NSF I-CORPS Provides Support Model for Research Commercialization

The purpose of Bayh-Dole was to maximize the benefits of federal investment in research.  These benefits are realized not only through the advancement of general knowledge, but also the development of new technologies that improve quality of life, and the economic impact of business generated around new technologies.  Prior to enactment, less than 5 percent of the 28,000 patents held by the government had been successfully licensed.  Recognition of this untapped potential lead to the current mechanism, with the hope that universities that conducted the research would also be more efficient at moving the results into the commercial marketplace, where they could have the desired effect.

While more successful than government licensing efforts, the majority of patents managed by university technology transfer offices also remain undeveloped.  This is due in part to the effort required in order to bridge the gap between the results of research, and an application that would attract the investment to develop it further.  Few university technology transfer offices achieve a significant financial return for their current patent and licensing efforts, and cannot afford to assume additional cost.  As a result, despite the research and technology transfer resources that have already been committed, some technologies fail because the results are simply too early stage to make a connection.

A program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to close that gap, providing additional support to determine the viability of early stage technology derived from NSF funded research projects:

The purpose of the NSF I-Corps Teams grant is to give the team access to resources to help determine the readiness to transition technology developed by previously-funded or currently-funded NSF projects. The outcomes of I-Corps Teams projects will be threefold: 1) a clear go or no go decision regarding viability of products and services, 2) should the decision be to move the effort forward, a transition plan for those projects to move forward, and 3) a technology demonstration for potential partners.

The financial component of this award is intended to offset the cost of these efforts, establishing a value proposition and defining an application that would attract investment.  There is also a rigorous curriculum requirement as a condition of the award, which prepares the team to translate their results into tangible benefits.

According to statistics provided during a recent Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) event, recipients from the first two rounds of awards have been able to generate over $3.4 million in follow-on investment for far, with a median intake of $50,000 and an average of $93,000.

Although this program is specifically targeted towards increasing the impact of NSF funded research, by increasing the opportunity for technologies developed from that research to succeed, there are examples to be taken from the program in general:

  • The results of basic research are frequently too early stage for their true benefit to be known, which limits standard licensing operations.
  • In some cases the benefit may be the stimulation of activity, including the formation of ecosystems that sustain financial and business investment in the area.

For more information on the I-CORPS program, please refer to Program Solicitation NSF 12-602 or attend one of the scheduled informational webinars.

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