UB joins I-Corps Hub, a boost to STEM startups

Three researchers in a clean room. Two are looking into microscopes.

The $15 million National Science Foundation program will foster innovation and accelerate economic development in Western New York, and beyond

Release Date: November 28, 2022

Kemper Lewis head shot.

Kemper Lewis

Blaine Pfeifer.

Blaine Pfeifer

“UB is delighted to join with our partner institutions in creating a world-class innovation hub to support the development of a robust pipeline of ultra-talented thought leaders focused on technologies that benefit society. ”
Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO N.Y., — The University at Buffalo is a partner in a recently announced $15 million Innovation Corps Hub, a five-year program that supports science and technology entrepreneurship.

The NSF I-Corps Hub: Interior Northeast Region (IN I-Corps) aims to expand the nation’s geography of innovation by developing a regional I-Corps innovation network that can become a repeatable, inclusive model of education and workforce training designed for and by innovators based in rural regions and small cities.

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), IN I-Corps is led by Cornell University. Additional Hub partners include Dartmouth College, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Binghamton University, Syracuse University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester, University of Vermont, West Virginia University.

“UB is delighted to join with our partner institutions in creating a world-class innovation hub to support the development of a robust pipeline of ultra-talented thought leaders focused on technologies that benefit society,” said Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UB. “In addition, our focus on development initiatives that prioritize diversity, equity, and accessibility aligns with the collective culture of the outstanding universities and regions represented by this project.”

Hub expands UB’s existing I-Corps program

UB has served as an I-Corps Site since 2017, helping over 100 startups improve their business idea and connect with potential customers. Since 2021, NSF has reorganized the I-Corps program with Hubs as the operational backbone of its National Innovation Network (NIN) of I-Corps Hubs, Nodes and Sites.

The newly funded Hub program will provide additional resources and greater opportunities to members of the UB community. Each institution will host regional I-Corps courses, and contribute to programming and curriculum strategy.

“Speaking from personal experience, the NSF I-Corps program is a tremendous opportunity in terms of the intellectual and financial resources made available to startup companies. We look forward to working with our partners and bringing such opportunities to regions and people that might not otherwise have such resources,” said Blaine Pfeifer, professor of chemical and biological engineering, who participated in I-Corps with his company Abcombi Biosciences and will now serve as a faculty lead in the Hub program.

UB’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is growing

UB has a rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship, where discoveries are made that bring new products and services to market and benefit the public good.

In the last few years, over 25,000 students have been involved in entrepreneurial programs and the university has tripled the number of startups formed by its faculty and students. Now, UB has a range of startup support programs to catalyze entrepreneurs at all stages of business from the UB and Western New York communities.

“The continuation of the I-Corps program is an exciting opportunity to engage in the commercialization of UB’s research activities, allowing us to play a vital role in bringing new technologies to the marketplace,” said Bob Neubert, director of entrepreneurship academic programs in the UB School of Management.

Commitment to diversity and inclusion

A critical part of the Hub is the creation and administration of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives. STEM researchers in underrepresented groups face heightened barriers to success, and creating equitable access to resources and talent development is crucial to ensuring the most innovative deep-tech developments are being discovered and amplified.

Hub partners are working to create opportunities to support the development of STEM research talent who are women, veterans, people of color and individuals with disabilities. These initiatives will include collaborations with the National GEM Consortium’s Inclusion in Innovation Initiative (i4) and RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.  

“We’re glad that IN I-Corps has chosen to make DEIA initiatives a core part of their program. Bringing a more diverse group of people into I-Corps will not only make the program better, but the eventual technologies that come out of it will also be stronger,” said Richard Kim, director of startup ventures at UB.

The first regional course hosted by the IN I-Corps Hub and Cornell will be held next month, with a focus on agricultural technology. The free course will be conducted virtually, with in-person sessions at the American Farm Bureau Convention in Puerto Rico in January. Applications from research teams are due Dec. 1.

About I-Corps™: In 2011, the U.S. National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program was launched to support NSF's mission through experiential learning using the customer discovery process — allowing teams to quickly assess their inventions' market potential. I-Corps prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory to increase the economic and societal impact of NSF-funded and other basic research projects.   


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