Miami CTSI

CTSI I-Corps Program Gives Researchers Entrepreneurial Training


Participants in the I-Corps Program 2019 May/June cohort

Participants in the I-Corps Program 2019 May/June cohort

From May to June of 2019, 10 teams from the University of Miami took part in the five-week I-Corps@NCATS short course led by Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D., associate professor in biomedical engineering and otolaryngology. This was the third successful year for the program with 24 researchers participating in the 2019 cohort.

The I-Corps program was originally funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to prepare researchers and scientists for the commercialization of their work. The University of Miami and eight other Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) hubs collaborated to develop the translational version of the I-Corps program to serve their local scientific communities.

Program Structure

“The I-Corps program works with scientists who have an interest in commercializing some of their research and bringing it from the bench to a patient’s bedside. The goal of the five-week course was to help them understand the process of customer discovery and importance of understanding customer needs as the first step to building a successful startup,” says Rajguru.

Each team had a principal investigator (PI) and an entrepreneurial lead who is the scientist or student. Although the I-Corps program had a didactic element with lectures and textbooks, the focus was on identifying ideal customers, figuring out the value proposition that will interest consumers and conducting interviews in the community. Each team had to meet a target of 20 to 25 completed interviews over the five-week program. At the end of the program, the 10 teams presented their findings and considered the next steps.

Jayanthi Chandar, M.D., associate professor of pediatric nephrology, shared that the I-Corps program emphasized the need to understand what stakeholders want before you can build a successful business model. The course created the foundation for the potential commercialization of ideas, services and products.

Program Success

“The I-Corps program was excellent. The instructors were knowledgeable, available for questions and really listened to the ideas of the participants. They allowed us to make errors and provided critical feedback without judgment. I particularly liked that they gave us hard copy textbooks for the course,” says Amy Scott, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry. “I learned a great deal about customer segments, value propositions and how to conduct interviews.”

Attendees praised the program’s ability to introduce business concepts to scientists without previous startup or commercial experience. They also appreciated how different components of the program created a mixed model with lectures, strategy sessions, crowdsourced insights, presentations and discussions.

“To conduct interviews was highly valuable. This has not only helped me to establish valuable contacts with important business leaders but also took away some fear to interact with these people since I had no choice or excuse to not contact them. It further helped me to be more goal-oriented and start planning the directions toward which to go in order to start up a successful company,” Sandra Rieger, Ph.D., associate professor of biology.

The I-Corps program has attracted attendees from a diverse group of departments and disciplines, including:

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Medicine
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Microbiology and Immunology
  • Psychiatry
  • Ophthalmology
  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Nursing and Health Studies
  • Chemistry
  • Pediatrics
  • Mathematics
  • Otolaryngology

In total, the Miami CTSI has completed three I-Corps@NCATS short courses and trained a total of 26 teams at the University of Miami across various disciplines. Past teams have since made significant progress with their innovations, including one team with an STTR grant, and others with licensing and pre-licensing agreements. To learn more about the program, please visit:

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