By Allyson Mann
The University of Georgia has been named an Innovation Corps Site by the National Science Foundation, enhancing UGA’s ability to turn ideas and research discoveries into commercially viable products or services by providing early evaluation of projects through a customer discovery process.
The I-Corps award will enable UGA to serve up to 30 new startup projects a year, adding to the university’s rapidly growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and assisting the campus-wide collaboration focused on helping all entrepreneurial projects move to the marketplace.
Innovation Gateway, the university’s arm for translating research discoveries into products and companies, will serve as the hub for I-Corps UGA, but collaborators will include UGA’s Entrepreneurship Program, College of Engineering and numerous faculty and staff across campus.
“The hardest steps in creating a startup are at the beginning,” said Ian Biggs, senior associate director of UGA’s Innovation Gateway and the program’s lead. “Becoming an I-Corps Site will allow us to provide more robust services, including financial resources. We’ll be able to help anyone with an entrepreneurial idea that needs testing in the marketplace. This also builds on the recent $500,000 award from the Department of Commerce to create a prototyping center focused on engineering and materials science.”
UGA is one of 50-plus I-Corps Sites, programs that are based at academic institutions to catalyze the engagement of multiple local teams in technology transition and innovation. Ideas or projects supported by I-Corps Sites must be focused in an area of science, technology, engineering or mathematics, but can originate from faculty research, student work, industrial projects or ideas from the community.
The award provides funding that will help teams—of faculty, students, staff and others—better evaluate their ideas, improve risk assessment and define success earlier. Having access to NSF resources will allow the teams to conduct in-depth analyses, leading to more reliable outcomes, and will be particularly helpful to projects from the College of Engineering and the New Materials Institute.
The award provides up to $100,000 annually for five years, enabling support for 30 teams working on commercialization projects that show potential for transition to the marketplace.
I-Corps Sites provide resources to individuals and teams in the form of space, seed funding, entrepreneurial mentoring, curriculum or other needed assets. For three months, the program contributes up to $3,000 total per team that can be used to create a prototype or minimum viable product; travel to consult with potential clients or experts; and to seek training or education.
“The I-Corps award adds to the tools in UGA’s expanding entrepreneurial landscape, which includes collaborations across campus and the region,” said UGA Vice President for Research David Lee. “Teams of faculty and students will be able to explore their ideas from product development through customer discovery, learning about entrepreneurship and how to transit their ideas, devices, processes or other intellectual activities into the marketplace.”
Since 1978, over 600 products and 150 startup companies have originated from UGA faculty and students. These entrepreneurial efforts, ranging from smart coatings to pharmaceuticals to peanuts, reflect the diversity of UGA’s research engine. In the last year, Innovation Gateway has increased the number of startup projects in its pipeline by 40 percent.
According to the most recent data from the Association of University Technology Managers, UGA ranks among the top five U.S. universities for new products reaching the market for the third consecutive year; among the top 10 U.S. universities for total licenses, option agreements executed and active licenses for the ninth consecutive year; and among the top 20 U.S. public universities in licensing revenue for the 12th consecutive year.