National Science Foundation Awards Georgia Institute of Technology’s VentureLab a 5-year I-Corps Grant

Node2-1By Péralte C. Paul

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $3.4 million Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grant to the Georgia Institute of Technology’s VentureLab program to expand its work in teaching entrepreneurship, support research and innovation.

The NSF’s I-Corps program — a boot camp that shows what it’s like to form a startup — helps NSF-funded researchers learn how to commercialize their findings and determine if a market actually exists for what they developed.

 

“I-Corps nodes support the national innovation ecosystem and help some of America’s brightest researchers test the commercial potential of their discoveries,” Grace Wang, acting assistant director for the NSF Directorate for Engineering, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to support these regional innovation hotbeds, which will help to foster local economic development and expand access to more researchers of all different backgrounds who seek entrepreneurship training.”

 

The grant, one of five the NSF awarded to schools across the country, supports innovation hubs called I-Corps nodes.

 

This new NSF grant expands Georgia Tech’s efforts and creates the I-Corps South Node, which includes Tech, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Haslam College of Business.

 

Because of its long experience with forming companies from university research, Georgia Tech — through its VentureLab incubator — was selected in 2012 to be among the first institutions to become “nodes” teaching the I-Corps curriculum. VentureLab is Georgia Tech’s technology commercialization incubator that primarily serves Tech faculty, staff, and students who seek to launch startup companies from the technology innovations they have developed.

 

“This effort underscores Georgia Tech’s economic development mission and commitment to creating the next generation of entrepreneurial problem solvers,” said Chris Downing, who is the I-Corps South Node’s principal investigator and vice president of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), Tech’s chief economic development and extension outreach arm. “Through our collective service efforts to entrepreneurs, business, researchers, and innovators, Georgia Tech and our partner schools in Alabama and Tennessee are working together to design a foundation of regional innovation in the Southeast.”

 

Specifically, the I-Corps South Node aims to:

  • Accelerate the development of the South’s entrepreneurial ecosystems
  • Provide for increased partnership opportunities between academia and industry
  • Focus on underrepresented minorities through programs at historically black colleges and universities and in Puerto Rico to increase the participation of individuals from those communities in research pursuits and entrepreneurship

 

“We are extremely excited to partner with these three premier schools to collectively leverage our extensive industry relationships, partnerships, mentors, and funding connections to bring economic development through startup formation, workforce development, and entrepreneurial education,” said Keith McGreggor, VentureLab director and I-Corps South Node co-principal investigator and executive director.

 

“Through this partnership, the I-Corps South Node has the potential to reach more than 500,000 graduate and undergraduate students, and many thousands of the nation’s research faculty at research universities and historically black colleges and universities across the Southeast and the island of Puerto Rico.”

 

NSF created the I-Corps program in 2011 and since then, more than 800 teams have completed the NSF curriculum, from 192 universities in 44 states. That’s resulted in the creation of more than 320 companies that have collectively raised more than $83 million in follow-on funding.

 

At Georgia Tech, more than 40 teams have finished the I-Corps program, leading to the creation of more than 20 spinouts that have collectively raised more than $4.5 million in follow-up funding.

 

About VentureLab:

VentureLab — ranked as North America’s No. 5 university-based startup incubator — is Georgia Tech’s technology commercialization program that provides comprehensive assistance to faculty, staff, and students who want to form startups. VentureLab helps those entrepreneurs turn their ideas into early-stage companies through business model development, making connections between the innovators and seasoned entrepreneurs, locating sources of early-stage financing, and preparing these fledgling startups for the business world. Since its 2001 founding, VentureLab — a program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s chief economic development arm — has launched more than 250 technology companies that have attracted more than $1.5 billion in outside funding. Visit venturelab.gatech.edu for more information. For additional information about I-Corps South, visit icorpssouth.com.

 

About NSF I-Corps: 

The NSF I-Corps program, a public-private partnership program established in 2011, connects NSF-funded scientific research with the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities to help create a stronger national ecosystem for innovation that couples scientific discovery with technology development and societal needs. Visit www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/ for more information.

National Science Foundation awards StarMobile $500K funding grant

Raghupathy Sivakumar, StarMobile's co-founder and chief technology officer.

Raghupathy Sivakumar, StarMobile’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

StarMobile, a leading codeless, cloud-based solution centered on faster, simpler, and lower-cost delivery of enterprise mobility, has been awarded a $500,000 Phase IIB Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

 

The startup, which is incubating in Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center’s (ATDC) Signature program, said it will continue its work toward enabling rapid mobilization of enterprise applications. ATDC works with entrepreneurs looking to build successful technologies in Georgia.

 

StarMobile also is a graduate of Tech’s VentureLab startup incubator, ranked No. 2 in North America. VentureLab, a sister incubation program to ATDC in Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), works with Georgia Tech faculty, students, and staff to help them validate and commercialize their research and ideas into viable companies.

 

Raghupathy Sivakumar, StarMobile’s co-founder and chief technology officer, is a telecommunications, computer systems, and software professor at Georgia Tech and the Wayne J. Holman Chair in Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

 

“This Phase IIB SBIR award is a significant milestone for us, as the rigorous NSF selection process for Phase II proposals results in only 15 percent of Phase I grants receiving Phase II awards, and even fewer receiving Phase IIB awards,” said Sivakumar in a statement. “This award is an important validation that StarMobile has created a Rapid Mobile Application Development (RMAD) platform that transforms how enterprises mobilize their systems. This award provides support for further development of our core technology and will help us accelerate our go-to-market plans.”

 

The award is based on progress in product, market, and business model validation under a $750,000 NSF SBIR Phase II grant awarded to StarMobile in 2013, and research conducted under a $150,000 NSF SBIR Phase I grant awarded to StarMobile in 2012. StarMobile has now received a total of $1.4 million in grant awards from the NSF SBIR program as part of their efforts to foster innovative technologies.

 

The NSF Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program seeks to transform scientific discovery into societal and economic benefit by catalyzing private sector commercialization of technological innovations. The program increases the incentive and opportunity for startups and small businesses to undertake cutting-edge, high-quality scientific research and development. NSF SBIR/STTR grants not only address research and development funding, they also give recipients training in key business areas. Grant awardees also receive mentorship from program directors who have extensive industry experience.

 

The NSF SBIR/STTR program awards funds in every area of science and engineering.

 

Péralte C. Paul

Zyrobotics wins $750K National Science Foundation grant

By Péralte C. Paul

Ayanna MacCalla Howard

Ayanna MacCalla Howard

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Zyrobotics a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant that continues the startup’s work in developing an accessible educational platform for children with special needs.

 

Launched in September 2013 by Ayanna Howard, the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Chair professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the company is commercializing assistive technology that enables children with limited mobility to operate tablet computers, smartphones, toys, gaming apps, and interactive robots.

 

“We are extremely excited about the opportunities that this NSF SBIR grant provides,” said Howard, who is the company’s chief technology officer. “It helps Zyrobotics to continue to evolve as a leader in inclusive smart mobile technologies by enhancing our ability to develop accessible learning systems that engage and empower children with special needs and enhance their quality of life.”

 

Specifically, the Phase II project aims to focus on the development of an accessible educational platform that combines mobile interfaces and adaptive educational tablet applications (apps) to support the requirements of children with special needs. While tablet devices have given those children an interactive experience that has revolutionized their learning, in its proposal, Zyrobotics notes that while some tablet devices are intuitive in use and easy for lots of kids, those with disabilities are largely overlooked due to difficulties in effecting pinch-and-swipe gestures.

 

“This project thus addresses a direct need in our society by providing an integrated educational experience, focused on math education that addresses the diverse needs of children, while providing a solution for variations found in their disabilities,” the company wrote in its grant proposal. “This SBIR Phase II project addresses an unmet need by developing an innovative solution to enable children with motor disabilities access to mobile devices and apps that could engage them fully into the educational system.”

 

In this next phase, Howard and her team plan to design accessible math apps geared to children with or without disabilities in kindergarten through 12th grade. The company also plans to design another set of apps that adapt educational content and provide feedback to parents and teachers based on real-time analytics.

 

The company says it sees ample market opportunity for its products both domestically and abroad. Here in the United States, children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, and Zyrobotics sees its products as addressing that need from both a commercial and societal standpoint. Worldwide, more than 93 million children live with a disability.

 

When founded, the company went through Georgia Tech’s VentureLab startup incubator, ranked No. 2 in North America. VentureLab, a unit of Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), works with Georgia Tech faculty, students, and staff to help them validate and commercialize their research and ideas into viable companies.

 

Zyrobotics is now part of Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a sister startup incubator program that serves all of Georgia. Zyrobotics, with the help of ATDC’s SBIR program, was able to receive its Phase I award in 2015, laying the groundwork for the Phase II grant.

 

“Zyrobotics is a wonderful Georgia Tech startup, based on the fine research in Dr. Howard’s lab, and enhanced by a very successful journey through the NSF I-Corps program,” said Keith McGreggor, VentureLab’s director. “This is a great example of how the research done in the classroom and lab, followed by idea validation, can lead to real breakthroughs that are designed to have a lasting impact on the lives touched by the technologies that Dr. Howard has created.”