Georgia Tech works with Irish researchers on innovation methodologies

Melissa Heffner, I-Corps South program manager, leads a discussion on evidence-based entrepreneurship at the Science Foundation Ireland in Dublin. (Photo: Keith McGreggor)
Melissa Heffner, I-Corps South program manager, leads a discussion on evidence-based entrepreneurship at the Science Foundation Ireland in Dublin. (Photo: Keith McGreggor)

Wanting to tap into the Georgia Institute of Technology’s expertise in innovation and commercialization processes and methodology, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) recently hosted two lead managers of Tech’s I-Corps program lead managers in Dublin to train a group of research teams developing technologies with a focus on societal impact.


SFI invited Keith McGreggor and Melissa Heffner to lead the Jan. 29 workshop series as part of the organization’s Future Innovator Prize project, which is aimed at supporting the development of disruptive ideas and technologies to address societal challenges.


The 12 teams were focused on various projects ranging from biomedical devices to diagnostics and all had ideas for a product that could address a particular challenge or process that could be improved.


“We were invited to come over to because of our experience as a leading institution in teaching the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program,” Heffner said. “They wanted us to explain and discuss how to develop a business model and how we do customer discovery and how that process is critical to objectively seeing what kind of societal impact these SFI teams could have with their projects and research theses.”


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.


“Our work in Ireland was focused on preparing these team to have the conversations and interviews with potential customers to determine if the problem they feel exists actually does and how they can solve that challenge,” Heffner said.


“Identifying what you think is a problem is only one part of the equation. But researchers need to go out and talk to potential customers and users to understand if what they see as a challenge truly exists the way they think it does and how their proposed solutions should ultimately be designed to provide the greatest degree of societal impact.”


Heffner worked on a similar project with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016.


Georgia Tech — through its VentureLab incubator program — is an I-Corps node and teaches entrepreneurship, and research and innovation methodologies.


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 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.


McGreggor serves as VentureLab’s director and is executive director of I-Corps South, whichincludes Tech, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Haslam College of Business.


In the last several years, SFI has sent a few teams to Tech for I-Corps training and Tech has led similar sessions for the Centers for Disease Control. The government of Mexico in 2018, through its National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT), sent more than a dozen university-based instructors to Tech to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and how to build and maintain such programs at their schools.


The effort in Ireland underscores the Institute’s international reputation for commercialization expertise and supports its efforts to further its reach in Europe, McGreggor said.


“We want to leverage our presence in Europe with our Georgia Tech Lorraine campus in Metz, France, to do more entrepreneurship education across the continent,” McGreggor said. “Our work in Ireland and our relationship with SFI is a good example of our global impact and reach in our I-Corps programming and our evidence-based entrepreneurship. They want to work with us because of our strength in it.”


Georgia Tech to offer Hacking for Defense course in 2019

Hacking for Defense trainee Colin Ake, left, a principal at Georgia Tech's VentureLab, poses a question to Hacking for Defense Inc. trainers Max Weintraub, center, and Alex Gallo. (Photo by: Péralte C. Paul)
Hacking for Defense trainee Colin Ake, left, a principal at Georgia Tech’s VentureLab, poses a question to Hacking for Defense Inc. trainers Max Weintraub, center, and Alex Gallo. (Photo by: Péralte C. Paul)

The Georgia Institute of Technology will begin offering a course in 2019 designed to give students opportunities to study — and potentially solve — challenges from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and related intelligence agencies.


The semester-long Hacking for Defense (H4D) course was created and first launched at Stanford University in 2016 by retired U.S. Army Col. Pete Newell, retired Special Forces and Foreign Area Officer Joe Felter; Tom Byers, director of the Stanford Technology Ventures program; and Steve Blank, a retired serial entrepreneur and the creator of the Lean Startup movement.


At the Institute, the course will be taught by Keith McGreggor, director of VentureLab, a program in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute that helps faculty and students create startups based on Tech research. Co-teaching the class with him will be Lawrence Rubin, associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.


As designed, students will be given a current real problem intelligence or defense agencies face and work on that challenge for the entire semester to validate the problem and work to solve it, Newell said.


“Technology is continually changing and by creating this mixing bowl in a university, you’re in an ideal place for bringing government problems to the problem-solvers and energizing young people into doing something that’s impactful,” said Newell, who is managing partner of BMNT.


BMNT’s nonprofit arm, Hacking for Defense Inc. (H4Di), oversees the H4D program.


H4D addresses four necessary components to help federal agencies be more innovative, said Newell, who is former director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force.


For the federal sponsors themselves, they get world-class market research to tackle problems at a faster pace than anywhere else and engage with potential employees or future collaborators by creating an innovation network pipeline.


Students get to work on a real challenge and learn by creating a case study of a real problem, he said.


For private industry, it gives them an early look at the problems government agencies are looking to solve — which often mirror some of the same issues business is trying to address.


Finally, universities such as Georgia Tech, are increasingly looking to deliver cutting-edge education to students that gives them experience in building innovative and disruptive solutions beyond basic research.


That matches the entrepreneurship experience that Tech wants all of its students to have, McGreggor said.


“We’re trying to create an armada of entrepreneurial students and we want every student at Georgia Tech to have that entrepreneurial experience before they graduate,” McGreggor said. “Hacking for Defense is going to be different in that participating students won’t be coming up with a startup idea; these defense and intelligence agencies will meet with us with the problems they want us to figure out. It’s an opportunity for our students to think about solving a different kind of problem.”


Keith McGreggor (right foreground), VentureLab director, listens as Michael Hoeschele, trains attendees of the Hacking for Defense forum on Sept. 20. (Photo by: Péralte C. Paul)
Keith McGreggor (right foreground), VentureLab director, listens as Michael Hoeschele, trains attendees of the Hacking for Defense forum on Sept. 20. (Photo by: Péralte C. Paul)

As part of the rollout and expansion of the program to Tech and other organizations, H4Di was on campus Sept. 20 and 21 to train about 60 people from across the country who will be teaching H4D courses on the methodology behind it.


“The defense and national security challenges we’re seeing are evolving at a pace we’ve never seen before in our history and to tackle these issues, we have to connect DoD to cultures of innovation and those are largely housed in academia and the venture community,” said Max Weintraub who works to form collaborative relationships between the DoD and universities as the H4D program manager at the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, the DoD program office that sponsors H4D at Georgia Tech and other leading universities. “We’re excited that Georgia Tech is on the list.”


Tech will join a number of top schools already teaching the class, that, in addition to Stanford, include: Columbia University, the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and the United States Air Force Academy.


What makes Tech an attractive choice is Atlanta’s solid base of entrepreneurial activity, Georgia’s manufacturing and industrial capacity, the number of military installations and government labs in the state and its Southeast neighbors, and the federal research dollars the Institute attracts.


“It’s easy to draw a circle around Georgia Tech right there in the Southeast as being in the epicenter of a great entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Newell said.


Since the original launch, H4D has led to nine startup companies being formed, including Capella Space, a company that makes low-orbit satellites with a synthetic aperture radar technology that takes quality images regardless of clouds, light or other atmospheric conditions.


But while some students may ultimately form their own companies, Newell stressed that is not the core goal.


“We’re giving them the ability to engage with the government to work on a real problem to gain real-world experience,” Newell said. “They get to develop the critical problem-solving skillsets that will be most in demand in the future.”

I-Corps South hosts group from Mexico for entrepreneurship training academy

I-Corps South I-Corps Mexico
Georgia Tech’s I-Corps South program hosted team of instructors from Mexico for two days of training and education to learn about entrepreneurship processes in commercializing their research. (Photo: Miriam Huppert)

The Georgia Institute of Technology’s I-Corps South program recently hosted 17 university-based instructors from Mexico for a two-day training session to teach them the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and how to build and maintain such programs at their schools.


“This is the I-Corps South Instructor Academy, which prepares instructors on how to teach the I-Corps methodology,” said Melissa Heffner, an I-Corps program manager.


The instructors came under the sponsorship of the National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT), which is charged with coordinating and promoting Mexico’s scientific and technologic development, she said.


I-Corps South is a partnership of Georgia Tech, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business.


Keith McGreggor I-Corps South
Keith McGreggor (standing), executive director of I-Corps South at Georgia Tech, leads an education session on entrepreneurship. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

Its main objective is to provide entrepreneurs in the Southeast and Puerto Rico with consistent instruction on the principles of evidence-based entrepreneurship, said Keith McGreggor, I-Corps South’s executive director.


With universities, I-Corps South offers the tools, support, and resources required to launch and maintain high-quality evidence-based entrepreneurship programs across the Southeast and Puerto Rico.


While university researchers often develop great ideas, they don’t always know how to take their findings from the lab to the marketplace, McGreggor said.


I-Corps Mexico — created in 2012 and based on the U.S.’s  National Science Foundation’s model — aims to ensure that research developed by scientists in Mexico lead to greater societal impact. The I-Corps Mexico program was the first time that the training model was applied outside the United States.


“Mexico’s I-Corps program recently expanded to 8 nodes from 5 and CONACYT wanted a more formal program for this expansion,” Heffner said, explaining why the organization selected Georgia Tech’s program to conduct the training for the Mexican instructors.


“I-Corps South first offered a training course in 2016, and since then we’ve built out and augmented the program,” Heffner said. “To date, we’ve offered the program six times and have trained 25 instructors from 11 different universities.”


Additionally, I-Corps South has been asked to submit a proposal to the NSF to develop and conduct training courses for NSF I-Corps Sites instructors across the United States, at more than 80 sites.