David Sandrowitz Joins NSF I-Corps Hub: Mid-Atlantic Region as New Associate Director

In David Sandrowitz, entrepreneurs and innovators in Maryland looking for guidance get an angel investor, a successful tech executive with 25 years of experience, and someone who has built and led teams focused on enterprise software, sales, implementation, operations, and customer growth. They also get a seasoned mentor who has worked with both Startup Weekend and The Founder Institute.

But perhaps more importantly, they get a new Associate Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Hub: Mid-Atlantic Region who is deeply committed to making a positive impact by sharing all he has learned to help startups bring products to market to improve peoples’ lives and society.

Pictured: David Sandrowitz, Associate Director, NSF I-Corps Hub: Mid-Atlantic Region.

“Scientific breakthroughs matter,” said Sandrowitz, who joined the Hub in April. “I think of it from the perspective of the NSF. They support deep technology research, but their goal is not to create intellectual property that never gets actualized. I want to help bridge the gap between breakthroughs and business to commercialize technology in a way that people can use and incorporate it into their lives.”

Sandrowitz’s experience uniquely qualifies him to do so.

He is an investor and founding partner of NextGen Venture Partners, a Baltimore, Md.-based venture capital firm that invests in both early and growth-stage companies, while leveraging 1,700 venture partners to provide entrepreneurs with valuable connectivity for sales, hiring, and financing introductions, as well as on-demand advice.

“I’ve worked with many early stage companies doing due diligence, meeting people and talking about their market opportunities,” said Sandrowitz. “But in I-Corps, we are not evaluating your idea. Our job is to coach and help you see things that might be problematic, as well as open up and see the opportunities in front of you.”

Sandrowitz has also held the titles of chief operating officer, vice president, director, global head of sales engineering, senior associate, product manager, sales engineer, and systems engineer.

“I spent 25 years working with thousands of customers,” Sandrowitz explained. “I’d like to believe that the lessons I’ve learned—how to start businesses, how to get a product off of the ground, how to engage customers—will be useful to the teams I work with.”

A central component of I-Corps is customer discovery. In each I-Corps cohort, participants reach out to potential customers to gauge their wants and needs, especially in relation to proposed products.

“The biggest challenge is the fear of cold-calling people,” said Sandrowitz. “You have to reach out and talk to strangers. Most of us struggle with it. I spent my entire career talking with strangers, trying to make them either customers or friends. I can help researchers get over that fear and coach them through it.”

Sandrowitz has also provided pitch deck/fundraising coaching to founding teams, conducted technology and financial due diligence, and invested in seed, Series A, and late-stage rounds.

“The experience of looking at lots of things and thinking critically about opportunities is helpful,” he explained.

Leveraging that experience at a Big Ten institution like the University of Maryland is important to Sandrowitz.

“The Big Ten represents what’s best about public higher education in the U.S,” he explained. “The land-grant aspect of UMD, as well as its history, rooted in science and technology, are both important to me. It also means a lot to me to be a part of an institution that helps working, middle-class kids get an education and make a difference in their state.”

Last year, I-Corps launched a program to bring UMD entrepreneurship resources to the entire State of Maryland, with a particular focus on underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship. Called the Maryland Innovation Extension, the Economic Development Administration (EDA)-supported program partners with universities and economic development organizations throughout the state.

“Extending the ethos from NSF across Maryland through Innovation Extension is vitally important,” Sandrowitz said.

But what he’s really interested in is mentoring teams.

“Not every grant that is funded will lead to a business,” said Sandrowitz. “Understanding that pathway so teams know what’s possible makes a difference.”