Miami CTSI

Entrepreneurial Training Program Helps Researchers Identify Commercial Potential of Their Work


Teams participate in an interactive activity aimed at understanding how to develop workflow and identify potential customers. Photo by Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D.

Ines Maldonado Lasuncion is a Research Associate at the Miller School of Medicine working on a wearable device to monitor Childhood Absence Epilepsy. This non-invasive, non-diagnostic approach, she says, would help monitor the progress of patients over the course of a new treatment, different daily activities or throughout a child’s development.

She sees value in a device like this and has co-founded a company called MindSeed to further develop and commercialize it. That’s why Maldonado Lasuncion and her team partner Jeffrey Peterson, along with nine teams of researchers, recently took part in the I-Corps@NCATS Regional Short Course at the University of Miami — an entrepreneurial research training program.

This program at the University of Miami is led by Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering and Otolaryngology, who was joined by Robert Storey, a national instructor for both the NSF and NIH’s I-Corps™ programs, Molly Wasko, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business and UAB I-Corps Program Director, and Norma Kenyon, Ph.D., Chief Innovation Officer of the Miller School and UM Vice Provost for Innovation.

Developed through a collaboration of nine Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) Hubs, including the University of Miami, the I-Corps@NCATS program aims to accelerate the development and commercialization of new products, services, medical devices, diagnostics and therapeutics arising from ongoing biomedical research and educational projects.

Through five weeks of group exercises, didactic lectures and one-on-one coaching from instructors, team members use the customer discovery process to form their business thesis. A business model canvas is used to map out who their key customers are, how their company will create value, and generate revenue in a way that is sustainable.

“The best way to test and validate the business model, to identify value, is by going outside of our clinics, laboratories and classrooms to talk to potential customers about their actual needs.” Rajguru said.

“One of the biggest takeaways for me was learning to visualize the workflow that occurs from the moment a patient arrives to the clinic to when they would need our device, and all the people involved at each step,” Maldonado Lasuncion said. “If we don’t anticipate all the variables before launching the product, we will find many unpredicted problems along the way to commercialization.”

Another course participant Dileep Yavagal, M.D., who is a professor in Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery, said, “Our participation in the course was tremendously beneficial for our discovery phase of developing a catheter-based delivery system for biologics. As a physician scientist with no entrepreneurial experience, the course was an eye-opener. The emphasis on the interviewing process allowed us to determine the magnitude of the need for our delivery system, and who are our true customers.”

The I-Corps™ program was originally developed in 2012 by the National Science Foundation. Since then, more than 2,000 research teams have trained and hundreds of startup companies have been formed and launched. The I-Corps@NCATS curriculum is specific to innovations in life sciences and is available to CTSA hubs across the network.

The I-Corps@NCATS Regional Short Course at UM is supported in part by the National Center For Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UL1TR002736. It is co-sponsored by the University of Miami College of Engineering and U Innovation.

To learn more about future I-Corps@NCATS events, join the CTSI listserv.

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