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October 04, 2017 | Tom Ballard

UT kicks-off first I-Corps South cohort

NSF I-CorpsBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Fourteen teams, 11 from the University of Tennessee (UT), kicked-off the inaugural program in the UT portion of the I-Corps South initiative at an event on the Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus on Tuesday.

I-Corps is short for Innovation Corps, a National Science Foundation (NSF) initiative that is designed to help individuals who are interested in commercializing their technology-based ideas build a business model that addresses their customers’ needs.

Unlike other programs that focus on a business plan, I-Corps is all about validating customer need.

“I-Corps is an opportunity for researchers and scientists to test ideas to see if there is a viable business opportunity,” Shawn Carson, UT I-Corps South Program Coordinator and Lecturer at UT’s Haslam College of Business, explains.

Georgia Institute of Technology operates I-Corps South, one of eight regional networks developed by NSF to support innovation education, infrastructure, and research. The Atlanta-based university, in turn, has partnered with other universities in the South. In this late June article on, Carson described the arrangement as a hub (Georgia Tech) and spoke arrangement (UT and other universities focused on their regions).

During an all-day session on Tuesday at the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, participants heard Carson, Maha Krishnamurthy of the UT Research Foundation, and Colin Ake of Georgia Tech’s VentureLab cover topics such as customer discovery, customer development, and customer segments and value propositions.

“The next few weeks are about the confluence of great ideas and what the customer needs,” Carson said during this opening comments.

The 14 teams were asked to find 20 customers to interview over the next 15 days. Those discussions will focus on customer needs and pains and ways that their idea or technology can address the issue.

“They will come back October 19 to share what they learned,” Carson explained.

Participants in the inaugural program here could be recommended for participation in the national cohort that is more rigorous – seven weeks – but also comes with a $50,000 investment.

New Knoxville campus Chancellor Beverly Davenport welcomed the attendees.

“Designing with the end user in mind . . . that’s the focus of I-Corps,” she said, noting that the questions that have to be answered are “What is the user experience? What is the user need?”


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