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Second I-Corps Program Launching at the Lobo Rainforest Building

A second I-Corps-based entrepreneurial program will soon be launching at the Lobo Rainforest Building.

The National Labs Lobo Rainforest I-Corps Site, funded by Sandia National Labs and the Air Force Research Lab and administered by STC.UNM (STC) and the UNM Innovation Academy (IA), will provide entrepreneurial training to researchers at the national labs who want to learn how to move their technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace.

The new program is based on the successful ongoing NSF-funded I-Corps Site program administered by STC and IA for UNM students that launched in 2017 and has trained 19 student teams to evaluate potential customers/markets and the commercial viability of their STEM-related innovations.

The I-Corps model uses Lean LaunchPad and Kauffman Founders School curriculums for overall entrepreneurial training with the goal of encouraging entrepreneurial researchers to go outside of their laboratories and into the marketplace where they can learn first-hand about entrepreneurship while they explore and validate the commercial possibilities for their inventions.

Both labs will provide $3,000 in seed funding to their teams to participate in a customer discovery process and additional funding support for program costs.  Teams meet each week over the course of 10 weeks for workshops and meetings that provide them with the program, process, and resources to investigate and validate the market size, customer segments, and value propositions for their technologies. Possible outcomes of the program include discovering markets, developing business models, establishing proof-of-concept research, creating prototypes, generating license agreements, establishing startup companies, and submitting proposals for other funding opportunities.

The Sandia team will explore the commercial possibilities of a cheap and fast DNA sequencing technology and the AFRL-NM team will do the same for a mid-infrared light sources technology.

Each team will have an entrepreneurial lead, technical lead, and a Lobo Rainforest I-Corps mentor.  The entrepreneurial lead will be a postdoctoral scholar, student, staff member, researcher, or other lab personnel with relevant knowledge and a commitment to investigate the commercial prospects of the technology.  The technical lead typically will be a senior research scientist or postdoctoral scholar with deep and direct technical expertise in the chosen technology and, typically, is the principal investigator.  The I-Corps mentor will be an entrepreneur who has solid experience in transferring technology out of research labs, proximity to the institutions, and contacts in the industry areas being explored.

Both the National Labs I-Corps teams and the Lobo Rainforest I-Corps teams will participate in final presentations in December.

Also, see Kevin Robinson-Avila’s November 6, 2018 article, “Sandia, AFRL join UNM I-Corps program,” from the Albuquerque Journal, reprinted below and Jesse Schwartz’s September 12, 2018 article, “U of New Mexico I-Cops program partners with Sandia and AFRL,” from Tech Transfer eNews Blog, at https://techtransfercentral.com/2018/11/14/u-of-new-mexico-i-corps-program-partners-with-sandia-and-afrl/.

Sandia, AFRL join UNM I-Corps program

BY KEVIN ROBINSON-AVILA / JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 at 1:26pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico I-Corps program is helping Sandia National Laboratories scientist Adam Baker hit the fast track to market with new technology to radically accelerate DNA sequencing. Baker joined the UNM I-Corps program this fall as one of the first lab scientists to benefit from a new partnership among the university, Sandia and the Air Force Research Laboratory to help speed commercialization of new technologies.

Both Sandia and the AFRL are sponsoring one team from each lab to join the crash, 10-week course, which offers workshops, mentoring, networking and hands-on experience to test and build marketing strategies for new products and services.

The program began in 2017 with a $440,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that allows the university to provide $34,000 per semester to finance up to 10 teams of students, faculty and business mentors. Each team receives $3,400 to conduct intense market research and development for emerging technologies either developed at UNM labs or conceived by students. Those that show market viability for their innovations and needed business acumen become eligible to apply for NSF grants of up to $50,000 to continue their work.

To date, 20 student teams have participated, with nine more now enrolled.

This fall, both labs asked to “piggy back” on the program, each paying for their own teams, said Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech-transfer office.

“Each lab is providing $5,000 per team,” Kuuttila said. “We expect them to increase the number of teams that participate over time.”

It’s the latest collaborative effort among UNM and the labs, which are now co-located in the Lobo Rainforest Building at the Innovate ABQ research and development site Downtown, where STC and UNM’s Innovation Academy manage the I-Corps program. Both labs have significantly stepped up their tech-transfer initiatives through Innovate ABQ, said Jackie Kerby Moore, Sandia manager for technology and economic development.

“It’s another example of how UNM, Sandia and the AFRL are all working together at the Lobo Rainforest Building to deploy more of our technologies into the marketplace,” she said.

Adam Baker’s DNA sequencing technology won first place at Sandia’s second annual lab pitch competition, held at Innovate ABQ in September.

“Through the I-Corps program, Adam can now take the next steps in marketing this technology,” Kerby Moore said.

For the AFRL, the I-Corps process can help “tease out” commercial applications for military technology, said Matthew Fetrow, director of AFRL’s technology engagement office. The AFRL team is exploring potential medical and remote-sensing applications for heat-seeking, mid-infrared lasers used to defect incoming missiles.

“It’s a very-structured, 10-week program that will help us better understand customer pull for our technologies,” Fetrow said. “It’s another tool in our tech-transfer tool box.”