BY Cheryl Taylor
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has been awarded $499,985 in federal funding by the National Science Foundation to establish an NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site in the Rio Grande Valley.
UTRGV’s Center for Innovation and Commercialization (CIC), a program of the UTRGV Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship (VCOBE), will administer the I-Corps program as defined by NSF grant protocols.
Dr. Mark Kroll, VCOBE Dean, and Dr. Juan Sanchez, interim senior vice president for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development, were the co-principal investigators on the grant.
NSF I-Corps Sites are designed to foster local innovation and entrepreneurship, especially among minority and female students who are normally underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
The program will provide UTRGV students with unique hands-on experience with the innovation and business development process. It brings together inter-disciplinary teams from across the university, along with local entrepreneur-mentors, to work toward the commercialization of new product or service ideas that originate both on and off campus.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students, particularly those in the STEM fields,” Kroll said. “They will be integral partners in their collaborative environments. They will be empowered, with the goal of launching new, scalable enterprises that will take root and expand here in the Valley.”
Effective Sept. 1, 2017, the almost half-million-dollar grant will be active for five years, awarding approximately $100,000 each year. Laurie Simmons, CIC manager, will oversee the program.
“Our program will follow the NSF I-Corps model, with 30 teams of three each,” Simmons said. “Generally, the three primary team members are the technical lead, the entrepreneurial lead and the I-Corps mentor. All three members of each team will participate fully in the I-Corps Curriculum, with a goal of successfully transferring knowledge into products and processes that benefit society.”
The CIC has been in operation since 2013.
“Although CIC projects do not take place in one specific building, we look forward to having a facility as home base,” Simmons said. “The university found a good, Valley-central location and has signed a 10-year lease on a structure at 322 S. Missouri Ave. in Weslaco.
“We are in the final design stage,” she said, “and hope to put the project out to bid within the next couple of months. Our target date to open is June 2018.”