Published: Aug. 25, 2021

Along with seven collaborating research universities, CU Boulder will help cultivate deep technology businesses in the Western United States

Deep technology, or scientific and engineering innovation that disrupts and catalyzes industries,  often originates at universities. Deep tech has been critical to bolstering the nation’s competitive edge.

With a new, $15 million dollar award announced by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on August 25, engineers and scientists from top research universities across the Western United States—including CU Boulder—will form a new consortium, the I-Corps Hub West Region, to help advance new technologies and incubate emergent companies that can move breakthrough discoveries from the lab to the marketplace. The new I-Corps Hub program is part of NSF’s expanded effort to cultivate new inventions and ventures in deep technologies.  

The I-Corps Hub West Region will be led by the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering in partnership with CU Boulder and the University of California-Los Angeles, and will include as affiliates the California Institute of Technology, the Colorado School of Mines, The University of New Mexico, the University of Utah and the University of California-Riverside.

“With this new I-Corps Hub designation, we’ll be better positioned to share and expand CU Boulder’s innovation ecosystem with our regional partner institutions, leading to even more economic growth and impact from our collective commercialization efforts,” said Terri Fiez, CU Boulder vice chancellor of research and innovation and principal investigator of the I-Corps Hub at CU Boulder.

Venture Partners at CU Boulder—the university’s commercialization arm—will lead these efforts on campus to launch and support startups, both university and non-university, through training, mentorship and programming throughout the West. Together the I-Corps Hub West Region will bring campus resources, talent and global networks—including relationships with accelerators and national labs—to support startups in their development.

The I-Corps program, established in 2011, connects NSF-funded academic researchers across science and engineering with the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities to help create a National Innovation Network. Its programming trains researchers on essential entrepreneurial skills for translating their innovations. Whether that translation occurs through partnerships, industry collaboration, or a startup company, I-Corps addresses the irreplaceable need of finding product-market fit. The rigorous and validated teaching curriculum includes learning how to identify and understand customer needs and the ecosystem in which business decisions are made.  

“The I-Corps Hub will be an important addition to all the resources Venture Partners offers researchers who want to translate their work from the lab into commercial partnerships and new ventures,” said Bryn Rees, assistant vice chancellor for research and innovation and managing director of Venture Partners. “I-Corps programming will be highly complementary with our existing programs like the Lab Venture Challenge and the Ascent deep tech startup accelerator.”

In collaboration with national I-Corps instructors, Venture Partners has been offering similar customer discovery trainings based off the I-Corps methodology for last two years. Starting Blocks is the introductory 2-day workshop, and Research-to-Market (R2M) is the 3-week intensive program, with applications currently open for the September/October program. 

"I-Corps’ approach to customer discovery is a key enabler for helping researchers visualize their commercialization path,” said Mark Rentschler, CU Boulder mechanical engineering professor and faculty lead of the I-Corps Hub at CU Boulder. “My personal experiences participating in Venture Partners’ programs have been incredibly helpful in transitioning from a research discovery mindset in the laboratory to a market discovery mindset." 

CU Boulder’s I-Corps programming starts in Jan 2022.

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