Two faculty members in South Dakota State University's Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering attended the National Science Foundation's National Innovation Network Conference in mid-August. The conference, which served as a collaborating and networking opportunity for representatives of NSF's Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, was held in Washington D.C.
Rajesh Kavasseri, the associate dean for research for the Lohr College of Engineering, and Todd Letcher, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, represented SDSU at the conference and met with other members of the Great Plains I-Corps Hub.
"The conference was invigorating and brought fresh perspectives, especially from NSF’s newly launched TIP (Technology Innovations and Partnerships) Directorate on its mission to supercharge and accelerate the pathways to discovery and innovation," Kavasseri said.
Last fall, NSF announced the beginning of the Great Plains I-Corps Hub, which would develop a framework for researchers to turn their innovative discoveries into viable commercial products, through a five-year, $14 million grant. SDSU was named a partner institution, alongside the University of South Dakota, University of North Dakota, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Dakota State University, the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of Wyoming. North Dakota State University was named, and continues, to serve as the lead institution.
"So far, the I-Corps program is doing what it is supposed to be doing on our campus," Letcher said. "This program exists to help people think differently about why we do research in the first place. While the response has been encouraging so far, we’d like to broaden the participation even further, because the potential for innovation exists in all quarters."
The goal of the I-Corps program, which began in 2011, is to provide training to research teams to help them bring their ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace. The program’s training is experiential and immersive and helps prepare scientists to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory and accelerate the economic and societal benefits of research projects and discoveries.
In terms of SDSU, the I-Corps program would help facilitate the creation of start-up companies from research discoveries that occur on campus. The university's longstanding partnership with Dwaine Chapel, executive director of the SDSU Research Park, is a key aspect to the program's success at SDSU.
In total, the I-Corps training program has trained more than 5,800 researchers, which has resulted in more than 1,300 start-ups being formed.