Berkeley-Haas is spearheading an educational program funded by a $3.75 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that aims to commercialize university research and foster innovation.
The three-year grant will create one of three new Innovation Corps Nodes (or I-Nodes) that the NSF is establishing across the nation. The goal of the NSF program is to increase the impact of NSF-funded research by setting up innovation ecosystems within universities that will train the next generation of entrepreneurs, encourage partnerships between academia and industry, and commercialize science and technology. The resources of the program are available to NSF principal investigators and their graduate students, as well as local and national startups.
The Bay Area I-Node led by Haas also includes UC San Francisco and Stanford University. The node is headed by Dean Rich Lyons and Haas Lecturer and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank. André Marquis, executive director of the Haas School’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, serves the role of I-Node manager.
The Bay Area I-Node is one of several new entrepreneurship efforts spearheaded by the Lester Center at Berkeley-Haas. Other recent entrepreneurship initiatives include the creation of the UC Berkeley Skydeck Accelerator, health care hackathons, and the development of a new entrepreneurship course called Lean LaunchPad, which also will be part of the NSF program.
“The NSF has built an incredibly smart program to bring together the best of science and technology invention with all the advances we have made in teaching entrepreneurship over the past decade,” says Marquis. “Given our unique location within the national network for entrepreneurship, we have a great deal to bring to the I-Corps network.”
All of NSF’s I-Corps nodes will teach the Lean LaunchPad framework, a training program developed by Blank that focuses entrepreneurs on developing business models, rather than business plans, and on iterating their models quickly and frequently based on customer feedback. The framework grew out of an earlier customer development course Blank taught at Berkeley-Haas after observing that few business plans ever survived first contact with customers.
"We will teach scientists to do three things: think not only about their technology but a business model; test hypotheses about their business outside the building; and iterate and pivot when results don't match their hypotheses," says Blank. "Business school students also will play a role in helping scientists as mentors," he adds.
Blank teaches the Lean LaunchPad framework in the Berkeley MBA Program and at Stanford’s School of Engineering. At UCSF, where Blank also will begin teaching this fall, this will be the first time the framework will be used in a bioscience setting.
The Bay Area partner institutions will also build novel pedagogical tools to provide much of their training programs online and track the progress of their startups, which will help to advance best practices for teaching and fostering entrepreneurship in the future. The online trainings will be made available publicly.
“This node builds on early work with Berkeley in developing the I-Corps effort," says NSF Program Director Don Millard. "We see it to helping bring I-Corps training to a new level. The addition of the San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley node will help advance the I-Corps program’s National Innovation Network.”