The National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Site program provides entrepreneurial training and modest grant funding to University students, faculty, staff and alumni interested in commercializing a technical (STEM) business idea. The program teaches the essentials of the Business Model Canvas and how to complete effective customer discovery.

Program participants can apply for up to $3,000 in grant funding to conduct customer discovery, market research or purchase supplies to create a prototype. Successful completion of the I-Corps Site program enables teams to apply to the National I-Corps Teams, an intensive seven-week program that provides up to $50,000 in grant funding.


Participants in the I-Corps Site at the University of Rochester will be expected to commit at least 3 – 5 hours per person per week to market research, customer discovery and other commercialization-focused activities. Therefore, it is important that the participants are interested in gaining new knowledge from the I-Corps Site, and not just receiving an I-Corps Site grant award.

By the end of the program, your team can expect to accomplish some of the following:

  • Started research on competing patents and publications
  • Found general data on the size of your technology’s market and any key market trends
  • Analyzed several competitive products
  • Interviewed potential customers or end users
  • Completed a standard business model canvas
  • Learned about potential sources of early-stage commercialization funding
  • Decided whether or not to pursue commercialization of your technology or idea
  • Completed much of the research you need to apply for a commercialization-focused grant

Accepted teams must commit to attending their cohort’s orientation, two training sessions, weekly meetings with their mentor, three biweekly meetings where teams present on their customer discovery process, a mid-program check-in conference call, and the Final Presentation Day where participants will show how their business ideas have developed over the course of the semester.

For specific dates and times, please consult the Program Calendar section.

Instructors/ Training Sessions

Teams will be required to attend in-person training sessions on entrepreneurship led by I-Corps instructors.


Mentors will be assigned to teams to provide technical and industry expertise and business guidance throughout the program. Mentors will meet regularly (in-person, via phone, or via video-conference) with their team(s) to guide them through the customer discovery and business development process.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor for the University of Rochester I-Corps Site program, please contact Matthew Spielmann.


All current University of Rochester undergraduate and graduate students, doctoral students, post-doctoral researchers, recent alumni, administrative staff, and faculty are eligible to apply as an Entrepreneurial Lead (EL)Academic Leads (AL) must be University of Rochester faculty members.   Proposed business technical ventures should be in either the idea, development, or startup stages and must fall under one of the following categories:

  • Physical Sciences
  • Life Sciences
  • Software
  • Mobile Applications
  • Website Platforms

Accepted teams must commit to attending their cohort’s orientation, two training sessions, meetings with their mentor, a mid-program check-in conference call, and the final Presentation Day. Failure to complete these elements of the program may be grounds for disqualification from the University of Rochester NSF I-Corps Site program and forfeiture and/or repayment of any grant awards associated with the program.

Application Process

All application materials must be submitted online by the deadline indicated.

Students may only apply ONCE per Cohort. Students may only participate on ONE team per Cohort.

Applicants must find a Faculty member to agree to serve as an Academic Lead for the program. Academic Leads serve as advisors for the technical aspects of the team’s idea.

Teams must spend their Grant Awards in the Spending Windows specified by each Cohort. Teams must determine the dates they plan to spend the Grant Award and apply to the corresponding Cohort. Acceptance may be deferred to a later Cohort if the Selection Committee determines the spending outlined in the Itemized Financial Plan falls in a different Cohort’s Spending Window.

Applicants must submit the following in order to be considered:

  • Completed online application
    • Entrepreneurial Lead Signature
    • Academic Lead Agreement Form
  • Resume of Entrepreneurial Lead
    • Other team members’ resumes (optional)
  • 1–2 page Executive Summary
    • Industry
    • One Line Pitch
    • Problem
    • Idea / Solution
    • Potential Target Markets
    • Potential Marketing & Sales Strategy
    • Potential Business Model
    • Known Competitors to Date
    • Competitive Advantage
    • Funds Needed
    • Use of Funds (see Itemized Financial Plan)
  • Itemized Financial Plan
    • Financial plans are detailed outlines of how your team will spend the requested funding. Plans should be submitted in the provided Excel template. When devising your financial plan, be thoughtful of each activity and its intended purpose in furthering the development and commercialization of your idea.
    • Please review the Financial Guidelines and adhere to that information when creating your Itemized Financial Plan.

Selection Criteria

When completing the application materials, please keep the following criteria in mind:

    1. Team and Commitment – The I-Corps Site program seeks participants with an interest in entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. This includes a willingness to talk to non-scientists about your technology, develop hypotheses on how the technology might be developed into a product, and work towards technology development (rather than basic research) grants. Experience is a plus, but not a requirement.
    2. Intellectual Property Strength – Strong patent protection is characterized by broad claims that protect your technology and the space around it, as well as an understanding of related patents and publications that may limit your patent’s scope. Ideas should have a strong potential for patent or copyright.
    3. Technology Strength – I-Corps Sites deal mainly with early stage technologies in need of some level of validation. The Selection Committee will look at research to date in order to determine the technology’s plausibility, probability of success, versatility in other applications, and fit for its proposed application.
    4. Commercial Potential & Applications – The committee is looking for a thoughtful and plausible explanation of (1) how your technology might be turned into a commercialized product and (2) how you plan to test your commercialization hypotheses. Strong applicants will have a baseline idea about what their product will look like, who will buy it, and who their competition is.
    5. Fit with I-Corps Program – The first and most important goal of I-Corps Sites is to encourage technical entrepreneurship and teach faculty and students how to think about commercialization. Teams should have clearly defined goals and expectations for how the program can help develop and commercialize their idea.

Expense Types and Financial Guidelines

The following outlines expense types that will be considered for approval and those that are prohibited under this grant. These guidelines also describe which funding method(s) may be used to pay for the various expense types. See the Funding Methods Key below for a detailed explanation of each method and its restrictions.

*All expenses must adhere to the NSF I-Corps Grant guidelines and are subject to the review and approval of the Selection Committee and the National Science Foundation.

Permitted Expense Types Use For Applicable Funding Methods
Materials and Supplies
  • Materials and supplies used to create a prototype (for product) or pilot program (for services)
I / R / PC
Meetings and Conferences
  • Cost of admission as well as ancillary costs (i.e., transportation, meals, speaker’s fees, etc.)
  • Conferences related to your product/service’s industry
  • Meetings hosted by the team for the purpose of customer discovery or market research
I / R / PC
  • Costs related to the delivery of goods (i.e., postage)
I / R
Travel Costs
  • Costs related to travel, accommodations, and meals while traveling
R / F2
  • Contracted work is only approved so long as the proposed work is to be completed by 1) a student of the University of Rochester (SP); or 2) a firm the meets the University’s contractor guidelines (I)
I / SP

Funding Methods Key

  1. Invoice (I): Established firm directly invoices the Ain Center for payment.
  2. P-Card (PC): Purchases made with the Ain Center department credit card. There are restrictions on the items and services that are billed to the card, so requests to use the P-Card will be reviewed on those criteria as well.
  3. Reimbursement (R): Approved purchases made by an I-Corps team member and later repaid by the Ain Center.
    *Thorough documentation and receipts of purchases are required for reimbursement.
  4. Stipend Payment (SP): Students hired by the Ain Center department and compensated in two lumps sum payments.
    *Only University of Rochester students are eligible for compensation through this method.
  5. F-2 Request for Advance Travel Form (F2): Transportation-specific expenses billed to the Ain Center department directly.
    *Only valid for travel plans made 30+ days in advance.
    *May only be used for air or rail transportation.

Prohibited Expenses

  1. Administrative (i.e. office supplies and equipment)
  2. Legal Fees (i.e. patent applications, incorporation fees, attorney retainer and hourly fees)
  3. Alcohol
  4. Gift Cards

Full Financial Guidelines

Receipts submitted for reimbursement must only be for the individual receiving reimbursement.

  1. Materials and Supplies (I, R, PC): Materials and supplies are defined as tangible personal property other than equipment, costing less than $5,000.
    1. Only materials and supplies actually used for the performance of a sponsored agreement may be charged as direct costs.
    2. Materials and supplies must be integral in the function or development of the product or service to be eligible.
  2. Meetings and Conferences (I, R, PC): Costs of meetings, trade shows, and conferences are allowable. This includes the cost of meals, transportation, registration fees, rental of facilities, speakers’ fees, and other items incidental to such meetings or conferences.
    1. Alcohol is strictly prohibited for reimbursement and may not appear on any receipt submitted for reimbursement.
  3. Transportation (I, R): Costs incurred for freight, express, cartage, postage, and other transportation services relating either to goods purchased, in process, or delivered.
  4. Travel Costs (R, F2): Travel costs are the expenses for transportation, lodging, subsistence, and related items. Such costs may be charged on an actual cost basis or on a per diem or mileage basis in lieu of actual costs incurred.
    1. Lodging and Subsistence:
      1. Costs of lodging, other subsistence, and incidental expenses shall be covered as long as they are reasonable and allocable as defined above.
      2. Teams must utilize the federal government’s per diem rate schedule to determine maximum allowable expenses for lodging and subsistence in destination.
    2. Commercial Air Travel:
      1. Airfare costs in excess of the customary standard commercial airfare (coach or equivalent), or the lowest commercial discount airfare are unallowable except when such accommodations would:
        1. Require circuitous routing.
        2. Require travel during unreasonable hours.
        3. Excessively prolong travel.
        4. Result in additional costs that would offset the transportation savings; or
        5. Offer accommodations not reasonably adequate for the traveler’s medical needs. Teams must justify and document these conditions on a case-by-case basis in order for the use of first-class airfare to be allowable in such cases.
    3. Destinations
      1. Any proposed domestic travel outside the contiguous US or to any warm-weather “vacation” destination, will need formal approval by Duncan Moore and the PI.
    4. Pre-Departure Meeting
      1. Teams must meet with the I-Corps Site Program Manager prior to any travel to review financial guidelines and expectations while traveling.
  5. Contractors (I, SP): Payments to contractors who are not associated with the business. These contractors will have to be pre-cleared by the Selection Committee to ensure no conflicts of interest exist. No payments are permitted to the grant recipients and/or team members.

Schedule of Events

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NSF I-Corps Site Events

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Upcoming Info Sessions

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Contact Matthew Spielmann, Senior Program Manager.

I-Corps Site Teams Past and Present