Fostering STEM Innovation
In 2014, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation launched the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program to empower UChicago scientists, researchers, and students to test the commercial potential of their research and ideas. Supported with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and run by the Polsky Center, the I-Corps program is specifically designed for participants working on projects related to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Participants are not required to have previous experience in business or entrepreneurship in order to be accepted into the I-Corps program.
I-Corps is a highly-experiential, 7-week-long program. Each team will receive a $2,500 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for their participation in the program. Participants are expected to dedicate an average of 4-7 hours per week to the following program activities and requirements.
- Attend Four Classroom Sessions: At least two members of each I-Corps team are required to attend four 3-hour classroom sessions, which are held at the Polsky Exchange. These sessions consist of lectures, team presentations, and visits from guest speakers. In addition, these sessions provide time to foster team discussion, group work, and networking with other cohort members, speakers, and mentors.
- Complete Homework Assignments: To prepare for each classroom session, participants are expected to complete video and reading assignments in order to become more familiar with entrepreneurial topics discussed in class. All required reading materials will be provided by the Polsky Center and will be distributed at the first classroom session.
- Conduct 30 Interviews: In order to better understand the commercial potential of their ideas, teams will test their assumptions by conducting interviews with industry experts and potential “customers.” Outside of class, each team will conduct a minimum of 30 in-person interviews over the course of the seven-week program. Participants are not expected to have any prior experience in conducting interviews. All participants will be trained and learn best practices for how to conduct stakeholder interviews as part of the I-Corps program.
I-Corps is extra-curricular and participants do not receive course credit for participating in the program. However, all participants will receive the following special benefits:
- $2,500 (per team) grant from the National Science Foundation
- Designation as an NSF-funded project, leading to further opportunities for training and funding through the NSF’s national I-Corps program, Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR), and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program
- Instruction and entrepreneurial education delivered by world-class faculty and staff from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business
- Individualized mentorship and coaching, access to resources, and training from the Polsky Center
- Free membership and access to the co-working space, Fab Lab, events, and additional resources at the Polsky Exchange.
Use of Funds
Each I-Corps team will receive a $2,500 grant. Grants are available for six months from the beginning of the each cohort and may be used to support various entrepreneurial activities related to the program, including:
- Defray the travel costs of entrepreneurial interviews, including taxi fare, airline tickets, and hotel stays
- Attend conferences
- Purchase educational materials or attend other educational programs
Funding may not be used to pay for business services (i.e., legal, accounting, etc.), to purchase electronic equipment, or to pay third-party service providers. The Polsky Center will work with participants to identify appropriate uses of program funding.