Uncle Sam's New, $5M Incubator for Student Entrepreneurs

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Student EntrepreneursA lot of great business ideas lurk in the halls and research labs of science and engineering schools at America's colleges and universities. Now, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has formed a public-private partnership that will put $5 million toward getting more ideas out of the research phase and launched as successful business startups.

Here are the details:

The NSF's new Innovation-Corps, or I-Corps, program plans to identify 100 great research-stage ideas in the coming year and give each training, support services, mentoring and $50,000 toward commercialization. The program's goals: turn research into useful technology, encourage better collaboration between academia and industry and provide students more opportunities to learn about business basics.

The training program will be modeled after the groundbreaking Lean LaunchPad course taught for the first time at Stanford last spring. The course emphasized rapid testing of multiple hypotheses about the business using ample market research to find the most viable business model quickly.

Stanford lecturer Steven Blank, who created the LaunchPad class, is among the instructors for a planned I-Corps training class scheduled for October to December at Stanford.

"This is a potential game changer for science and innovation in the United States," Blank wrote in a recent blog post. "And it will lead to more startups and job creation."

Private partners in the new program include the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Deshpande Foundation, which both seek to foster entrepreneurship.

There is a lot of incubator activity on college campuses already, and this new program may stimulate more private-sector programs.

For those interested in learning more, the NSF has set up a website with the program information and is holding monthly information Webinars on first Tuesdays. At a time when the federal government has taken heat for bailing out big banks with billions while arguably giving small businesses short shrift, the formation of I-Corps seems like a small, but positive development.

What's your reaction to the new I-Corps incubator? Leave us a comment and tell us about it.

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