George Washington University and two partner institutions were awarded $3.75 million from the National Science Foundation to start a Mid-Atlantic node of the NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, a seven-week intensive boot camp that aims to train entrepreneurial student and faculty researchers and help them bring their discoveries to market.
University of Maryland and Virginia Tech will partner with GW to run the regional node, with the University of Maryland serving as the lead institution.
The I-Corps program takes researchers through an intensive curriculum based upon Stanford University's Lean LaunchPad course, with additional elements designed just for I-Corps participants. The program's methodology draws upon best practices from Silicon Valley, and emphasizes talking to as many potential customers as possible, pivoting in response to resulting insights, building low-cost prototypes to get customer feedback, constantly adapting and building scalable business models.
GW’s Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa said the node award is a mark of the university’s increasing prominence in the research arena.
“I am very pleased that GW has joined the prestigious ranks of NSF I-Corp nodes,” he said. “This is an exciting opportunity to work cooperatively with our colleagues at the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech, and signals that GW is well on its way to attaining the stature of a premier research university.”
The new Mid-Atlantic I-Corps node is one of three announced last week by the NSF, with additional nodes in California and New York for a total of $11.2 million in funding. These augment existing I-Corps nodes at Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan.
Through the new node, NSF will select up to 50 research teams from across the country each year and bring them to the area to attend I-Corps training. The node will also offer I-Corps training annually to an additional 50 teams of its own choosing.
Jim Chung, executive director of GW’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology, said the I-Corps node award shows that the university is becoming “a vanguard for entrepreneurship.”
“This was a very competitive process,” he said. “George Washington is on the cutting edge of technology commercialization.”
In addition to the node award, a GW team has submitted a proposal to participate in I-Corps training this spring. The team includes principal investigator Professor Keith Crandall, a specialist in computational biology; entrepreneurial lead Eduardo Castro Nallar, a Ph.D. student; and GW Assistant Vice President for Industry Research Tom Russo, who will serve as a mentor to the team.
Their start-up, which would be called Next-Gen Diagnostics, uses advances in DNA sequencing that they developed to quickly and accurately identify pathogens. The company would serve as the diagnostic site to which hospitals, assisted living centers or clinics could submit samples of biological material to determine quickly and accurately what—if any—pathogens are present, allowing for prevention of outbreaks or more effective and timely treatments. Next-Gen Diagnostics would also maintain a constantly updated database against which samples can be matched.
“It can be hard to differentiate between strains [of bacteria],” Dr. Crandall explained. “It can take up to a week, and there is a high degree of false positive results. Using our genome sequencing approach, we can be much quicker and more accurate. Emerging infectious diseases are a big area with a lot of potential for growth.”