Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
October 23, 2023 | Katelyn Keenehan

I-Corps kicks off with consumer focus

The curriculum integrates scientific inquiry and industrial discovery in an inclusive, data-driven culture.

Dozens of entrepreneurs with diverse, unique, innovative business ideas piled into the Seminar Room of the Institute for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing at the University of Tennessee Research Park last week for the  kickoff event for the latest I-Corps Mid-South program.

I-Corps class, Fall 2023

Organized by the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development (ORIEP) at UT, Knoxville, the program offers education and other support to introduce the regional research community to the National I-Corps program. It’s an interactive training program that runs for three weeks, including workshops, weekly office hours, and customer interviews.

“This entrepreneurial training program provides a great opportunity to explore technology commercialization, conduct multiple customer interviews, and gain insight into potential markets for your technology,” Rob Coleman, ORIEP’s Director of Entrepreneurship & New Ventures, told teknovation.biz.

Each entrepreneurial or research team delivered an elevator pitch for their product or intellectual property. The start-up concepts included camouflaged superconducting processors, injectable hydrogel for chemo deliveries, vision transformation technologies for reading sheet music, bile salts to preserve biological samples, and advanced waveform resampling technologies.

Every single researcher in the room has spent countless hours becoming experts on their products and developments. They all see the value of the work they’re doing; however, now they must prove to the public that their research holds value, too.

That part can be a bit complicated.

Shawn Carson and Dr. Angelique Adams

Shawn Carson, who is a Senior Lecturer in UTK’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, delivered an interactive workshop showing how to begin conducting customer interviews which he  said  are the first step in getting a product to market.

You must identify a problem, understand customer experience, and figure out exactly who your customer is going to be, Carson said.

“It’s all about a solution to a big problem offered at a price that people are willing to pay. That’s what gives it business potential,” Carson said.

He said there’s a lot more to launching a product than just having a plan. It’s about working and re-working and interacting with customers.

Entrepreneurs share start-up concept.

“It’s about people adjusting their ideas and products until customers are satisfied,” Carson said.

Each team will be required to reach out to at least 20 people who would be considered potential customers of their product. Carson said it doesn’t always work out that way.

He explained how sometimes entrepreneurs believe one group will buy their product, but when it comes to reality it’s a completely different group. It’s the same mentality when it comes to pricing the product. Entrepreneurs must decide which price will be the happy medium – people are willing to pay for the value to product brings (and the business generates profit).

This is a three-week intensive program. It will wrap up with a final event on November 13.


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