NSF I-Corps Mid-Atlantic Hub sends six groups to NSF National I-Corps Teams

The NSF I-Corps Mid-Atlantic Hub sent six groups of entrepreneurial researchers, its most ever, to the NSF National I-Corps Teams program, held from February 26-April 12, 2024, virtually.

National I-Corps Teams is an intensive, seven-week training that guides participants in engaging with prospective customers, partners, and others in the ecosystem to evaluate the commercial potential for turning their technologies into successful products.

The Hub’s groups represented one-fourth of the 24 teams in the cohort. Two teams came from Penn State University, while one each joined from the University of Maryland, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Howard University, and Virginia Tech.

The Howard University team was the university’s first to participate in a National I-Corps Teams cohort.

Mid-Atlantic I-Corps Hub Lead Instructor Edmund Pendleton guided the cohort.

“All six teams were great representatives of the innovation occurring throughout both the hub and in their home institutions,” said Pendleton. “I was extremely impressed by their effort and learning in the course. While the teams had strong technical leads and industry mentors, I would like to especially highlight the work of the entrepreneurial leads. They were superb, and we could not have picked a more talented and motivated group. We look forward to supporting these teams further as they progress in their entrepreneurial journeys.”

Hub teams in the cohort included:

Team Name: Axi-FLEX

Axi-FLEX team members: Connor Human (left), Jared Butler (top right), and Jeffrey Brandt (bottom right).

Institution: Penn State University

Team members:

  • Entrepreneurial lead: Connor Huxman, Fellow in Entrepreneurship and Ph.D. Candidate, Penn State University
  • Technical lead: Jared Butler, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering Design and Innovation, Penn State University
  • Industry mentor: Jeffrey Brandt, Prosthetist and Orthotist, Medical Device Entrepreneur

Technology: The team is developing a novel, single-piece bone plate that can provide controlled axial flexibility (Axi-FLEX) for facilitating healing in long bone fractures. The technology is designed to reduce the incidence of fracture nonunions without changing the size, material, or surgical technique of current implants.

I-Corps regional cohort attended: Penn State regional I-Corps short course, October 2021

Statement: “I-Corps has grown my understanding of how to use the scientific method to approach commercialization, but it has also highlighted the intangibles of entrepreneurship,” said Huxman. “Conducting in-depth interviews with surgeons, hospital decision makers, and fellow entrepreneurs in this space highlights the importance of building relationships, trust, and loyalty, and gives direct exposure to the lifestyle that leading a startup entails. These elements of growing a business are difficult to grasp in an academic setting, making I-Corps a great program for both developing a business model and entrepreneurial self-discovery.”

Team Name: PlantVillage+

Institution: Penn State University

Team members:

  • Entrepreneurial lead: Annalyse Kehs, Operation Director, PlantVillage
  • Technical lead: David Hughes, Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Chair in Global Food Security, Penn State University
  • Industry mentor: Andy Atkins, Entrepreneur-in-Residence @ Invent Penn State

Technology: PlantVillage+ plans to offer both the Biochar App and Consumer App as Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change and mitigate its effects. The Biochar App gives companies a reliable measurement, reporting, and verification solution for participating in the carbon credit market, while the Consumer App supports farmers and organizations in enhancing their services for thriving under climate changed conditions.

I-Corps regional cohort attended: NSF I-Corps Mid-Atlantic Hub, virtual, January 2024

Statement: “The National I-Corps program has provided invaluable resources, mentorship, and networking opportunities that have propelled our business development efforts to new heights,” said Kehs. “By connecting us with key stakeholders and industry experts, we have been able to forge meaningful partnerships and collaborations, enhancing our capacity to deliver impactful research and development solutions.”

View the team’s final presentation video from the national cohort.

Team Name: QuickStick Therapeutics

Institution: University of Maryland

Team members:

  • Principal investigator: Gregg Duncan, Associate Professor, Fischell Department of Bioengineering, University of Maryland
  • Entrepreneurial lead: Taj Yeruva, Postdoctoral Associate, Fischell Department of Bioengineering, University of Maryland
  • Technical lead: Sarah Nasr, Postdoctoral Researcher, Fischell Department of Bioengineering, University of Maryland
  • Industry mentor: Dennis Gilmore, Chairman, First American Financial Corporation

Technology: The QuickStick team is developing a mucoadhesive, sprayable hydrogel for the development of effective nasal medications.

I-Corps regional cohort attended: NSF lineage team.

Statement: “I-Corps has truly broadened my perspective beyond the confines of the lab,” said Yeruva. “It has unveiled a pathway for our technology to venture into the market, a journey I had not fully grasped before. The experience equipped me with the skill of asking the right questions, which should be invaluable throughout my career. Moreover, I have cultivated the ability to engage with industry experts, fostering genuine connections, which I believe will continue to enrich my professional journey.”

Team Name: Transfinity

Institution: University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Team members:

  • Entrepreneurial lead: Kobby Osei-Kusi, Founder & CEO, Pirl Technology
  • Technical lead: Weidong Zhu, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Co-technical lead: Gang Li, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Mississippi State University
  • Industry mentor: Linda Jackson, Director, InfoAge Solutions Inc.

Technology: The Transfinity team is developing a 24/7 renewable tidal power solution for nearshore aquaculture customers to replace diesel and intermittent solar energy sources.

I-Corps regional cohort attended: Maryland Energy Innovation Accelerator-hosted I-Corps, 2020.

Statement: “I-Corps was a rapid-fire experience, challenging both our tacit and explicit assumptions by exposing them to the voice of the customer,” said Osei-Kusi.
“This voice strips away false assumptions. While challenging, we came out much stronger and clearer about our path forward.”

View the team’s final presentation video from the national cohort.

Team Name: VT-PTMD

Institution: Virginia Tech

Team members:

  • Entrepreneurial lead: Ajit Gopal, Research Assistant, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Technical lead: Mehdi Setareh, Professor, School of Architecture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Industry mentor: Paul Dannels, President, SDI Structures Inc. Ann Arbor, Michigan

Technology: The VT-PTMD team is developing a portable, tuned, mass damper (PTMD) device to reduce floor vibrations due to human movements.

I-Corps regional cohort attended: NSF I-Corps Mid-Atlantic Hub, Washington D.C., May 2023, and a NSF lineage team

Quote about I-Corps:

“The NSF I-Corps program facilitated my understanding of potential market segments for our product,” said Gopal. “Through interviews with stakeholders in our market ecosystem, I gained valuable insights into building a viable startup around our innovation. Additionally, I identified the limitations of our innovation and recognized the necessary improvements to enhance competitiveness and boost the company's profitability.”

View the team’s final presentation video from the national cohort.

Team Name: Worlds of Hello

Institution: Howard University

Team members:

  • Entrepreneurial lead: Symone Campbell, Race & Tech Postdoctoral Fellow, Howard University
  • Technical lead: Amy Quarkume, Associate Professor, Department of Afro American Studies, Howard University
  • Industry mentor: Arielle Miller, researcher. educator, consultant, nuclear engineer

Technology: The Worlds of Hello team is developing a culturally relevant mobile application that helps speech language pathologists facilitate the speech development process among young Black children and their parents.

I-Corps regional cohort attended: NSF I-Corps Mid Atlantic Hub, Washington, D.C., May 2023

Statement: “Participating in the NSF I-Corps program has been transformative,” said Campbell. “I-Corps clearly highlights the pathway from research to entrepreneurship. It has equipped me with not just the skills, but the profound understanding of navigating the complex terrain of innovation. This understanding has enabled me to translate the often abstract nature of research into tangible and impactful commercialized technological innovations.”

View the team’s final presentation video from the national cohort.