NSF I-Corps Teams includes a mentor – an experienced entrepreneur who can guide the team as they refine their business models, gain insights from their customer market, and pivot down alternate paths.
The Mentor Role
I-Corps Mentors are deeply involved during the seven-week I-Corps Teams course. In addition to reinforcing the curriculum, mentors fulfill the following primary roles as networking and industry advisors:
- Serving as a third-party resource for the team, the I-Corps Mentor helps teams recognize and reduce confirmation bias during the customer discovery process. Additionally, mentors act as an extension of the teaching team, helping participants absorb and apply relevant course lessons.
- Leveraging their industry contacts and knowledge of the ecosystem surrounding the target market area, the I-Corps Mentor will assist teams in finding the right individuals to interview during the customer discovery process. As teams will be interviewing more than 100 potential customers and partners, a well connected and experienced mentor is a valuable asset.
- As a member of the team, mentors must be available during the seven-week period of the curriculum.
- All members of the team (including the mentor) must be geographically near each other.
- Under the I-Corps grant, mentors cannot be paid a stipend or consultancy fees.
The Value of Mentorship
Learn more about the I-Corps Mentor experience by checking out the videos below.
Program Learning Goals
What to Expect as a Mentor
I really enjoy empowering startup founders, especially those who are university inventors in deep tech through the I-Corps program. Launching and scaling a startup is incredibly hard work. Very few founders understand their customers precisely from the start. Those who choose to take on the time-consuming and challenging work of customer discovery upfront are the founders most poised for success.
Beth Xie – I-Corps Mentor; Associate Director, Endless Frontier Labs; Founder, TaggPic (Acquired by Google)
The customer discovery process is a great way to make the switch from a “faith-based” endeavor to an “evidence-based” one. Most teams heading to the I-Corps Teams program have an insight into a specific part of the industry value chain, but not the whole picture. Good industry mentors help the team navigate away from “confirmation biases” by challenging the team to stick with the I-Corps process.
Shintaro Kaido – I-Corps Mentor; Vice Provost for Innovation and Executive Director of Drexel Applied Innovation, Drexel University
The advice I have for new entrepreneurs is to make sure you surround yourself with a good leadership team that can advise you accordingly on how to move forward. If you are the scientist, be sure to stay in the scientist role and to appoint your company with a well-established and experienced CEO who can help lead the company from a business standpoint as you advance the science.
Hamid Bhatti – I-Corps Mentor; Health Sciences Technology Commercialization Specialist, West Virginia University