Eureka! A New Era for Scientists and Engineers

Silicon Valley was born in an era of applied experimentation driven by scientists and engineers. It wasn’t pure research, but rather a culture of taking sufficient risks to get products to market through learning, discovery, iteration and execution. This approach would shape Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial ethos: In startups, failure was treated as experience (until you ran out of money).

The combination of Venture Capital and technology entrepreneurship is one of the great business inventions of the last 50 years. It provides private funds for untested and unproven technology and entrepreneurs. While most of these investments fail, the returns for the ones that win are so great they make up for the failures. The cultural tolerance for failure and experimentation, and a financial structure which balanced risk, return and obscene returns, allowed this system flourish in technology clusters in United States, particularly in Silicon Valley.

Yet this system isn’t perfect. From the point of view of scientists and engineers in a university lab, too often entrepreneurship in all its VC-driven glory – income statements, balance sheets, business plans, revenue models, 5-year forecasts, etc. – seems like another planet. There didn’t seem to be much in common between the Scientific Method and starting a company. And this has been a barrier to commercializing the best of our science research.

Until today.

Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) – the $6.8-billion U.S. government agency that supports research in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering – is changing the startup landscape for scientists and engineers. The NSF has announced the Innovation Corps – a program to take the most promising research projects in American university laboratories and turn them into startups. It will train them with a process that embraces experimentation, learning, and discovery.

The NSF will fund 100 science and engineering research projects every year. Each team accepted into the program will receive $50,000.

To commercialize these university innovations NSF will be putting the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) teams through a class that teaches scientists and engineers to treat starting a company as another research project that can be solved by an iterative process of hypotheses testing and experimentation. The class will be a version of the Lean LaunchPad class we developed in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, (the entrepreneurship center at Stanford’s School of Engineering).

—–

This is a big deal. Not just for scientists and engineers, not just for every science university in the U.S., but in the way we think about bringing discoveries ripe for innovation out of the university lab. If this program works it will change how we connect basic research to the business world. And it will lead to more startups and job creation.

—–

Introducing the Innovation-Corps
The NSF Innovation-Corps program (I-Corps) is designed to help bridge the gap between the many scientists and engineers with innovative research and technologies, but little knowledge of the first steps to take in starting a company.

I-Corps will help scientists take the first steps from the research lab to commercialization.

Over a period of six months, each I-Corps team, guided by experienced mentors (entrepreneurs and VC’s) will build their product and get out of their labs (and comfort zone) to discover who are their potential customers, and how those customers might best use the new technology/invention. They’ll explore the best way to deliver the product to customers, the resources required, as well as competing technologies.  They will answer the question, “What value will this innovation add to the marketplace? And they’ll do this using the business model / customer development / agile development solution stack.

At the end of the program each team will understand what it will takes to turn their research into a commercial success. They may decide to license their intellectual property based on their research. Or they may decide to cross the Rubicon and try to get funded as a startup (with strategic partners, investors, or NSF programs for small businesses). At the end of the class there will be a Demo Day when investors get to see the best this country’s researchers have to offer.

What Took You So Long
A first reaction to the NSF I-Corps program might be, “You mean we haven’t already been doing this?”  But on reflection it’s clear why.  The common wisdom was that for scientists and engineers to succeed in the entrepreneurial world you’d have to teach them all about business. But it’s only now that we realize that’s wrong.  The insight the NSF had is that we just need to teach scientists and engineers to treat business models as another research project that can be solved with learning, discovery and experimentation.

And Stanford’s Lean LaunchPad class could do just that.

Join the I-Corps
Today at 2pm the National Science Foundation is publishing the application for admission (what they call the “solicitation for proposals”) to the program. See the NSF web page here.

The syllabus for NSF I-Corps version of the Lean LaunchPad class can be seen here.

Along with a great teaching team at Stanford, world-class VC’s who get it, and foundation partners, I’m proud to be a part of it.

This is a potential game changer for science and innovation in the United States.

Join us.

Apply now.
Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

27 Responses

  1. Since teams will be from all over, this will be taught virtually?

  2. Only open to university lab-members, or anyone?

    • Bill,
      Take a look at the NSF solicitation for proposals for details when it goes live later today. I believe it’s limited to University lab-members.

      steve

      UPDATE: NSF Page is now live here.

  3. I learned a ton at the Lean Launchpad class at Stanford earlier in the year. Deep contact with customers is invaluable. Giving NSF selected scientists and engineers a tried formula and a push to get customer / market understaing is an awesome idea. These guys are in for a treat.

    Jorge – Team Autonomow, now Blue River Technology Inc.

  4. Applause Applause a vast improvement …congradulations
    BUT in past presentations you have often included a “BUT”
    for the case of medical. Your caution has been valuable. Please consider expanding on this topic. Thank You

  5. Congrats! Nice to see this thinking gaining traction. Our commercialization methodology, So what? who cares? why you?, has been in use with researchers, scientists and engineers at universities including Penn State, West Virginia, Purdue, Edinburgh and places like the European Space Agency.

    It’s all about iterative development as you say and helping frame the conversation with customer focused models. A lot of synergy in our approaches.

  6. [...] 管理 68 億美金研發經費的 NSF,昨天宣布,從今年開始,除了傳統的技術轉移,他們將每年花費 500 萬美金,送 100 組國家支持的研發團隊,去接受由 Lean Startup 運動發起人 Steve Blank 親自主持的 Stanford Lean LaunchPad (史丹佛大學精實創業) 訓練。透過這個訓練,團隊們將學到最新、最有效的創業知識和思維,好讓這些 ideas 的發想者、技術的研究者,可以親自帶著他們的 prototypes 去 iterate, pivot, learn,最後化身為幫消費者解決真實問題的產品。(更詳細的資訊請參考) [...]

  7. Congratulations! This sounds – and looks, from the – like a really fantastic class that addressees a huge need.

    The syllabus looks tailored to university researchers. I imagine there was a good deal of customer development that went into the course’s creation!

    • Christina,
      Thanks! The National Science Foundation gives out something like 10,000 grants a year scientists, researchers and engineers.
      One could say they have intimate customer knowledge!

      steve

  8. Exciting Steve, did that have anything to do with your trip to DC? It has your fingerprints all over it. :-)

    Kudos!

  9. [...] The National Science Foundation announced this week that it was kicking off a new program called Innovation Corps to help transform promising academic research projects into viable startups. Starting this fall, the NSF will provide 100 science and engineering projects with $50,000 in funding and will enroll them in a crash course on entrepreneurship, taught by Stanford’s Steve Blank. [...]

  10. [...] It is just hard to see how this news, courtesy of Steve Blank, could possibly be bad news: Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) – the $6.8-billion U.S. government agency that supports research in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering – is changing the startup landscape for scientists and engineers. The NSF has announced the Innovation Corps – a program to take the most promising research projects in American university laboratories and turn them into startups. It will train them with a process that embraces experimentation, learning, and discovery. [...]

  11. [...] Valley veteran Steve Blank hails the new program as a move that finally puts engineers, scientists and other creators back in the [...]

  12. This was such a pleasant read in my inbox – I hope this will be a catalyst to tap the great talent of our engineers and scientists. This type of grass roots program is what will help fuel innovation and business for the next generation. Heartfelt thanks for all you do Steve

  13. [...] The National Science Foundation announced this week that it was kicking off a new program called Innovation Corps, that would help transform promising academic research projects into viable startups. Starting this fall, the NSF will provide 100 science and engineering projects with $50,000 in funding and will enroll them in a crash course on entrepreneurship, taught by Stanford’s Steve Blank. [...]

  14. Applause for the huge paradigm shift at the NSF and the good fit with your Launch Pad program. Your major value addition is the call to get out and dialogue with customers…..And it can be improved with some “teaming up” process, since the grants are given to trios: Principal Investigator, Post-Doc student and a Mentor. Would like to see your approach to the teaming up process.

  15. Tangentially related. But just wanted to say that you’re history of Silicon Valley and Stanford is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever read.

    • Kevin,

      thanks!
      The valley was a series of unintended consequences.
      But enough lessons can be extracted from it to learn.

      steve

  16. [...] guru Steve Blank calls it a new era for scientists and engineers. Read his recent post about I-Corps here. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt: From the point of view of scientists and engineers in a [...]

  17. [...] MAYOR COONERTY GETS LESSON IN RUNNING A BUSINESS AND ON HOW TO BE A MAYOR. Brilliant and forceful member of The Coastal Commission Steve Blank gave Mayor Ryan Coonerty some sharp and quick lessons on how to make plans, how to make presentations, and how to run a business two weeks ago at that Coastal Commission meeting when Ryan made such a miserable, losing pitch for his friends at the Boardwalk and Barry Swenson’s La Bahia Condo Hotel. Blank’s credentials from his website say, “I moved from being an entrepreneur to teaching entrepreneurship to both undergraduate and graduate students at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University and the Columbia University/Berkeley Joint Executive MBA program. The “Customer Development” model that I developed in my book is one of the core themes in these classes. (My presentations are here.) In 2009, I was awarded the Stanford University Undergraduate Teaching Award in the department of Management Science and Engineering. The same year, the San Jose Mercury News listed me as one of the 10 Influencers in Silicon Valley. In 2010, I was awarded the Earl F. Cheit Outstanding Teaching Award at U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business. In 2011 the National Science Foundation adopted my Lean Launchpad class. [...]

  18. [...] MAYOR COONERTY GETS LESSON IN RUNNING A BUSINESS AND ON HOW TO BE A MAYOR. Brilliant and forceful member of The Coastal Commission Steve Blank gave Mayor Ryan Coonerty some sharp and quick lessons on how to make plans, how to make presentations, and how to run a business two weeks ago at that Coastal Commission meeting when Ryan made such a miserable, losing pitch for his friends at the Boardwalk and Barry Swenson’s La Bahia Condo Hotel. Blank’s credentials from his website say, “I moved from being an entrepreneur to teaching entrepreneurship to both undergraduate and graduate students at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University and the Columbia University/Berkeley Joint Executive MBA program. The “Customer Development” model that I developed in my book is one of the core themes in these classes. (My presentations are here.) In 2009, I was awarded the Stanford University Undergraduate Teaching Award in the department of Management Science and Engineering. The same year, the San Jose Mercury News listed me as one of the 10 Influencers in Silicon Valley. In 2010, I was awarded the Earl F. Cheit Outstanding Teaching Award at U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business. In 2011 the National Science Foundation adopted my Lean Launchpad class. [...]

  19. [...] Leave a comment As part of our Lean LaunchPad classes at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and for theNational Science Foundation, students build a startup in 8 weeks using Business Model Design + Customer [...]

  20. Will there be another? And can parties outside the US attend?

  21. I-Corps looks like a great help to scientists with business, is there any similar program helping business with science/engineering?

  22. [...] co-taught classes with me at U.C. Berkeley, joined me in launching the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps class and now has been teaching his own Lean LaunchPad class at Princeton. I asked Jim to share [...]

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