NSF I-Corps

The NC State I-Corps Site offers a National Science Foundation training program aimed at helping researchers transition their ideas and inventions into the marketplace through customer discovery and market research.

I-Corps participants will gain:NSF I-Corps Logo

  • Entrepreneurial Training and Support from Industry Experts
  • Funding for Market & Customer Research
  • Access to NSF Resources

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for the upcoming Fall 2021 cohort!

What to expect?

The NC State I-Corps Site three-session program is aimed at arriving at a “go” or “no-go” team decision on whether to pursue commercialization of a technology.

Teams will receive instruction on performing customer discovery and market research at the beginning of the course and will then perform customer interviews each week. Each team will present on their interview findings at the weekly meetings.

  • Expectations:
    • At least one team member is expected to attend all program events.
    • Teams are expected to commit to engaging in market research, customer discovery and other commercialization-focused activities outside of class.
    • Teams should complete at least 20 customer interviews by the end of the program.
  • Typical Team Composition: 
    • Academic Lead – faculty member or co-inventor designated by faculty member. Expect to give 6 hours per week.
    • Entrepreneurial Lead – typically a graduate student or postdoc working in the Academic Lead’s research program (teams may have more than one Entrepreneurial Lead if desired). Expect to give up to 10 hours per week.
    • Mentor – someone with business and/or industry experience or experience coaching teams. Expect to give 2 hours per week.
    • You can apply even if you do not have a person to fill each role!
  • Program Benefits:
    • Funding for travel to interview potential customers and end users of your technology
    • Access to knowledgeable mentors who will provide you with domain and business expertise
    • Become members of the NSF’s National Innovation Network and be able to claim NSF legacy funding
    • Receive guidance in obtaining additional research and development funding, including the national NSF I-Corps Team program, SBIR/STTR grants, regional accelerator programs and external funding opportunities

Application Process

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Each team will be required to submit a short application that will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Team and Commitment – The I-Corps Sites program seeks participants with an interest in entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. This includes a willingness to talk to non-scientists about your technology, develop hypotheses on how the technology might be developed into a product, and work towards technology development (rather than basic research) grants. Experience is a plus, but not a requirement.
  • Technology Strength – I-Corps Sites deals mainly with early stage technologies in need of some level of validation. The committee will look at research to date that would indicate likely success and at the technology’s potential to be applied to more than one application or to fit very well into the proposed application. Site team ideas or projects can originate from student work, research (funded or unfunded) and institutional or industrial projects. The topical focus of a project must be in an area(s) of science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) normally supported by the National Science Foundation.
  • Commercial Potential/Applications – The committee is looking for a thoughtful, and plausible, explanation of how your technology might be turned into a salable product. Much of the program is dedicated to testing your hypotheses about commercialization. However, strong applicants will have basic ideas about what a product would look like, who would buy it, and who their competitors would be.
  • Fit with I-Corps Program – The first and most important goal of I-Corps Sites is to teach faculty and students how to think about commercialization. Teams that are enthusiastic about technology commercialization and have clear goals that fit synergistically with what is taught in the program will be favored. The committee will also look for teams with testable hypotheses regarding how their technology could be commercialized.
  • Intellectual Property Strength – Strong patent protection is characterized by broad claims that protect your technology and the space around it, as well as an understanding of related patents and publications that may limit your patent’s scope. A patent or copyright (or a willingness to file one) is a requirement to participate in I-Corps Sites.

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Program Process

  1. One person from the Team submits an application for the entire Team. (The I-Corps Site can help you create a three-person team.): APPLY HERE
  2. Ten teams will be selected per cohort based on the criteria listed under “Application Process.”
  3. Team completes the NSF NC State I-Corps Site Program
  4. The team then may be eligible to build on the work completed in the NC State Site Program through participation in the NSF National I-Corps Teams Program (I-Corps Teams) Program. Teams that proceed to NSF’s national I-Corps Teams cohorts are eligible to receive $50,000 grants.

Program Dates: Fall 2021

  • Application Period: applications accepted until Wednesday, September 15th at 11:59 PM
  • Selected Teams Notified: Monday, September 27th
  • Class 0: Thursday, October 14th, 12 PM – 2 PM
    • Office Hours (required)*: Friday, October 15th through Wednesday, October 27th
  • Class 1: Thursday, October 28th, 9 AM – 1 PM
    • Office Hours (required): Friday, October 29th through Wednesday, November 3rd
  • Class 2: Thursday, November 4th, 9 AM – 1 PM
    • Office Hours (required): Friday, November 5th through Wednesday, November 17th
  • Class 3: Thursday, November 18th, 9 AM – 1 PM

*Each team must schedule a 30 minute office hours session with their assigned instructor before the next class session


  • Can our team have more than one entrepreneurial lead?
    • Yes.
  • I am interested in participating but do not yet have a 3-person team. Can you help?
    • Yes, the I-Corps Site team will work with you to help identify potential team members. Please indicate this is desired when completing the application.
  • The technology I am interested in was not funded by the NSF. Can I still participate?
    • Yes. Also, by completing in the I-Corps Site program, you will establish an NSF funding lineage for your project, making it eligible for other sources of commercialization-focused funding from the NSF.
  • What can I-Corps Funds be used for? What are eligible expenses?
    • The scope of the funding that an I-Corps Site may expend on teams is limited to travel expenses to consult with potential customers, end-users, or subject matter experts. I-Corps Site support for an institution’s entrepreneurial teams should not be used for prototype expenses or legal or administrative costs.

I-Corps Site Impact

bar graph of program stats“If you want to meet a diverse group of mentors and instructors to inform you about the paths of your technology to the market, don’t miss the opportunity of attending I-Corps.” – Fall 2019 participant

“Scientists-turned-entrepreneurs can really benefit from the instruction, discipline and feedback of the program because customer discovery is crucial and easy to procrastinate.” – Fall 2019 participant

“If you have an idea for a product or service, this program will help you flesh it out and determine viability.” – Spring 2019 participant

“I didn’t realize what I was learning until looking back. It did change my perspective on our product and its benefit. I would take the class early in the commercialization process.” – Fall 2018 participant