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Applications being accepted for I-Corps South “Spring 2022 Super Regional Cohort”

The University of Tennessee (UT), as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded I-Corps South initiative, has opened applications for the “Spring 2022 Super Regional Cohort” that will be hosted for the first time on UT’s Chattanooga campus.

Program Director Shawn Carson said a maximum of 20 two- to four-person team can apply for the opportunity to participate in the “Spring Super Regional” workshop series by sending him an email to scarson2@utk.edu. The first session kicks off March 28 at the Mapp Building, 401 East Eighth Street, on the UT Chattanooga campus.

The regional cohort program is designed to introduce tech-based start-ups to the customer discovery process that is at the heart of NSF’s national teams program. The three-week series introduces customer discovery and provides a system to guide entrepreneurs to conduct 20 customer interviews.

Carson, a long-time player in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and now a Lecturer in the UT, Knoxville (UTK) Haslam College of Business, explains that these conversations are not what scientists and engineers expect.

Shawn Carson

“We don’t let them talk about their technology,” he said. “We teach that they have to come to understand the customer’s problem and then decide if their technology provides a solution. Most of the time, it comes up short in some way, but we like to celebrate those moments. We call them ‘pivots,’ and they make the technology better and more likely to end up in a product customers will buy.”

The 2022 cohort will complete UT’s fifth year under the regional grant that is administered by the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Carson says they are going out with a bang.

“We have had a long and valuable partnership with I-Corps South at the Venture Lab at Georgia Tech, and we wanted to do something that would reach out to the southeast and host it in a great place that is easy to get to and people would like to come visit,” he explained. “The logical location was Chattanooga, and our friends at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga stepped right up to host the kick-off.”

I-Crops was developed by NSF in 2011 to help recipients of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards be more successful in commercializing technology. The program is based on the “Business Model Canvas” framework, and much of the content was created by Steve Blank.  Over the years the program has drilled down into the very foundation of that framework to teach technology developers how to validate their value propositions and identify their key market segments.

UT’s I-Corps program has been a partnership between UTK’s Haslam College of Business and its Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the UT Research Foundation. Since 2017 the program has hosted 98 teams with 223 participants and generated more than 1,270 customer interviews. Thirty-one of those teams have been recommended to move on to the national cohort.

“We’ve had teams from all over the southeast,” said Carson, “including Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina.”

After the March 28 kickoff, participants will return home to conduct a series of 20 customer interviews over three weeks. Then, they will gather online on April 13 for some additional instruction before resuming their interviews. All participants return a week later – April 20 – to Chattanooga to share lessons learned and talk about next steps with the SBIR process and the NSF I-Corps National Teams Program.

A full press release about the program can be found here.

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