Innov8 is an 8-week program designed to help emerging entrepreneurs develop their business concepts, hone business strategies, and build a business plan with actionable steps. This program provides entrepreneurial training and modest grant funding to University students, faculty, staff and alumni interested in developing or commercializing any type of business idea.

The program teaches the essentials of the Business Model Canvas and how to complete effective customer discovery, as well as considerations around launching an enterprise.

Program participants can apply for modest grant funding to conduct customer discovery, market research or purchase supplies to create a prototype.


Participants in the Innov8 program 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 program, and not just receiving a grant award.

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

  • Learn about the size of your market and key market trends
  • Interview potential customers or end users
  • Complete a standard business model canvas
  • Hone presentation skills
  • Learn about potential sources of early-stage funding
  • Decide whether or not to pursue your idea
  • Complete much of the research you need to apply for a modest grant

Accepted teams must commit to attending five synchronous training sessions, customer discovery interviews, two progress presentations, 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 schedule.

Instructors/Training Sessions

Teams will be required to attend real-time training sessions on entrepreneurship led by Ain Center instructors.


All current University of Rochester undergraduate and graduate students, doctoral students, post-doctoral researchers, recent alumni, staff, and faculty are eligible to apply as a Team Leader. UR faculty members may also serve as advisors. No prior business education is required. Proposed business ventures should be in either the idea, development, or startup stages.

Accepted teams must commit to attending five synchronous training sessions, customer discovery interviews, two progress presentations, and the final presentation day, where participants will show how their business ideas have developed over the course of the semester.

Failure to complete these elements of the program may be grounds for disqualification from the Innov8 program and forfeiture and/or repayment of any grant awards associated with the program.

Technical ideas must fall under one of the following categories: Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Software, Mobile Applications, or Website Platforms.

Non-technical ideas must operate within the greater Rochester region, or demonstrate a benefit (economic, social, cultural or intellectual) to the city of Rochester or a rural community in the greater Rochester region.

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.

OPTIONAL: Applicants may find a University of Rochester faculty member to serve as an advisor for the technical or business aspects of the team’s idea.

Teams must spend their Grant Awards in the Spending Windows specified by each Cohort (more info will be given at the start of 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
    • Including Team Leader signature
  • Resume of Team Leader
    • Other team members’ resumes (optional)
    • Name and contact information for faculty advisor (optional)
  • 1–2 page Executive Summary
    • Industry
    • One Line Pitch
    • Problem
    • Your Idea / Solution
    • Potential Target Markets
    • Potential Marketing & Sales Strategy
    • Potential Business Model
    • Known Competitors to Date
    • Competitive Advantage
    • Funds Needed
    • Anticipated Use of Funds

Selection Criteria

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

  1. Team and Commitment – The Innov8 program seeks participants with an interest in entrepreneurship, enterprise creation, and commercialization for those with technical ideas. This includes a willingness to talk to potential customers about your concept, and develop hypotheses on how your concept might be developed into a sustainable venture. Experience is a plus, but not a requirement.
  2. Concept Strength – Innov8 deals mainly with early stage ventures in need of guidance and idea validation. The Selection Committee will look at the concept’s plausibility, probability of success, versatility, and marketplace fit.
  3. Sustainability – The committee is looking for ideas that are sustainable and potentially scalable.  Strong applicants will have a baseline awareness about what their idea will look like, who will buy it, and who their competition is.
  4. Fit with Innov8 Program – The first and most important goal of Innov8 is to encourage entrepreneurship and to provide a framework for participants to launch a venture. Teams will gain skills to develop their startup idea. Applicants should have clearly defined goals and expectations for how the program can help them take the next step. Graduates of the program will have an improved understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset.

Expense Types and Financial Guidelines

The following outlines expense types that will be considered for approval and those that are prohibited under these grants. 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. The spending window is the same semester in which you enroll in the program. Short extensions of one to two months may be granted on a case-by-case basis with the approval of the program manager.

*All expenses must adhere to the respective grant guidelines and are subject to the review and approval of the Selection Committee and the grant organizations.

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 (SE) - see additional requirements below; or 2) a firm the meets the University’s contractor guidelines (I)
I / SE

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. Student Employment (SE): UR students are hired by the Ain Center department and compensated at an hourly rate. Grantees and UR student employment candidates must review the requirements for this funding method and schedule a consultation with an Ain Center staff member by emailing aincfe@rochester.edu.
  5. *Only University of Rochester students are eligible for compensation through this method.
  6. 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, SE): Payments to contractors or University of Rochester students who are not associated with the business. These contractors and/or student employees 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. UR students are hired by the Ain Center department and compensated at an hourly rate. Grantees and UR student employment candidates must review the requirements for this funding method and schedule a consultation with an Ain Center staff member by emailing aincfe@rochester.edu.

Schedule of Events

Week 1: February 19th
Session 1: An Introduction, and the Business Model Canvas

Week 2: February 26th
Session 2: Customer Discovery, Hypotheses and Interview

Week 3: March 5th
Session 3: Team Building Module & Progress Report

Week 4: March 12th
Conduct Customer Discovery Interviews and Team Work – No meeting

Week 5: March 19th
Session 4: Startup Financial and Legal Panel & Progress Reports

Week 6: March 26th
Customer Discovery and Team Work – No meeting

Week 7: April 2nd
Session 5: Pitching Module & Progress Reports

Week 8: April 9th
Session 6: Final Pitch Presentations, Lessons Learned & Next Steps


There are no upcoming events at this time.

Innov8 Events

There are no upcoming events at this time.


Contact Heidi Mergenthaler, Program Manager.