University receives NSF grant to form innovation node

Andy East

The National Science Foundation awarded a three-year, $3.75 million grant to the University to form the Southwest Alliance for Entrepreneurial Innovation Node, a regional group hoping to turn academic research with commercial potential into business initiatives. 

The node is part of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program, which focuses on the commercialization of technology in previously funded NSF research in the fields of science and engineering, according to Heath Naquin, who will be the executive director of the Southwestern I-Corps Node. Naquin said UT has been tapped to be the lead site for the Southwest node, which will also include Rice University and Texas A&M University.

“It is a big deal, in my view, for the nation,” said Juan Sanchez, vice president for research at UT. “It is a program that is aimed at training entrepreneurial faculty members so that they will be more prepared to transfer their product of research and development into the commercial markets. There are only a few universities in the country that are designated nodes of the I-Corps [program].” 

According to Naquin, candidates for the grant will devise three-person teams composed of a principal investigator, mentor and entrepreneurial lead, which can be a graduate student. If selected, teams will receive a six-month, $50,000 grant from the NSF and will attend I-Corps training at an I-Corps node.

“There are two I-Corps team grant submissions coming up on Sept. 15 and 30,” Naquin said. “The node will be coordinating an information session for interested faculty and students to get a better understanding of what the I-Corps program entails for them.” 

Naquin said the University will host its first national I-Corps cohort in October. 

Since 2011, I-Corps has helped 319 teams start 163 business ventures, according to the NSF website. 

“The overall goal of I-Corps is about getting innovation out of the labs and into the marketplace and train researchers to think about how to commercialize their technologies more efficiently and effectively,” NSF I-Corps spokeswoman Sarah Bates said.