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Rep. Lipinski Urges Full Funding for NSF's New Innovation Corps Program to Teach Academic Researchers How to Launch Successful Startups

Today, Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) appeared before the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations to testify in support of the National Science Foundation’s new Innovation Corps program. To boost economic growth, job creation, and the return on taxpayers’ investment in basic research, I-Corps has recruited experienced Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to teach academic researchers how to become entrepreneurs.

“The total cost of I-Corps is small – $7.5 million this year and $18.8 million requested for next fiscal year – but the potential value is enormous,” Rep. Lipinski told the subcommittee. “Over the decades, NSF-funded researchers have made a massive contribution to domestic economic growth. But given the size of the federal investment in research – $60 billion annually – the American people should be getting even more new companies and jobs for their money. I-Corps represents a low-cost way to get us across the much-discussed ‘Valley of Death’ that separates laboratory discoveries from profit-making companies that boost economic growth and American competitiveness.”

Twenty-one teams – each typically consisting of a tenured academic, a graduate student and a business mentor drawn from their local community – have already completed the first eight-week I-Corps class. They are developing products such as a robotic weed-killer for organic farms, a sensor that increases safety and efficiency for chlorine producers, technology that more efficiently cools electronic devices, and a better process for producing graphene, a new material whose pioneers recently won a Nobel Prize. The second group of awardees was announced this week.

I-Corps teaches the “Lean LaunchPad” method to starting a business. This method – which draws on decades of experience in Silicon Valley – focuses on talking to as many potential customers as possible, pivoting on a dime in response to the resulting insights, building low-cost prototypes to get customer feedback and constantly adapting. One of its key insights involves treating a startup not as a smaller version of a larger company but as “an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

“NSF grantees produce a remarkable abundance of groundbreaking research and new technologies,” Rep. Lipinski said. “But in many cases, they just don’t know how to translate their technology into a product that fulfills a specific customer need and can form the basis for a profitable company. I-Corps is helping us to bridge that gap, and I believe it’s critical that we provide it with the support it needs to grow and teach more scientists how to become successful, job-creating entrepreneurs.”

Rep. Lipinski also urged subcommittee members to fund the NSF’s Advanced Manufacturing program in the Engineering Directorate at $68.4 million, as requested in the President’s budget.