The University of Wisconsin-Madison is officially joining the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-CorpsTM) Great Lakes Region Hub as a full partner and funding recipient in an initiative to support UW-Madison faculty interested in commercializing innovative research technologies. As a local branch of the Great Lakes Region Hub, UW-Madison will conduct I-Corps training programs to help faculty develop the entrepreneurial skills needed for success.  

This effort will be driven by the Technology Entrepreneurship Office (TEO) and TEO Director, Bonnie Bachman. With Bachman’s years of experience working with faculty founders, plus years of I-Corps program expertise, TEO is a comprehensive resource for faculty interested in entrepreneurship.  

“This funding will be incredibly helpful as we continue developing our I-Corps programs: a local training program, mentoring resources, and Pathways to Impact workshops. We are excited to become a full partner with the Great Lakes Hub,” Bachman says. “By investing in our faculty and their ideas, we contribute to Wisconsin’s technology base and economic growth.”  

The National I-Corps Teams training program is an educational, 7-week course designed for researchers pursuing commercialization for use-inspired technologies. I-Corps teams are comprised of a technical lead, who acts as the principal investigator for the team and has deep expertise in the research area; the entrepreneurial lead, who spearheads the initiative; and an industry mentor that has both a technology background and business or founder experience. Throughout the program, the teams learn skills for success and conduct over 100 customer discovery interviews, meeting with consumers within potential target markets to discuss the needs, challenges, and opportunities in their relevant industries. Following the program, participants are better prepared for commercialization opportunities, including additional non-dilutive funding like SBIR/STTR and NSF Partnership for Innovation grants.  

Researchers become eligible for the National Teams program and the $50,000 team award one of two ways: they have either received relevant NSF funding in the last five years or have participated in a Regional Teams or Local I-Corps training course. UW’s Local I-Corps program provides this qualification through a 6-week training intensive, making participating in entrepreneurship more attainable and accessible for interested faculty in the area. TEO will host Local I-Corps sessions once each semester. 

“I-Corps helps researchers turn their ideas into impactful, real-world applications,” Bachman says. “It helps ensure researchers are developing products customers need and avoid common pitfalls in early-stage entrepreneurship by de-risking the business side of their technology idea.” 

While I-Corps is one of the main ways TEO helps support researchers pursuing their entrepreneurial goals, it is not the only way. In the Pathways to Impact program, graduate students participate in interactive workshops to spur professional development. TEO plans to initiate additional workshops, beginning this spring, providing even more holistic entrepreneurial training.   

“STEM researchers interested in entrepreneurship at any level should reach out with us to connect,” Bachman says. “We can match people with the right resources, training courses, and mentors to help grow and even commercialize their ideas. As we continue to grow and expand, we want to be able to work in tandem with researchers and help them reach their own, personal goals.” 

By Katie Amdahl