NextEnergy Seeks I-Corps Energy & Transportation Program Applicants

With mobility and smart city technologies growing at a rapid pace, Detroit-based cleantech incubator NextEnergy and the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship are seeking applicants for an upcoming I-Corps training program.

The I-Corps program is designed to help entrepreneurs and researchers (both corporate and academic) commercialize their innovations. NextEnergy’s customized curriculum will focus on the transportation and energy sectors.

As part of the summer cohort, I-Corps participants will develop business models, receive coaching from industry leaders and potential customers, and meet with investors. The goal of the program is to introduce entrepreneurs to government and private funding opportunities and position them for licensing arrangements or new company creation. The deadline to apply for the 2017 I-Corps class is April 18.

“It really does take a village when it comes to technology commercialization,” says Jean Redfield, I-Corps instructor and CEO of NextEnergy. “We typically offer a set of services based on a company’s growth and maturity.”

When the Steve Blank-designed I-Corps program was started by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2012, its purpose was to teach university researchers to think like entrepreneurs and help them bring their inventions to market. The program also serves to de-risk and prototype promising innovations, with the hope that technologies that are not quite ready for prime time will fail quickly, saving researchers time and money. Participants that perform especially well may be recommended for the national I-Corps program, where they would receive a $50,000 grant and additional coaching.

Since its inception, Redfield says I-Corps Energy and Transportation participants have secured more than $3.8 million in combined funding from the Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, NSF, and Department of Defense, with total funding of more than $500,000 per team (of those that received funding). Participants have also gone on to create new corporate or strategic partnerships, build commercial prototypes and pilot projects, and join the Techstars Mobility accelerator.

More than 40 startups have utilized NextEnergy’s I-Corps services so far, Redfield says, including 2015 alum RideHop, makers of a ride-tracking app that connects fleet managers and riders. She calls the company a great example of an I-Corps success story.

“They were part of the I-Corps accelerator, and then they won a $20,000-category prize in the 2016 NextChallenge: Smart Cities competition,” Redfield explains. “Now they’re using prize money to further develop their products.”

RideHop CEO Travis Knepper says the company started as an “intrapreneurial” project at Quicken Loans, where he used to work. Knepper describes RideHop’s technology as a way for companies to make commuting easier for their employees and for large event planners to connect attendees with local travel options, and as a “first/last mile connector.”

“I went to I-Corps to focus on learning the airport market,” he says. “It helped us to identify opportunities, and I’m excited and thankful for that.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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