Over the past 7 weeks I've had the opportunity to be a Mentor on a National Science Foundation I-Corps team. This is a program that works primarily with university researchers to explore the commercialization potential for innovations and discoveries that result from their research. I was working with Cornell PhD candidate Sasank Vemulapati on a technology designed to make it so blood samples do not need to be put through a centrifuge at a doctor's office.
We started out listening to the Upstate New York I-Corps teaching team explain the methodology for exploring commercialization viability. Their approached is based on the Lean LaunchPad curriculum developed by Steve Blank.
At only one point was each team allowed to talk about their own technology. After that, you were only supposed to talk about your interactions with potential customers, partners, and allies. Here's Sasank presenting the tech for the one and only one time:
We then went out into the greater New York City area to talk to people in the industry about how they handle blood samples now. One key thing: We weren't' allowed to tell them about our technology. The point of the process is to learn about how people in the industry do things now, and just how much of a problem is it to put a blood sample through a centrifuge - without explicitly telling them that we're working on a technology to eliminate the centrifuge.
We found a lot of people who were quite willing and friendly. The goal of the program is to get 100 customer interviews over a 7 week period. Ideally, those are in-person interviews.
We had weekly 90 minute video conference sessions with the UNY I-Corpst Teaching Team where Sasank would report out on how the interviews were going, and then we'd participate in a class session on a different topic related to the Business Model Canvas.
When the whole program completed, our team completed 138 interviews! We learned a lot about the market, and learned what we didn't know.
At the end of the 7 weeks, we returned to Newark to learn how to share our findings with the cohort. For the closing, each team shared the journey of their Customer Discovery. All 23 teams did over 100 interviews each.
Here's Sasank presenting his Customer Discovery that started with talking to doctors...
and ended with him finding the greatest interest in veterinarians.
It was a great learning experience for everyone involved.
If you have a technology that you think may have commercialization potential, look into the NSF I-Corps program. They have a wide array of resources to help turn great innovations into great companies.