National Science Foundation I-Corps Program Overview


National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Program

UNC Charlotte’s long-standing support of entrepreneurship blossomed with the 2015 selection as a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) site. The Charlotte Launch NSF I-Corp site has taken a total of 175 University technology teams through a six-week customer discovery program and has 11% of these teams advancing to the NSF National I-Corps Program. Additionally, as a recipient of the 2016/2018/2020 Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Partner NC IDEA FOUNDATION grants, 113 community tech startups from Charlotte and Western NC have completed the six-week I-Corps customer discovery program.

The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has had 22 Regional I-Corps teams advance to the National NSF I-Corps program, receiving $50,000 NSF grants for additional customer discovery and prototype development. Assistant Director Laura Smailes sat down with two of these teams from the College of Arts + Architecture to discuss the process.

Full list of NSF National I-Corps teams here.

CEI also works with community startups to foster partnerships with Charlotte research. Assistant Director Laura Smailes sat down with Smart Girls HQ Founder Abi Olukeye and College of Computing and Informatics’ Dr. Mary Lou Maher to discuss their partnership and their path to commercialization using UNC Charlotte and Ventureprise resources.

Charlotte Launch NSF I-Corps is for UNC Charlotte faculty, students and staff to explore the commercial possibilities of their ideas and research. This six week program consists of four workshops and provides University innovators with commercialization advice, training and funding to identify potential customers. Upon completion of the program, teams will have gained:

  1. ‘Lab to Market’ knowledge that can lead to commercial success
  2. Experience in the NSF funding pipeline
  3. Funding opportunities in excess of $1 Million

“Have a better understanding of the connection between academic research and technological innovation.”

Meesha Kaushal, Ph.D. Participant

Charlotte Launch NSF I-Corps Program Statistics

175 Teams/376 Students/112 Faculty

Dr. Margaret Kocherga recently received her Ph.D. (College of Liberal Arts & Sciences) while completing the National I-Corps Program. After graduation, she launched Margik (formerly Light and Charge Solutions). Read her story here.

NSF I-Corps

The NSF I-Corps program prepares participants to extend their focus beyond the university laboratory, and accelerates the economic and societal benefits of NSF-funded, basic-research projects that are ready to move toward commercialization.

Through I-Corps, NSF participants learn to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from academic research, and gain skills in entrepreneurship through training in customer discovery and guidance from established entrepreneurs.

Applying to the Program

Team Qualifications

  • A two person team, including an Academic Lead (Faculty Member) and Entrepreneurial Lead (Student or Staff Member) with relevant knowledge of the research. Each team will be made of at least one Academic Lead and Entrepreneurial Lead. We welcome teams with multiple Entrepreneurial leads. The Center will assist in team formation if needed
  • STEM based research that has produced substantive data. This may include, but not limited to, proposed ventures related to physical scienes, life sciences, software, informatics, energy, educational technology, nursing and architecture

Teams will be required to participate in at least six weeks of entrepreneurial seminars and programming (1.5 hours weekly). Additionally, they will spend 1-3 hours per week completing approximately 30 customer interviews.


Teams will be expected to make a commercial viability decision at the end of the program. Successful completion makes teams eligible to compete for additional NSF opportunities including the $50,000 NSF I-Corps Team program. The commercialization insights developed will enable teams to create compelling applications for multiple funding opportunities such as:

  • $50K NSF I-Corps Team
  • $250K NSF PFI: Air TT
  • $256K NSF SBIR/STTR Phase I
  • $1M NSF SBIR/STTR Phase II
  • $500K NSF SBIR/STTR Phase IIB
  • $50K+ Charlotte Venture Challenge and Pitch Day
  • $50K NC IDEA Seed Grant
  • $10K NC IDEA Micro Grant
  • $50K Venturewell Student e-team Program

Applications and Information

For more information, contact Devin Collins, Co-Principal Investigator or 704 687-8058