The U.S. National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program prepares researchers for commercialization, and for CEO and Co-founder of SixLine Semiconductor, Katy Jinkins, the program’s tangible skills and training helped set the groundwork for her entrepreneurial success. Jinkins was named the winner of the 2023 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest earlier this year. According to Jinkins, participating in I-Corps contributed to her success in the competition and in the formation of her company. Jinkins has also recently been awarded the Activate Fellowship, an immersive two-year program supporting entrepreneurs as they launch groundbreaking startups.
SixLine Semiconductor leverages aligned carbon nanotubes, patented technology invented by Jinkins and her advisor, professor Michael S. Arnold, during her PhD., to meet performance demands for next-generation wireless devices. Though the technology itself has groundbreaking implications, the I-Corps process, along with Jinkins’ additional entrepreneurial trainings, have helped facilitate its development to make it directly applicable for consumers in the real world.
“[I-Corps helps] bridge that valley of death between a research idea and an actual, commercialized technology,” Jinkins says.
Participants in the national I-Corps program must complete at least 100 customer discovery interviews, discussing the needs, goals, and challenges relevant to industry with various players in the commercialization ecosystem without mentioning any specifics about their actual technology. Though these interviews are certainly time-consuming and can be intimidating for some participants, Jinkins says it was her favorite part of the program.
These interviews are great for giving insight into the minds of potential customers, but throughout the process, participants also learn imperative soft skills for networking within industry. Learning how to interface directly with customers can make a big difference, especially when it finally comes time to market the technology.
“Overall, [I-Corps] not only helps you learn how to evaluate the markets for your technology, but also how to talk to people about your technology and frame it in such a way that people in your field are excited about it,” Jinkins says.
Now, as an entrepreneur with multiple established successes and an incorporated company, Jinkins recommends the program to people thinking about commercializing their technology and those who recently started a company alike. She advises young entrepreneurs to remain adaptable. Because industry is inherently fast paced and ever changing, it is important to react to trends, changes, and emerging challenges.
“Be willing to pivot, listen to the industry and make sure that you have that product-market fit and that you’re not just creating a solution where there is no problem.”
Moving forward, Jinkins is excited to not only continue working toward her own entrepreneurial journey, but she is also thankful to work alongside a team as dedicated to her mission as she is. Their shared ambition provides the motivation, support, and drive to make their vision a reality.
“I’ve always been really motivated by applications and real-world impact, and with our technology, I can see the path towards that,” Jinkins says. “Being able to work with a really strong team who are all really excited about this ultimate goal is really rewarding.”