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University of Minnesota part of $15M Great Lakes innovation hub

Consortium aims to move more discoveries from research lab to real world

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (08/26/2021) – In an effort to nurture a regional innovation ecosystem and move more discoveries from the research lab to the real world, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that it is establishing a Great Lakes Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Hub with a new $15 million grant over five years beginning Jan. 1, 2022. The University of Minnesota will play a key role in the Hub, receiving $2 million in funds over five years.

The Great Lakes Hub will provide more opportunities for University of Minnesota innovators, while extending the University’s leadership in commercialization education to additional institutions across the Midwest.

 The 11-university hub, led by the University of Michigan, is one of five NSF-funded I-Corps hubs across the country. The University of Minnesota is one of three "partner" institutions co-leading the consortium with the University of Michigan. The other partners are Purdue University and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Affiliate institutions in the Great Lakes Hub  include the University of Toledo, Iowa State University, Michigan Technological University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the University of Akron, the University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The impact of I-Corps

 Launched in 2011, I-Corps trains scientists and engineers to carry their promising ideas and technologies beyond the university and into the marketplace to benefit society. The University of Minnesota became an NSF I-Corps site in 2014, launching MIN-Corps, which has served more than 3,750 participants from within University of Minnesota and across the business community who have participated in more than 100 MIN-Corps academic courses, commercialization bootcamps, value proposition design workshops, seminars, and events. More than 425 innovation teams (including 31 startups) have generated about $35 million in commercialization grants and investment funding.

“This new Great Lakes Hub builds upon our past successes to help our students and faculty take advantage of combined resources and knowledge across universities in our region,” said Mostafa Kaveh, Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering and a lead investigator on the new grant. “While each of our universities has a unique focus, we share a common goal of advancing innovation in our communities, developing the next generation of innovation leaders, and testing the commercial potential of new ideas and inventions to solve societal problems.” 

The new Hub has set a goal of training 2,350 teams in the next five years, and sending an additional 220 teams to a more in-depth National NSF I-Corps program. In this way, I-Corps hopes to fill a gap between the cutting edge research being done at universities and the development work of industry to turn research into societal benefit and economic gain.

​​In coastal cities, entrepreneurship and innovation often thrive organically because the sheer number of investors and innovators operating in close proximity lead to an abundance of opportunities to collaborate and pathways for developing research. The Great Lakes Hub aims to connect people at a large scale to increase the “effective density” of the Midwest’s innovation ecosystem.

"Over the past seven years, the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, Technology Commercialization Office, and the College of Science and Engineering have collaborated closely on our MIN-Corps site,” said Carla Pavone, program director for MIN-Corps and co-principal investigator on the new I-Corps Great Lakes Hub grant. “Through the Great Lakes Hub, we are looking forward to playing a regional leadership role for I-Corps."

Proven track record of success

Each university in the Hub already has a successful I-Corps program, and the new model will make it easier for them to network and learn from one another. A few examples of entrepreneurial success stories from the University of Minnesota include:

  • Blue Cube Technologies, a start-up from the Biopreservation Core Resource at the University of Minnesota, is building upon seven years of world-class cryobiological research to develop technology that protects a variety of cell types against the stresses of freeze-thaw to improve cryopreservation of various cell products.
  • NovoClade is developing chemical free insect control solutions, which are incredibly effective, yet don’t pose an additional burden on the environment. The team said that the I-Corps program helped them understand the market from the point of view of the customer, which not all scientists and engineers do due to their previous experience.
  • Sironix Renewables develops non-toxic, sustainably sourced ingredients for the cleaning products and personal care industries. The company recently unveiled its expanded development facility.

To read more about NSF’s I-Corps hubs, visit the NSF website.

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