NSF recognizes Rowan Engineering through I-Corps program

NSF recognizes Rowan Engineering through I-Corps program


Students and faculty in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering (HMRCOE) at Rowan University are extending their focus beyond lab settings and learning how to commercialize their inventions through participation in the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program.

The NSF I-Corps program provides teams of Rowan engineers with training on interviewing customers, engaging industry partners and developing ideas into a marketable product.

The NSF I-Corps National Innovation Network (NIN) comprises nine regional Nodes and 85 Sites that work together to grow and sustain the national innovation ecosystem. Nodes support regional training needs for innovation education, further development of technologies, infrastructure and research. Nodes host two- to four-week training programs on further developing ideas and determining whether there is a need for them in the marketplace, with the goal of submitting products for national-level training. At the national level, I-Corps Teams complete a seven-week series where participants learn what it will take to achieve a commercial impact with their innovation — addressing any knowledge gaps and determining the appropriate path forward for their technology concept.

“Participating in NSF I-Corps solidifies the College’s advancement in engineering, research and innovation,” said Dr. Beena Sukumaran, vice president of Research at Rowan University. “The program provides an environment for entrepreneurship; a platform that will help move our research ideas from the labs into technology in the marketplace; and the training and support needed to create paths of success for our students, faculty and researchers.”

Five Rowan Engineering research teams completed I-Corps training in 2018 – three at the regional level and two at the national level.

At the regional level, Rowan Engineering works with Nodes such as the New York City Regional Innovation Node (NYCRIN), which is one of nine NSF I-Corps Nodes in the broader NIN.

“The regional version of training was extremely useful in understanding the methods and intensity of the national I-Corps program and finding whether the product we have fits the customers’ need,” said Vaishali Krishnadoss, a chemical engineering graduate student. “The regional teaching team encouraged us and helped us apply for the longer, national-level I-Corps training – where we would continue to develop our idea and the customer discovery process. This training definitely provided us with insight on how to commercialize the product we built in the lab, and we even ended up making a few changes to our product (a highly adhesive hydrogel for wound healing during surgery) in order for it to fit the market.”

NSF will have awarded $184,000 to Rowan Engineering teams by the end of 2018 – allowing the teams to afford travel to training sessions, interview potential users of their technology and find future partnerships.

“For a university of Rowan’s size to have five teams complete I-Corps training in less than one year testifies to the growing interest of our faculty in research, entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Dr. Yatin Karpe, director in the office of Technology Commercialization, Rowan Innovations. “In addition to the five teams, Rowan Engineering also has two more teams slated to complete the national-level training later this year.”

Karpe introduced the I-Corps option to Rowan faculty and utilized his deep connections and network within the regional I-Corps Nodes to jumpstart the formation of teams.

“The NSF I-Corps training helped my team take our research outside of the lab and define a clear commercialization plan,” said Dr. Nidhal C. Bouaynaya, professor in the department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies at HMRCOE. “We learned about the customer discovery process, interviewed 135 customers around the country and worked out a commercialization plan.”

Bouaynaya’s team members deployed a test version of their product (a clinic-ready software suite that computes physician-approved volumes of key three-dimensional structures in the brain from Magnetic Resonance Imaging at The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. The product was adopted, and Bouaynaya’s team is talking with large companies to discuss partnership and collaboration opportunities.

“In just one year, Rowan Engineering is already being recognized and getting its name out there across the Nodes and the national NSF cohorts,” said Philip Loew, associate director of NYCRIN. “This is a significant achievement and something a lot of schools should aspire to. We are excited to continue to collaborate with the college and hope for more rapid growth for its teams in the future.”