other third-party stakeholders. During the course, I-Corps teams share what they learn with instructors and other teams, gaining new insights into the prospective impact of the technology being developed under the SBIR or STTR grant. Instructors for the course are sourced from the National Science Foundation’s National Innovation Network, and each instructor is trained in delivering the I-Corps curriculum. It is anticipated that the feedback and learning gained during the I-Corps program will help inform future Phase II SBIR/STTR projects and commercialization strategies.

The I-Corps program will be supported through administrative supplement awards to active NIH or CDC SBIR and STTR Phase I grantees. Administrative supplement awards are intended only to support travel and other costs associated with the training program. A cohort (up to 24 teams per cohort) will be selected to participate in the I-Corps at NIH program, which is expected to last approximately eight weeks.

Details for the FY2019 cohorts are given below. All team members accepted to the I-Corps at NIH are required to participate in each of the program events given below. Additional dates will be released by Notice.

Application Due DateNovember 19, 2018January 28, 2019
Phone InterviewDecember 17, 2018 (estimated)February 25, 2019 (estimated)
Kick-off/Close-out VenueTBDTBD
Course Kick-offFebruary 19-22, 2019 (Tuesday-Friday)April 29-May 2, 2019 (Monday – Thursday)
Web-Ex CoursesWednesdays, 1-5PM ET

February 27

March 6

March 13

March 20

March 27

April 3
Wednesdays, 1-5PM ET

May 8

May 15

May 22

May 29

June 5

June 12
Course Close-out/

April 8-9, 2019 (Monday-Tuesday)June 17-18, 2019 (Monday-Tuesday)
Cohort Size24 teams24 teams

I-Corps Teams

To apply under this program, eligible applicants must assemble three-member I-Corps teams that will work collaboratively to complete the activities and assignments required by the I-Corps training program. Applicants should designate teams consisting of the following members/roles:

      • C-level Corporate Officer
      • Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI)
      • Industry Expert

It is strongly recommended that the participating C-level Corporate Officer should be the chief executive officer (CEO) of the applicant small business concern (SBC); however, other C-level corporate officers may also serve in this role. In this context, C-level refers to “Chief” Technology Officer, “Chief” Operating Officer, or similar level officer. This person should have relevant knowledge of the technology and a deep commitment to investigate the commercial landscape surrounding the innovation. This person should have substantial decision-making authority within the company to implement changes in direction regarding the overall commercialization strategy for the project/technology. It is anticipated that the knowledge gained during the I-Corps training could have a significant impact on the corporate commercialization strategy; therefore, it is recommended that the C-level Corporate Officer should lead the three-member I-Corps team.

The PD/PI on the SBIR/STTR Phase I award should participate as an active member of the I-Corps team. The PD/PI has primary responsibility for achieving the technical success of the project, while also complying with the financial and administrative policies and regulations associated with the SBIR/STTR award. In the scenario in which the PD/PI is also the CEO of the small business, applicants are encouraged to consider designating an additional scientific technical expert or C-level Corporate Officer to lead the team. In the scenario where the PD/PI of the grant is not a member of the team, an alternative team member may be an individual with understanding of the grant’s underlying technology; in such case, the Research Plan must include justification for the team’s personnel structure.

The designated Industry Expert should be an experienced or emerging entrepreneur with proximity to the SBC and experience in translating technologies to the marketplace. The Industry Expert may be someone that has an established relationship with the company (e.g., Board Member), or this person may be selected as a third-party resource. Ideally, the Industry Expert should have prior experience in the development and commercialization of other products within the broader technology space related to the specific SBIR/STTR project under development.

NOTE: It is anticipated that some applicants may benefit from additional guidance in determining how the organizational structure of their particular small business aligns with the expectations of the three I-Corps team members described above. Questions about the roles of each team member and how to consider individuals that can fulfill each of these roles should be directed as a general inquiry or to the appropriate NIH/CDC staff member at the Institute or Center that is funding the Phase I SBIR/STTR award (see the listing Scientific/Research staff under Section VII). In all cases, applicants are expected to designate a three-member team.

Entrepreneurial Immersion

The I-Corps curriculum provides real-world, hands-on, immersive learning about what it takes to successfully translate promising technologies into products or services that will benefit society. At the beginning of the training program, I-Corps team members will be required to attend an evening reception plus an intensive, 3-day kick-off Entrepreneurial Immersion course together (exact location to be announced). After the 3-day Entrepreneurial Immersion course, I-Corps teams will return to their home institutions for 6 weeks and will be required to conduct customer discovery activities as well as participate in weekly web-based conference meetings with the instructors. In addition, it is expected that I-Corps teams will take advantage of instructor office hours. At the completion of the course, I-Corps teams must also attend a 2-day final Course Close-out/Lessons-Learned workshop (anticipated Washington, DC area).

The approach to develop the “technology disposition plan” will be a structured hypothesis/validation approach. Here, the term “technology disposition plan” is defined as the strategy that will be implemented to advance the commercialization of the product/technology following the completion of the I-Corps curriculum. The C-level Corporate Officer (or designated team representative) will be responsible for leading the team along a content-guided path (over the course of the I-Corps program), to develop a final technology disposition plan.

The I-Corps training program will introduce the concept of a “Business Model Canvas,” which provides the framework that guides the I-Corps learning. As part of this curriculum, each team must commit to pursuing a formal hypothesis-validation approach to identify and mitigate gaps in knowledge in the following nine areas:

  • Value Proposition of the proposed product or service;
  • Customer/User-case and pain point;
  • Key Activities;
  • Key Resources;
  • Key Partners;
  • Channels;
  • Customer Relationships;
  • Resource Streams; and
  • Cost Structure.

To successfully complete the I-Corps at NIH program, the entire I-Corps team should be deeply committed and dedicated to the time-intensive curriculum. Each team member should plan to spend at least 20 hours per week on I-Corps activities and learning exercises for the full duration of the 8-week program.

Online Curriculum

During the I-Corps course, online content will be hosted by the NIH (or designee) to establish process and progress tracking. The team’s progress will be shared with the entire cohort of I-Corps teams to facilitate group learning.

Report-Out Session & Lessons Learned

The members of each team must attend a 2-day Course Close-out/Lessons-Learned Workshop where final technology disposition plans are presented. It is anticipated that outcomes for the participating I-Corps teams will include enhanced understanding and validation of the key components of the Business Model Canvas, significantly refined commercialization plans, and well-informed “pivots” in the overall commercialization strategy. In this context, the term “pivot” is used to mean a reorientation or repositioning relative to the original commercialization strategy.

Prospective applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Scientific/Research Contact(s) staff (as listed in Section VII) for more information about this program before submitting an application.

Outcomes Evaluation

Outcomes resulting from I-Corps at NIH program (e.g., refined commercialization plans) will be carefully evaluated as the NIH considers the continuation and further expansion of this program. As such, the NIH will seek to collect outcomes data from participating I-Corps teams immediately following the completion of the pilot program. Evaluations by the NIH may include customer evaluation surveys, interviews, and/or other approaches to obtain feedback on the overall effectiveness of the training. Outcomes data may also be collected by the NIH at different intervals following the completion of this pilot program. Short-term evaluation metrics may focus on such areas as the key pivots that occurred in the commercialization strategy during the training program. Mid-term metrics may focus on areas such as evaluating the relative success of participating teams in competing for future SBIR/STTR Phase II funding (as compared to SBIR/STTR Phase I grantees that did not participate in the I-Corps program). Longer-term metrics may focus on tracking the success of I-Corps teams in raising funds from third-party investors, as well as consummation of partnerships critical to the commercialization of the products/technologies under development.

Deadlines:  November 19, 2018; January 28, 2019


Filed Under: Funding Opportunities