I-Corps puts innovation in the crosshairs

More than two dozen ECU students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the Greenville community, have begun an entrepreneurship boot camp called I-Corps to help hone their business ideas and jump-start the startup process.

The pilot program, designed to encourage and embrace the ideation, innovation and commercialization process at ECU, has received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish an Innovation Corps site.

In April, ECU recognized the spring semester’s 26 teams for their innovative ideas, including BetaSol, a product developed by professor Richard Baybutt, which provides a dose of vitamin A to smokers to help prevent lung injury; FoodMASTER, an educational curriculum that uses food to teach math, science and nutrition skills led by professor Melanie Duffrin and graduate student Allender Lynch; and Glean, a local baking flour product created by a group of entrepreneurs from “ugly” vegetables that are rejected by retail stores.

I-Corps@ECU is the vision of Marti Van Scott, director of the ECU Office of Technology Transfer, to improve the process of identifying, assessing and commercializing new product opportunities generated by ECU faculty, staff and students.

Nutrition science senior Tremayne Saliim (above) holds a wooden African mask during an exercise in which teams were given a series of random objects and challenged to come up with a solution to a global challenge during an I-Corps event last fall.

“To me, the exciting thing about this program is that it emphasizes the entrepreneurial process,” said Mike Harris, director of the Miller School of Entrepreneurship in the ECU College of Business.

One of the components of the program is assessing the needs of potential customers by getting out in the community and interviewing the people who make up the target market for the product.

Becky Gilbird of the clinical simulation program at the Brody School of Medicine said she participated to determine which aspects of the simulation program are marketable. Other participants had existing businesses they wanted to improve or ideas they to try.

I-Corps@ECU will support 30 entrepreneurial teams a year and provide seed grants of up to $3,000 each to help fund customer discovery and prototype development activities.