Building on the Strength of UVA’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

The National Science Foundation's recognition of UVA’s startup support system means UVA will receive funding to train teams of students and faculty research scientists to inspire effective innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. The program introduces STEM scientists and engineers to real-world, hands-on training that helps move ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace. UVA's School of Engineering and Applied Science is leading this University-wide initiative. The program is a collaboration between the School of Engineering and Applied Science, iLab, Office of the Vice President of Research, and UVA’s Licensing and Ventures Group.

National Science Foundation's (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) is a public-private partnership program designed to teach university graduate and faculty research scientists with STEM related technologies to identify valuable product/service opportunities that can emerge from academic research and provide entrepreneurship training to participants.

The NSF's recognition of our startup support system means UVA receives funding to train teams research scientists to inspire effective innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. The program introduces STEM scientists and engineers to real-world, hands-on training that helps move ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Gary Koenig, Assistant Professor, UVA Deparatment of Chemical Engineering

"The I-Corps program helped me to better understand many of the potential end users of my research, and what the real pain points were that they faced using technologies in my field. As a result, we ended up pivoting one of the projects in my lab from a final application in energy storage to a final use as a characterization device for energy storage materials. This pivot project has now become one of the main research themes in my group and led to new research directions and funding opportunities."

Gary Koenig, Associate Professor, UVA Deparatment of Chemical Engineering

The Program

Building on the strength of UVA’s existing entrepreneurial ecosystem, we can now offer a proof-of-concept program that accelerates the pace of moving funded research towards commercialization.  The program teaches the essentials of the Business Model Canvas and how to complete effective customer discovery (not sales). Program participants can apply for up to $2,700 in grant funding to conduct customer discovery, market research or purchase supplies to create a prototype. Successful completion of the I-Corps Site program positions teams to apply to the NSF National I-Corps Program, an intensive seven-week program that provides up to $50,000 in grant funding.

The program supports teams two to three:

  • Academic Lead (AL) or Principal Investigator (PI): often a faculty inventor
  • Entrepreneurial Lead (EL): often a graduate student familiar with the research or technology
  • Mentor (0ptional): someone from the business community with expertise in the technology

Teams will receive a small grant (up to $2,700) for customer discovery, to purchase materials for prototypes or for travel to consult with experts.


There are many benefits from participating in the I-Corps program, including:

  • Mentoring from local experts
  • Validation of Market Size, Value Proposition, Customer Segment
  • Certificate of Program Completion
  • Engage with campus entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • Seed Funding (up to $2,700)
  • Opportunity to be referred to the $50k NSF National I-Corps program
  • NSF I-Corps curriculum based on the Lean Launchpad methodology
  • Dramatically improving chance for equity free funding:
    • SBIR Phase 1 ($225k)
    • SBIR Phase 2 ($750K)
    • SBIR Phase 2B ($500K)


Participants in the I-Corps Site at the UVA will be expected to commit at least 3 – 5 hours per person per week to the customer discovery process and other commercialization-focused activities. It is important that the participants are interested in gaining new knowledge from the I-Corps program, and not just receiving an I-Corps Site grant award.

By the end of the program, teams can be expect to accomplish some of the following:

  • Started research on competing patents and publications
  • Found general data on the size of your technology’s market and any key market trends
  • Clearly articulate the problem definition and able to answer the “so what” question
  • Analyzed several competitive products
  • Interviewed potential customers or end users
  • Understand the parts of a standard business model canvas and its value
  • Learned about potential sources of early-stage commercialization funding
  • Decided whether or not to pursue commercialization of your technology or idea
  • Completed much of the research you need to apply for a commercialization-focused grant

Accepted teams must commit to attending their two working sessions where teams present their customer discovery progress, two mid-week check-ins with their assigned teaching team member, and the final presentation day where participants will show how their business ideas have developed over the course program.  Each team will share their Go/No Go decision.


All current UVA graduate students, doctoral students, post-doctoral researchers, and faculty research scientists in the STEM fields are eligible to apply as an Entrepreneurial Lead (EL). Academic Leads (AL) or Principal Investigators (PI) must be UVA faculty members.  Some exceptions may be made for advanced undergraduate teams who would like to participate in the program.

Failure to complete these elements of the program may be grounds for disqualification from the UVA NSF I-Corps Site program and forfeiture and/or repayment of any grant awards associated with the program.

Selection Criteria

The first and most important goal of I-Corps Sites is to encourage technical entrepreneurship and teach faculty and students how to think about commercialization. Teams should have clearly defined goals and expectations for how the program may impact the commercialization potential of their technology. When completing the application materials, please keep the following criteria in mind:

  • Team and Commitment
  • Intellectual Property Strength
  • Technology Strength
  • Commercial Potential & Applications
  • Fit with I-Corps Program


  • Next Session Dates: November 11, November 18, and December 2, 2022
  • Applications Due: November 4, 2022
  • Click here to apply

For questions, please contact the I-Corps director at