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National Science Foundation Selects UMass Amherst as Innovation Corps Site

AMHERST — The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that it has selected UMass Amherst to be one of its national network of Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Sites. The program is intended to increase research commercialization and campus startups while enriching existing innovation infrastructure. Organizers hope to help new ventures bring economic development and jobs to the region.

Kenneth Carter, professor of Polymer Science and Engineering and a faculty inventor, leads the site as its principal investigator. “This is tremendous news for our students in STEM fields, their faculty advisors, industry partners, and our alumni who want to give back to the campus through mentoring and other support,” he said. “We are extremely excited about it.”

His co-principal investigators are Robert MacWright, director of the campus’s Technology Transfer Office, and Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

“The idea is to have faculty, students, and mentors team up to advance a technical idea and take it from the laboratory out into the real world,” Carter said. “I-Corps is a curriculum that leads you to discover the potential value of those ideas. While it is clear we would like to see our students and researchers making a product or starting a new company, the major goal of the training is simply to get off campus and interview potential users of a particular idea or technology. From there, one can make informed business decisions.”

Carter is part of a successful startup company, FogKicker, that recently brought a UMass Amherst lab invention to market — a biodegradable, non-toxic anti-fog solution made from nanocellulose that can prevent fog from forming on surfaces such as scuba masks, car windshields, and bathroom mirrors.

NSF funds I-Corps Sites to nurture and support mixed teams of students, faculty, and mentors who learn together and explore translation of their tech concepts into the marketplace.

UMass Amherst’s Technology Transfer Office, Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, Institute for Applied Life Sciences, College of Information and Computer Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, College of Nursing, and the offices of the Provost and the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, among others, supported the bid to bring the I-Corps program to campus and continue to contribute to its innovation ecosystem, Carter said.

The NSF award will provide training and funding to 24 teams per year beginning with a cohort of 12 in the spring of 2019. The I-Corps organizers expect most participants to be graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, or recent graduates, but the program is open to undergraduate participation as well.

“We pulled these resources together to design a program that will continue long after the NSF funding has ended,” Carter said. “We see a continuous program going into the future because this seed money is not as important as the creation of teams, winning more small-business innovation grants, seeing more successful startups, boosting the entrepreneurial spirit of the campus, and getting more students trained to participate in the innovation economy.”