UC Berkeley among three schools receiving $3.75 million grant

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UC Berkeley will participate in an educational program aimed at fostering innovation by connecting university research and entrepreneurship after receiving a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation announced on Feb. 21.

Together, UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford University will coordinate the NSF Bay Area Regional I-Node Program, one of five Innovation Corps nodes established by the NSF across the country. The three universities will use the NSF’s $3.75 million grant to establish training programs to link researchers to the business aspects of innovation over a three-year period.

“The combination of the three schools makes for an incredible asset,” said Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank, an entrepreneurship lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the Stanford University School of Engineering.

According to node manager Andre Marquis, executive director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship at the Haas School of Business, the goal of the program is to educate scientists and engineers on how to create startups while simultaneously giving them the opportunity to test their business ideas.

Blank explained the importance of getting scientists past what the NSF calls the “ditch of death,” or the gap between when NSF research funding runs out and when a team is credible enough to raise private capital.

The I-Corps will teach entrepreneurs the Lean LaunchPad framework, a training program Blank developed for his UC Berkeley and Stanford classes. With an emphasis on frequent customer feedback, the method challenges researchers to test the applicability of their proposals in the business world.

“Every team has to meet with 100 customers over the course of the program to test their hypotheses,” Marquis said. “The method is to do experiments on your business model to figure out whether there’s a business behind your technology.”

The program is a hybrid of both on-site and online lectures. Thirty Bay Area startup teams will spend three days in the classroom and five weeks watching online lectures. Teams will be expected to pitch ideas to other teams weekly and to keep a blog documenting their findings.

According to Marquis, the node also hopes to facilitate open access to research between all participating institutions across the country.

To assist researchers in bridging the gap between science, engineering and business, the NSF hopes to build a “national innovation ecosystem” of universities that would allow academics to capitalize on financial opportunities that their research offers.

In his blog, Blank noted that compressing the time for commercializing scientific breakthroughs and reducing the early-stage risks of new ventures will mean more jobs, new industries and a permanent edge for innovation in the United States.

According to Blank, commercializing science and technology locally and nationally could give the country “an enormous competitive advantage.”

Contact Mia Shaw at [email protected].