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SLUStart I-Corps

SLUStart I-Corps is a program managed by the Research Innovation Group in Saint Louis University's Office of the Vice President for Research. It is designed to help academic researchers, community inventors and innovators, and aspiring entrepreneurs in the St. Louis region extend their focus beyond academia, the laboratory, and the workshop so that they create successful products and services that deliver real value.

By participating in SLUStart I-Corps you can get help pursuing your innovation or new venture concept and possibly qualify for up to $50,000 in non-dilutive financial support.

SLUStart I-Corps helps participants ensure that their research and innovations will have greater economic and societal benefit. It integrates the original SLUStart program and the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Site program at Saint Louis University. As such, SLUStart I-Corps projects that qualify as NSF I-Corps Site projects have full access to the NSF I-Corps ecosystem.

SLUStart I-Corps aims to:

  • Train participants in the lean startup methodology (i.e., customer development process) popularized by Steve Blank.
  • Increase the quality and impact of research conducted at Saint Louis University.
  • Advance the commercialization of SLU intellectual properties.
  • Increase the effectiveness of inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs and improve the innovation skillset of the general workforce in the St. Louis, Missouri region.
  • Increase the participation of underrepresented groups, such as women and African-Americans, in entrepreneurship and the technology industry.

SLUStart I-Corps holds cohorts on a rolling basis throughout the year.  It also partners with local community-based organizations to reach target populations and deliver the SLUStart I-Corps curriculum.  SLUStart I-Corps partners include:

  • Arch Grants
  • Inventors Association of St. Louis
  • IT Entrepreneurs Network (ITEN)
  • Veterans Business Resource Center

If you have questions about SLUStart I-Corps, contact Malcolm Townes in the Research Innovation Group at malcolm.townes@slu.edu. To participate in the program, submit your application.

Upcoming Cohort Start Dates

August 13, 2022

Applications received less than five days before the scheduled cohort start date will be rolled over to the next available cohort if accepted.

Submit Your SLUStart I-Corps Application

Participation Statistics

Statistics for period November 1, 2017 through July 31, 2022

Total Number of Projects Completing the Curriculum: 522

Total Number of STEM Projects Completing the Curriculum: 446

Total Number of Participants Completing the Curriculum: 935

Total Number of Participants Associated with STEM Projects Completing Curriculum: 816

Eligibility

SLUStart I-Corps Eligibility

The following groups are eligible to participate in SLUStart I-Corps:

Group One: Anyone who is pursuing at least one of the following endeavors:

  • The commercialization of SLU intellectual property
  • The advancement and maturation of a particular line of SLU research

Group Two: Anyone pursuing their own concepts for innovations or new ventures who satisfy at least one of the following criteria:

  • Members of the SLU community (i.e., faculty, staff, post-docs, graduate students, undergraduate students or alumni)
  • Partnering with a SLU school, academic unit, center of excellence or other division to pursue their innovation or new venture
  • Appropriately affiliated with a SLUStart I-Corps partner organization
  • Lives, works, or attends college in the greater St. Louis, Missouri area

SLUStart I-Corps projects that qualify as NSF I-Corps Site projects are eligible to receive up to $2,000 in financial support (while funding lasts) during their participation in the program to help cover costs associated with investigating the commercial potential of the concept.

NSF I-Corps Teams Program Eligibility

Participants pursuing projects that meet all of the following criteria also qualify to apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams Program, where they will receive additional training and up to $50,000 in financial support to continue investigating the commercial potential of their concepts:

  1. The project must qualify to be funded by the NSF.
  2. The primary team members pursuing the project must have successfully completed the cohort sessions and fieldwork of the SLUStart I-Corps program.
  3. The participants must provide documentation of at least 15 completed customer discovery interviews for the project that the SLUStart I-Corps program manager deems satisfactory.
  4. The project must have an explicit connection with SLU based on at least one of the following criteria:

    • Pursuing the commercialization of intellectual property assigned to SLU.
    • Led by individuals from the community pursuing commercialization of extraordinary technology for which there is documentation of a potential research collaboration or sponsored research project (including Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] and Small Business Technology Transfer [STTR] projects) with SLU faculty.
  5. A person eligible to serve as principal investigator (PI) for federally funded projects according to SLU policy must serve as the PI for the project applying to the NSF I-Corps Teams program.

NOTE: A letter of interest from the SLUStart I-Corps participant that identifies one or more potential SLU faculty collaborators, specifies a possible scope of work for such potential collaboration, and indicates whether the participant has approached the SLU faculty about the potential collaboration will suffice for documentation of a potential research collaboration or sponsored research project.

Below is a link to the full solicitation for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program.
https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2021/nsf21552/nsf21552.htm

Submit Your SLUStart I-Corps Application

SLUStart I-Corps Team

Malcolm Townes, PhD, MBA
Site co-PI and Program Manager
malcolm.townes@slu.edu

Ken Herold
Instructor and Mentor
kenneth.herold@slu.edu

Steven Epner
Instructor and Mentor
steven.epner@slu.edu


Participant Resources

Non-Dilutive Funding Opportunities

Arch Grants
$50,000 non-dilutive grant awards and  pro bono support services for scalable startup business ventures that locate in the City of St. Louis, Missouri.

The Center for Advancing Point-of-Care Technologies
$100,000 grant awards for applications focused on developing, adapting, or validating point-of-care technologies that can be rapidly applied to heart, lung, blood, or sleep disorders, with additional interest in projects that incorporate complementary and integrative health approaches. 

SBIR and STTR Programs
The highly competitive  Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs encourage domestic small businesses to engage in federal research and development (R&D) projects with the potential for commercialization. Phase I awards are between $50,000 and $250,000 over a six to 12 month performance period.  Phase II awards are up to $750,000 for performance periods up to two years. The Missouri Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) offers FAST grants up to $2,500 to help small businesses cover some of the costs for preparing an SBIR proposal, including expenses for a grant writer.  For additional information about FAST grants, contact Ed Lahue at elahue@missouri.edu.

U.S. Bank Cleantech Inclusion Award
$25,000 non-recourse grants to entrepreneurs who are female or people of color that are building innovative companies that leverage environmentally friendly technologies.

Recommended Reading
  • Bettencourt, L., & Ulwick, A. (2008). Giving customers a fair hearing. MIT Sloan Management Review, 49(3), 62-68. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Giving-Customers-a-Fair-Hearing-Ulwick-Bettencourt/17b0d88f76c23c85a7de11f11317bc7ca2f4ab6b
  • Blank, S., & Dorf, B. (2012). The startup owner's manual: The step-by-step guide for building a great company. BookBaby.
  • Blank, S. & Mullaney, K. (n.d.). How to Build a Startup [online course]. Available from https://www.udacity.com/course/how-to-build-a-startup--ep245
  • Christensen, C. (2013). The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business model generation: a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., & Smith, A. (2014). Value proposition design: How to create products and services customers want. John Wiley & Sons.

 

FAQs

What are the benefits of participating in SLUStart I-Corps?

There are several benefits to participating in SLUStart I-Corps:

  • Increase your ability to identify promising lines of research that will fair more competitively with potential funding agencies (for SLU researchers).
  • Qualify to pursue funding grants of up to $50,000 from the NSF I-Corps National Teams program to further the development of your concept.
  • Minimize the probability of failure when commercializing research and launching new business ventures by learning the methodology that most successful entrepreneurs use to start their businesses.
  • Increase the quality and impact of research projects and innovations.
  • Increase your ability to attract funding and outside investors.
  • Increase your ability to successfully compete for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grants.
  • Increase your ability to differentiate yourself with potential employers during your job search (for graduate and undergraduate students).
  • Develop skills that will help advance your career whether you're a university professor, an aspiring community entrepreneur or a student still looking forward to your first post-college job.
  • Test entrepreneurship as a career option with very low personal risk.
Does participating in SLUStart I-Corps convey any ownership interest in my venture to Saint Louis University?
No, simply participating in SLUStart I-Corps does not convey any ownership interest in your venture or company to SLU. Moreover, SLU does not require or request any ownership interest in projects in order to participate in the SLUStart I-Corps program.
How is the SLUStart I-Corps program structured?

The standard program is currently structured as several components covered in two cohort working sessions (each lasting about four to six hours), with one to two weeks between the working sessions during which participants conduct fieldwork (i.e., customer discovery interviews).

The instructors and mentors are available to provide one-on-one assistance to you on an as needed basis as your schedule allows during the time between cohort sessions and on an on-going basis after the conclusion of the cohort sessions. Participants pursuing projects that qualify as NSF I-Corps Site projects and who plan to apply to the NSF I-Corps National Teams program typically receive additional individualized instruction and mentoring.

Additionally, SLUStart I-Corps has the flexibility to accommodate other structures to fit the schedule and availability of participants and partners. The standard program can be condensed into a time frame as short as one week or the content can be further subdivided and delivered over a period of several months.

What kind of time commitment is required to participate in SLUStart I-Corps?

Under the standard program structure, both working sessions typically last about three to four hours each. The meeting days and times for the cohort working sessions are scheduled according the availability of the cohort participants. Generally, cohort sessions are scheduled on weekends or weekday evenings for the convenience of participants.

Additionally, participants are expected to spend time outside of the working sessions applying what they've learned to pursue their concepts. However, how much time you spend outside of the working sessions is at your discretion.

Are there any costs associated with participating in SLUStart I-Corps?
There is no cost to participate in SLUStart I-Corps.
When are cohorts held for SLUStart I-Corps?
We accept applications to SLUStart I-Corps continuously. We form cohorts on a rolling basis whenever we have a minimum number of participants to form a cohort (typically at least three projects).
What type of prep work should I perform before attending the first SLUStart I-Corps cohort session?

Prior to attending the first cohort session, we strongly suggest that you and your team members perform the following prep work so that the cohort sessions are more productive. 

For what type of expenses can the financial support for STEM-related projects be used while participating in SLUStart I-Corps?

SLUStart I-Corps projects that qualify as I-Corps Site projects (i.e., STEM-related) are eligible to receive up to $2,000 per project in financial support (while funding lasts) during their participation in the program to help cover costs associated with investigating the commercial potential of their concepts. This funding is intended to be used for eligible expenses such as, but not limited to:

  • Registration fees and travel expenses to attend relevant conferences to interview target potential customers and key partners.
  • Purchases of data and information to prepare for and facilitate customer discovery interviews, such as:
    - LinkedIn subscription
    - Email finder services (e.g., RocketReach.co, Anymailfinder.com)
    - Membership list purchases
  • Expenses associated with products and services used to conduct and document customer discovery interviews, such as:
    - Subscription to LaunchpadCentral.com
    - Transcription services
  • Purchases of the following approved reference materials:
    - Blank, S., & Dorf, B. (2012). The startup owner's manual: The step-by-step guide for building a great company. BookBaby.
    - Christensen, C. (2013). The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business Review Press.
    - Osterwalder, A., & Pigneur, Y. (2010). Business model generation: a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. John Wiley & Sons.
    - Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., & Smith, A. (2014). Value proposition design: How to create products and services customers want. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Well-focused research and development related activities that support further customer discovery and advance the technology towards commercialization such as:
    - Creating minimum viable products
    - Developing prototypes
    - Conducting in silico, in vitro, and in vivo experiments
How do I access the financial support offered to participants of SLUStart I-Corps who are pursuing STEM-related projects?

Guidelines for Accessing the Financial Support Provided to SLUStart I-Corps Projects

Saint Louis University provides the financial support offered to SLUStart I-Corps projects on an expense reimbursement basis.  The financial support must be used within 9 months of completing the final cohort session.

For Projects That Started the Program After March 28, 2021

Effective March 28, 2021, the program will only distribute funding to participants based on the number of documented customer discovery interviews.  The reimbursement will be at a fixed flat rate per interview, while funding is available.  To be eligible for reimbursement, each of the following criteria must be satisfied:

  1. The project must be STEM-related.
  2. At least one member of the project team must have participated in all cohort sessions.
  3. The person receiving reimbursement must have participated in at least one cohort session.
  4. The customer discovery interviews must have been completed within nine months of completing the final cohort session.
  5. The reimbursement request must  have been properly submitted and received by the SLUStart I-Corps program manager within 10 months of completing the final cohort session.

The program will distribute funding to participants working on qualified projects in cohorts that start after March 28, 2021 at a fixed flat rate of $133 per confirmed documented customer discovery interview interview not to exceed a total of 15 interviews per project.  Participants must use the Participant Deliverable Report to document their customer discovery interviews.  Participants will still be required to submit an invoice to SLU requesting reimbursement for expenses associated with conducting customer discovery interviews. We recommend that participants use the following language for the invoice:

  • Item: Reimbursement for expenses associated with conducting customer discovery interviews
  • Rate per each: $133 per interview
  • Total number of interviews: [Enter amount not to exceed 15 in total per project]
  • Note: Please see SLUStart I-Corps Participant Deliverable Report for documentation of customer discovery interviews 

Please feel free to use this sample invoice.

For Projects That Started the Program Before March 28, 2021

To be eligible for reimbursement, participants must adhere to the following process:

  • The program manager must determine that the project is STEM-related.
  • Before incurring the expense, you must obtain pre-authorization by sending an email to the program manager providing details about the planned use of funds. The program manager will respond indicating whether or not the expenses are reimbursable.
  • Once you've received preauthorization you can incur the expense.
  • After incurring the expenses, submit an itemized invoice and copies of all receipts to the program manager. To claim mileage, please include a Google Maps screenshot of the route and mileage with your reimbursement request.
  • Submit all reimbursement requests within 10 months after completing the final cohort session. All expenses must be incurred within nine months after completing the final cohort session.

Please feel free to use this sample invoice.

What are the requirements for receiving a certificate of completion?

Individuals who participate in at least one  cohort session for a project and for whose project at least five  customer discovery interviews have been conducted and at least one  team member was present for each cohort session receive a certificate of completion.  Participants must submit the Participant Deliverable Report to document their customer discovery interviews.  Only one Participant Deliverable Report is required per project (i.e., for multi-person teams, one team member may submit a single Participant Deliverable Report for the project that lists all team members).  Participants who are eligible to receive a certificate of completion will receive the certificate via email notification.  Those who would like to receive a physical copy of the certificate printed on certificate paper with an attached seal must send either a self-addressed mailing label or a self-addressed 9"x12" envelope to the following address:

Saint Louis University
OVPR Research Innovation Group
Attention: SLUStart I-Corps certificate of completion
4220 Duncan Avenue, Suite 303
St. Louis, MO 63110 USA

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we currently do not offer participants the option to pick up their certificates in person.

How do I qualify for and apply to the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program?

The NSF I-Corps Teams program focuses on the translation of deep technologies into products and services that benefit the public interest.  Participation in the I-Corps Teams program is at the sole discretion of the National Science Foundation. Only participants and projects that satisfy specific eligibility requirements may apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams program.

To be eligible for the NSF I-Corps Teams program, the technology underlying the effort must: 1) have an explicit connection to an institution of higher education beyond personnel; 2) be consistent with NSF requirements for intellectual merit; and 3) represent a deep technical innovation based on discoveries in fundamental science or engineering. For additional information, see the "Eligibility" section on this page.

The NSF uses a pre-selection process for this program. The basic process is as follows:

1.) For projects that do not already have an NSF lineage (i.e., were not originally funded by the NSF), complete a local or regional I-Corps Site program, such as SLUStart I-Corps. For SLUStart I-Corps, the requirements comprise the following:

a.) Complete the first cohort session.
b.) Begin conducting customer discovery interviews.
c.) Complete the second cohort session.
d.) Complete at least 15 customer discovery interviews.
e.) Submit the Participant Deliverable Report (available online) to document the customer discovery interviews and receive feedback; indicate your intention to apply to the NSF I-Corps National Teams program.

2.) Prepare a two-page (maximum) executive summary that describes the following:

a.) Team Members: Composition and roles (entrepreneur lead [EL], technical lead [TL], industry mentor [IM], plus any additional co-EL, co-TL or co-IM) of the team members proposing to undertake the commercialization feasibility research and a brief description of each member’s qualifications.
b.) Principal Investigator: Principal investigator (PI) and a brief description of their connection to the team. The PI must be qualified to serve as the PI of record for the institution. In some cases the PI will also be the TL but the roles can be split.
c.) Lineage: Relevant current/previous NSF awards (including participation in an I-Corps Site program such as SLUStart I-Corps) establishing team eligibility.
d.) Technology: Brief description of the core technology.
e.) Application/Market: Brief description of the potential commercial application.
f.) Current Plan: Brief description of the current commercialization plan.

3.) Submit your executive summary to the SLUStart I-Corps program manager and instructors for review and feedback. If everything is in order, a senior member of the I-Corps Site program at Saint Louis University (e.g., SLUStart I-Corps program manager) will provide you with a letter of recommendation and nomination to the NSF I-Corps National Teams program.

4.) Submit (via the I-Corps Teams Web Form) your two-page (maximum) executive summary and letter of recommendation from a senior member of the I-Corps site program staff.

5.) If invited, participate in an initial telephone interview with the NSF I-Corps National Program Management Team. This includes the entire project team as specified in item two above.

6.) If invited, participate in a second telephone interview with the NSF I-Corps National Program Management Team and Instructors. This includes the entire project team as specified in item two above.

7.) If pre-selected to participate, submit your official application and proposal to the NSF through Saint Louis University.

The NSF accepts submissions of the executive summary on a continuous basis. The telephone interview process is fairly quick, perhaps two to four weeks.

Below is a link to a recording of a conference call in which SLUStart I-Corps senior personnel answered questions about applying to the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program.
Conference call audio recorded February 5, 2020

For additional information including a link to the full solicitation for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program, please visit the following website:
https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/teams.jsp

What are the responsibilities of the person serving as institutional PI for a SLU sponsored team that is participating in the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program?

In brief, the responsibilities of individuals serving as institutional PI for SLU teams participating in the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program are as follows:

  • Facilitating the teams application submission.
  • Serving as a resource and providing advice wherever the PIs research focus and/or professional network intersects with the team's project.
  • Authorizing disbursement of the funding to the team.
  • Helping to ensure the funding is used in accordance with NSF guidelines.
  • Serving as the University's point of contact with the agency for the project.
  • Serving as signatory for executing certain agreements with the agency on behalf of the university, if necessary.
  • Serving as signatory for certain reports the university must submit to the agency, if necessary.

Please note that an individual acting as institutional PI for an I-Corps team who is not serving as the technical lead (TL) for the team is NOT required to participate in the cohort activities for the I-Corps National Teams Program.

What does the NSF consider to be "deep technology" in making its selections for participation in the National Teams Program?

The NSF I-Corps program focuses on the translation of what it refers to as "deep technologies." The NSF does not provide an official definition of deep technology. However, the agency generally describes deep technology as technology that derives from or is based upon fundamental discoveries in science and engineering. As such, it is incumbent upon applicants to make the case for what they are claiming as deep technology and how it aligns with the mission of the agency.

What can a community venture do to increase its chances of being selected for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program?

The following are actions that a community venture can take to increase its chances of being selected for the NSF I-Corps National Teams program:

  • Strengthen your connection with Saint Louis University to make your venture more appealing to the NSF.  One suggestion for doing this is to option or license SLU-owned technology relevant to your venture that you can incorporate into your offering.  Another way is to establish a relationship with a SLU faculty member who is doing research in a related field and define a preliminary scope of work (SOW) for a possible research collaboration such as an industry sponsored research project or an SBIR proposal which your venture could commercialize. This only has to be a preliminary SOW and does not need to be a firm commitment at the time you apply to the national Teams program.
  • Conduct additional customer discovery interviews so that you have more than 15 completed interviews by the time you apply to the national Teams program.
  • Clearly define your technology so that you can make the case for how it aligns with the NSF mission and why the agency should support its development and commercialization.
  • When assembling the three-person team you will need to participate in the national Teams program (i.e., entrepreneurial lead, technical lead and industry mentor), select an industry mentor who is committed to actively participating in the program alongside you and has industry connections that can help you obtain customer discovery interviews.
When are cohorts conducted for the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program?

National Teams Program cohorts are typically conducted in the fall, spring, and summer. The full cohort schedule can be found at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/teams.jsp.

For what type of expenses can the financial support be used while participating in NSF I-Corps National Teams program?
Guidelines for what are acceptable uses of funds are provided by the agency. There is no expense preauthorization process for the National Teams program. Please refer to the resources posted on the NSF I-Corps Teams website at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/teams.jsp.
How do I access the financial support provided for participants of the NSF I-Corps National Teams program?

Guidelines for accessing the financial support provided under the NSF I-Corps Teams Program

  • Expense reimbursements for the NSF I-Corps Teams Program are processed through the sponsoring institution (e.g., Saint Louis University). However, guidelines for what are acceptable uses of funds are provided by the agency. There is no expense preauthorization process for the national Teams program.
  • After you've incurred the expenses, submit an itemized invoice and copies of all receipts to your institutional contact. You can submit reimbursement requests as you incur the expenses; there is no need to wait until your participation in the national cohort is completed before submitting requests for expense reimbursement. For efficiency purposes, we recommend that you submit your expense reimbursement requests every two weeks.
  • To claim mileage, please include a Google Maps screenshot of the route and mileage with your reimbursement request.
How can the NSF I-Corps Teams Program be used to help provide financial support to graduate students and post docs?

If you're looking for ways to help financially support graduate students and post-docs, the NSF I-Corps Teams program might be one option to consider. The NSF I-Corps Teams program provides an opportunity for graduate students and post-docs to receive a stipend of up to $15,000 over a six-month period to investigate the potential of commercial applications for early-stage university technologies. Graduate students or post-docs may serve as entrepreneurial leads (EL) for three-person teams that spend at least 20 hours per week engaging with potential users to gain insights that will inform decisions about the direction of future research needed to further advance the technology towards commercialization.

The teams receive a $50,000 budget to cover expenses associated with these activities and up to $15,000 of the budget may be used for stipends for the entrepreneurial leads. To qualify to apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams program, the graduate student or post-doc must first participate in SLUStart I-Corps, unless the project was previously funded by the NSF.

The basic process is a follows:

  1. Submit or confirm submission of a disclosure for the technology you will work on or select another SLU technology on which you wish to focus.

    - Contact the Research Innovation Group if you're interested in selecting another SLU technology.
  2. Submit an application to SLUStart I-Corps.
  3. Successfully complete a SLUStart I-Corps cohort during which you will begin investigating the potential of commercial applications for the selected technology.

    - Each project is allocated up to $2,000 (while funding lasts) to cover expenses associated with cohort activities. Once the cohort is successfully completed and the minimum number of customer discovery interviews have been conducted and properly documented, the balance of the allotted funds may be used for well-focused research activities that will support future commercialization of the technology including minimum viable product (MVP) creation, prototype development, and in vitro and in vivo experiments.
  4. Recruit a technical lead (TL) and an industry mentor (IM) to form your three-person team.

    - The technical lead must possess the requisite background and skills to serve as the point person for technical aspects of applying the technology in potential commercial applications. Possible candidates include another graduate student or post-doc, faculty member, or industry professional.

    - The industry mentor should be someone with relevant industry experience and useful connections.

Once these steps are completed, the graduate student or post-doc can apply to the NSF I-Corps Teams program.