Customer Discovery through NSF-funded Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site Program
NEXT COHORT: Starts June 2023.
Questions: Email to Prof. Peter Webley
Customer discovery is the process of understanding customers’ needs and then using that information
to pivot product development or target customer-segment.
Center ICE, through its National Science Foundation I-Corps Site program, delivers customer discovery training and support.
Center ICE’s I-Corps program is available to University of Alaska faculty, staff, and students as well as the broader community in Alaska. The I-Corps program is delivered a few times each year and lasts approximately six weeks.
Understanding the needs of the customer, stakeholder, or end-user is essential to evaluate the value of your solution to their specific pain points. At Center ICE, we provide a six-week long NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site program (NSF#: 1829281) to accelerate academic research and startup business projects that are ready to move toward commercialization.
Through our program, we provide training, access to a mentor network, and funding to support you and your team in their customer discovery process. Please contact us to learn more about our I-Corps program and the start date of our next cohort.
Participants learn how to move technology out of the lab as well as business startup best practices. Your team will obtain customer feedback that will help launch your product/business or develop an evidence-based commercialization strategy.
I-Corps is a highly-experiential, 6-week-long program. Participants/teams will:
- Attend Two Classroom Sessions: Members of each I-Corps team are required to attend two 1 to 2-hour sessions, one at the beginning to kick-off the program and one to wrap-up the discovery process and lessons learned from your feedback.
- Attend Weekly check-ins: These are usually expected to last up to 30 mins per week and provide an opportunity to discuss learnings made through the customer interviews with the Center ICE team and evaluate how we can help you and your team move forward. One team member must check-in weekly with the program instructor.
- Conduct 15 - 20 Interviews: This is the hard work, but this is also how you’ll learn the most. To best align your idea with real-world needs, teams test their assumptions through interviews with industry representatives and potential “customers.” Each team will conduct a minimum of 15 interviews over the course of the program. As part of the I-Corps program, all participants will learn best practices for how to conduct stakeholder interviews.
If you’d like to join the next cohort of the I-Corps program at Center ICE, please complete the application form at the link below. A member of the Center ICE team will contact you to talk more about your value proposition and the next steps to get you started.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Each I-Corps team is eligible to receive financial support to perform their customer discovery interviews. Support comes as a reimbursement after the program ends but must be spent during the six-week program period and may be used to support various entrepreneurial activities related to the program, including:
- Defray the travel costs of entrepreneurial interviews, including taxi/uber/lyft fare, airline tickets, and hotel stays anywhere in the USA.
- Attend industry conferences or trade shows + associated fees.
- Pay for video conferencing services to allow for remote interviews, and educational support materials.
Funding may not be used for attendance at academic conferences, business services (e.g., legal and accounting), electronic equipment, product development, or third-party service providers. Our team will work with you to identify appropriate uses of funding. Suitable conferences typically should be identified before the program begins.
Applications will be reviewed by a selection committee on a rolling basis. Teams accepted into the program will be assigned to a cohort based on availability. Qualified applicants may be invited to an interview with the program instructor as part of the application process.
Team eligibility requirements include:
- Team members, with at least one located in Alaska, committed to attending required workshops and completing out-of-class assignments (15 – 20 interview) OR reference from another University in the Pacific Northwest.
- An idea or project that is based in the STEM fields or has a technology component – this idea can be very early-stage, and teams are not required to have prototypes.
- Open to both university and non-university affiliated teams – teams including faculty, students, staff, and alumni from the University of Alaska are given first preference, but all teams located in Alaska may apply for I-Corps.
- Curiosity and enthusiasm.
We do not recommend that teams have more than four members. Typically, teams consist of at least one scientific or technological expert who is responsible for the team’s idea (“the academic/technical lead”) and at least one business focused team member interested in conducting entrepreneurial research and directing group efforts (“the entrepreneurial lead”). The entrepreneurial lead may or may not have prior business experience but must be committed to leading or organizing team activities. For more information on how to form a team for I-Corps, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
I-Corps Team members highlight the benefits to the program
I-Corps provided an environment to investigate new ideas and assess the customer and stakeholder needs as well as evaluate the timing for us to pursue new opportunities. We now incorporate the customer discovery process each fall to ensure we provide our customers the experience that they expect for us. Meredith Noble and Alexandra Lustig, Co-Founders, Learn Grant Writing
I-Corps gave me the first opportunity to interview specialists in other fields and determine the end users for the innovation developed in my senior project. I-Corps teaches you to iterate on your design and to speak with, listen to, and empathize with the end-user. I use the skills I learned in I-Corps daily. I-Corps is a fun program and I recommend it to anyone interested in finding out the broader impacts of their innovative research. Abigail Leigh, 2021 UAF Engineering Graduate.
The customer validation training helped us in validation of our innovation, and gave me and my team the opportunity to strengthen our ties with collaborators and provide guidance on our software and interfaces. I-Corps has provided me with insights and business guidance. I recommend it to any startup. Kelly Lucas, Founder, Jawlogic
The I-Corps program opened up the business world for us in a way I can't imagine achieving by any other means. I'm extremely grateful to have gone through the program and will recommend it (any already have recommended it) to anyone starting out in the same way. Especially for us, all of us coming from technical backgrounds, the opportunity to get in front of people and learn how to message what we're doing was simply irreplaceable.Jay Byam, CEO, Kartorium