What is the NSF Innovation Corps Program, and How Can Entrepreneurs Benefit From It?

By: Sharjeel Sohaib


Jan 10, 2022


The National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program

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The National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program is an experiential education program supported by the National Science Foundation. It helps researchers gain valuable insight into entrepreneurship, starting a business, or industry requirements and challenges.

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I-Corps provides the necessary training and funding to develop research and ideas into viable businesses. For instance, Cabrice Corporation, an I-Corps participant in 2016, is a maker of Carbide Carbon, a product that lowers device temperatures and dissipates heat from product packaging. The I-Corps program helped Carbice refine its value proposition and conduct 10s of customer discovery interviews.

The startup later raised $15 million in a Series A investment round led by Downing Ventures, a division of London-based investment management firm Downing LLP.

“I-Corps really helped us to refine our value proposition. 

Craig Green, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Engineering, Carbice Corporation.

Applying for the I-Corps Program

To apply for the program, researchers and entrepreneurs must commit to all NSF I-Corps participation requirements. To do so, they must complete a local or regional I-Corps program and obtain a letter of support from a nominating institution.

In the case of the Inland Empire, the University of California, Riverside (UCR) is a nominating institution.

EPIC Riverside’s Workshop on National Science Foundation I-Corps Program

The Entrepreneurial Proof of Concept and Innovation Center (EPIC) offers introductory training workshops to entrepreneurs within the campus and the community as part of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program. It is named “INNOVAR Workshops.”

INNOVAR Workshops by UCR

The INNOVAR workshop is a quarterly program by UCR in which researchers can participate as a stepping stone for their I-Corps application.

The workshop utilizes the Lean Launchpad methodology to evaluate the product-market fit for an idea, technology, or product and determine if it has market potential. Taken as a tool to figure out the commercialization route of your startup, this program has the following parts:

  • Dedicated Mentorship
  • Idea Pitching Practice
  • Network Expansion
  • Access to Funding

Benefits of Attending Regional I-Corps Programs

UCR explains the program benefits as follows:

  • The possibility to apply to the National NSF I-Corps program ($50,000 grant)
  • A preferred application for a Proof Of Concept Grant (up to $35,000) available to UCR Faculty
  • Better chances of success when submitting SBIR/STTR Grants (up to $225,000 for Phase I and $1.5M for Phase II)
  • Access to ExCITE Incubator Residency if appropriate
  • Ongoing mentoring through EPIC SBDC
  • Access to Wet Lab Incubator Residency if appropriate

NSF i-Corps Point of Contact in UCR

Jay Gillberg, the Lead Instructor of INNOVAR Workshops, is the main point of contact and liaison for NSF’s I-Corps program in the Inland Empire. He can be reached out at

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