It is daunting to realize the NSF made 6,169 early stage investments last year in 2014 that totaled almost $2.5 billion across their SBIR and STTR programs. This represents 59% of seed stage investment vs. 41% venture capital firms. As an onramp to this funding in the university sector is their Innovation Corps Program (I-Corps) that I recently participated in as a mentor with an exciting new mHealth startup being spun out of Northeastern University. The I-Corps 7 week startup bootcamp is a great means to get university folks out of the lab with hands on experiential learning in the real world and develop the business skills needed to navigate to commercial success. The NIH has also embraced and launch their own I-Corps initiative. Here are more stats on the NSF grants last year.
The I-Corps program is fairly new, but has graduated more than 500 teams consisting of an entrepreneurial lead (typically a PhD student), principal investigator (university professor) and a business mentor. I-Corps is being embraced by a growing number of universities across the US. Due to the intensity of this I-Corps startup bootcamp, the NSF has designed a less rigorous version that they are launching as I-Corps Lite, which they seem to be aligning to help impact ventures on a pathway to the more meaningful SBIR Phase II and III grants.
You can read more about I-Corps and a breakdown of the NSF SBIR and STTIR activities from Steve Blank here, who helped start the I-Corps program from his Lean LaunchPad course at Stanford.