New regional innovation hub to accelerate tech, enhance diversity in entrepreneurship
Rutgers Business School professor Jeffrey Robinson will serve as the research lead for the entire hub and spearhead entrepreneurship research on both deep tech and inclusive innovation as co-investigator on the grant.
As a key player in developing and transforming innovators into entrepreneurs that improve people’s lives, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey will expand its entrepreneurship training programming and further equip faculty and student researchers with the skills and strategy needed to transition their discoveries into technologies and products, as a partner in the newly created NSF I-Corps™ Hub: Northeast Region.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a multi-university $15-million, five-year grant, the hub will be led by Princeton University with Rutgers and the University of Delaware as partner institutions. The new NSF I-Corps Hub: Northeast Region will strengthen a growing regional and national technology commercialization ecosystem while connecting diverse resources and networks available within a consortium of universities. The hub will also include five initial affiliates in the network – New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Rowan University, Lehigh University, Temple University, and Delaware State University – and is expected to grow with more affiliates added each year to broaden opportunities for university researchers by creating new ventures and entrepreneurial endeavors in sectors such as healthcare, robotics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, clean energy, and the environment.
“Rutgers is excited to partner in forming this hub, which speaks both to our region’s excellence in scientific research focused on our nation’s most urgent challenges and to its incredible diversity,” said Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway. “This will help us provide opportunity to a new generation of researchers and spur growth in our innovation ecosystem.”
The I-Corps Hubs build on the success of the NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program, which uses experiential education to help researchers gain valuable insight into market needs and challenges, and the rigor of starting an innovative business. The I-Corps curriculum integrates the scientific method, lean startup methodology and customer discovery in an inclusive, cohort-based program.
"For 10 years, the NSF I-Corps program has been critical to fostering the creative spirit and entrepreneurship that enables NSF-funded research to be translated into new products and services and contribute to the nation's economy," said NSF Deputy Assistant Director for Engineering Linda Blevins. "I am delighted to launch the first of our I-Corps Hubs, which will form the foundation for strengthening and scaling this innovation ecosystem. The I-Corps Hubs will bring together diverse scientists and engineers, entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry partners from every part of our country, providing everyone with an opportunity to solve key challenges and spur economic growth, including new startups and new jobs."
In the I-Corps program's initial phase, consortia of universities responsible for delivering a standardized curriculum, referred to as I-Corps Nodes, and I-Corps Sites, comprised of universities providing internal institutional support to scientists and engineers, were funded separately. Under the new approach, the I-Corps Hubs offer a more integrated approach that incorporates lessons learned from the program's initial success. The new operational model provides increased funding and enables scaling I-Corps across the entire nation. NSF-supported Sites and Nodes will continue to participate in the National Innovation Network while NSF transitions to the hubs.
About Rutgers I-Corps Site
Since 2018, Rutgers has successfully operated an I-Corps Site program under a five-year, $500,000 NSF grant, offering training to 30 research teams a year working on STEM-based projects that align with NSF research areas, including biological sciences, computer science, engineering, environmental research, math, physical sciences and social and behavioral sciences.
Under the leadership of Dunbar P. Birnie, III, professor and Corning/Saint Gobain/Malcolm G. McLaren Chair of Materials Science and Engineering at Rutgers School of Engineering, the Rutgers I-Corps Site program has helped teams understand how their work creates value for potential customers and has led to several startups and significant follow-on funding.
“The new regional hub will enable Rutgers to offer increased programming for its diverse faculty, staff and student innovators. During the past four years, we have trained 100 inventor teams – many of which have progressed to other funding including Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, and innovation contests. Rutgers I-Corps Site has supported faculty and student teams from across the university, including 20 schools across all four Rutgers campuses,” said Birnie, principal investigator for the Rutgers I-Corps Site for Entrepreneurship Acceleration and a faculty leader in the new Hub. “The overall follow-on funding to our site veteran teams is well past $4.9 million dollars.”
The Rutgers I-Corps Site has trained more than 400 participants universitywide, including members of new startup and recent National I-Corps Teams graduate NanoInk Imaging, LLC, from the biomedical engineering department in Rutgers School of Engineering. The company’s screening technology illuminates sub-surface cancer lesions to accelerate drug discovery. Start-up RenewCO2, from the department of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers–New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences is helping to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere while making high-value polymers for industry. The team behind the startup has received federal and state funding in excess of $2.2 million and has won numerous challenges and competitions.
Diversity and Inclusive Innovation
Diversity, equity and inclusion have been an integral part of Rutgers’ initiatives, providing student researchers from under-represented communities with opportunities to participate in innovation and entrepreneurship activities through I-Corps Fellowships. The team received a $100,000 supplement for Diversity and Inclusion in 2020.
Jeffrey Robinson, an associate professor at Rutgers Business School and academic director of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development, will also serve as the Research Lead for the entire hub and spearhead entrepreneurship research on both deep tech and inclusive innovation as co-investigator on the grant.
“Inclusive innovation is the idea that the visionaries, entrepreneurs and gatekeepers of technology innovation should be as diverse as our nation. This diversity leads to brilliant ideas, new companies, and international leadership in innovation,” said Robinson. “The I-Corps Hub: Northeast Region offers us a unique opportunity to study how the diversity of our area can be harnessed for regional development and national competitiveness.”
The NSF I-Corps Hub: Northeast Region was selected following a competitive application process.
Photo Illustration: Getty Images.
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