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I-Corps: Lean Launchpad at Tech

Welcome to Tech's I-Corps, the Tennessee site member of the National Innovation Network (, a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

The purpose of I-Corps is to support and foster promising new technical ideas through the commercialization process, with a specific focus on getting customer feedback early and often. Early data from NSF on I-Corps looks promising—some technology adoption has been accelerated by more than 30 months.

What is Tenn Tech I-Corps?

Tech’s I-Corps Site will introduce you to the principles of the Lean Startup of commercial ventures, and prepare you for the next steps of building a business based on your technical idea. It will also provide team funding to investigate customer impact of your idea, focused training on lean startup methods, mentorship from seasoned business and technical professionals, and connection to regional venture funding. The program will also prepare you for other funding opportunities, in particular the “canonical I-Corps” and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding. Through participation in the Tech I-Corps Site you are will be officially NSF-funded (hooray!) and eligible to apply for further funding to be an I-Corps Team (up to $50,000in) to continue seeking the commercial path for your idea through the canonical I-Corps program.

Who’s Leading the Charge?

Stephen Canfield (, professor, Mechanical Engineering 

Curtis Armstrong (, chair, Decision Sciences and Management 

Michael Aikens, Business (, director, Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Jeff Brown (Biz Foundry), Ismail Fidan, MET, Interdisciplinary Studies

Sally Pardue, director, STEM Center.

What are the key ideas of Lean Startup?

Great question! I’ll break this down into five inter-related answers:


1. Form a core team. 2. Sign up for this FREE Udacity class at here. This is the foundational content for I-Corps. PLEASE WATCH videos for class 1 and 1.5A for a review of the core ideas.

Customer Discovery

The core of the Lean Startup process is that potential customers hold the answers to the challenges your idea face, and that you should be learning about your customers AT THE SAME TIME as you are developing your technology. The idea of building it and then seeing if it satisfies a customer need is not lean (although it is fun). The idea of combing building technology and building a customer base is the lean startup principal. We will show you how to test your technology ideas way before you have a working product.

Business Model Canvas

This is a one-page, graphical way of defining your business idea clearly and growing the idea in to a viable venture.

Think like an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs want to make the world a better place by solving problems that are highly valued in the market. To do this, you need both technology and customer discovery. I-Corps is not designed to confirm what you believe to be true about your idea, rather to challenge the core ideas you have with real feedback from relevant people. It would be very unusual for your idea to survive the process fundamentally unchanged, or in the words of Steve Blank, Silicone Valley serial entrepreneur, “Ideas rarely survive their first contact with the customer”. All ideas have merit. The best ideas are able to be executed and delivered in a way the market wants.

Training classroom setting

This won’t be “sage on the stage”. For much of the class time YOU will be teaching us what you’ve learned and why it matters. Feedback from classmates is critical to accelerating learning.

Be unshakably persistent

The small amount of funding you receive is not enough to get all the data you need. Your team is expected to show creativity and guile (in the non-pejorative sense) to do what you need to do between meetings to get the job done. Dogged determination is a great quality. This will be hard work – but worth it.

What do I get by joining Tech I-Corps?

  1. Team funding to investigate customer impact of your idea. This can support travel to visit customers, creating MVP’s (minimum viable products, or prototypes) that you can test with customers, and other expenses in working as a team to pursue your idea. These funds cannot be used to fund legal or business forming expenses.
  2. Focused training on lean startup methods,
  3. Mentorship from seasoned business and technical professionals
  4. Connection to regional venture funding.
  5. Support in developing follow-on startup grants.

Ready to start?

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