NSF I-Corps: Short Course, Big Impact

Just like Simone Biles and the rest of the US Gymnastics team, powerful things come in small packages!

Our one week July Immersive Short course featured a number of faculty and student teams, including a Dean’s Seed Fund winner (Mules4Schools) and hackathon winners (LymeDot) now competing to present at the White House.

Led by instructor Chris DeNoia, each team completed 15-20 interviews during the one week course and all are moving forward, although there were some substantial pivots.

One team of two EECS grad students reported that their biggest insight was to, “Stop talking about what we want to sell and start listening to our customer’s pain points.” This insight led them to pivot away from their original idea of providing remote video assistance to ship builders and find other industries with a more acute problem.

Another team, Organos, lead by Kevin Healy, UCB Professor of Bioengineering and Materials Science & Engineering, targeted and interviewed potential customers for their organ-on-a-chip technology.

The team started out knowing that there was general interest for their organ-on-a-chip to help with a drug development pipeline that’s clearly broken. One of the deeper insights they found through initial interviews, though, is the extent to which accurate preclinical screening and disease models impacts drug development. Professor Healy reports that, “Potential customers told us that even a small change (.1) can equal a 10x gain in efficiency.” Given this clear value proposition, the team is now focused on picking a clinical indication where there are poor/weak animal models, since even a modest change would provide an efficiency win.

One of the best “pro tips” on final presentation night came from SmartPhage, exploring phage-based products for treating acne. These two male grad students know a lot about the microbiome, but don’t wear a lot of makeup. So, they “hung out in the skin care aisle at Target” to interview potential customers with the problem they sought to solve. Armed with new insights, they’ve established that their target market consists of “skin care addicts”. They’ve just been accepted into the National NSF I-Corps Lean Startup training and look forward to spending more time in cosmetic aisles interviewing potential customers.

To learn more about both the NSF I-Corps Immersive Short course as well as full Lean Startup instruction (along with a $50k grant) via the National NSF I-Corps program, click here.