Johns Hopkins joins NSF's National Innovation Network

Johns Hopkins has joined the National Science Foundation's National Innovation Network and becomes the fourth member university in the NSF Innovation Corps regional collaboration led by the University of Maryland, along with the George Washington University and Virginia Tech.

The NSF has approved a request from the three original universities to officially include Johns Hopkins in the I-Corps program's "node" in the Mid-Atlantic called DC I-Corps, which was formed last year with $3.75 million in NSF funding.

DC I-Corps is one of five regional nodes established nationwide by the NSF, and the first to expand its membership. Together, the five nodes form the basis of the National Innovation Network. They link select universities, established entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists; the object is to train faculty and student researchers from throughout the United States to transform ideas into products and get them on the market.

"Amazing discoveries and great ideas are the stock in trade of our faculty and student researchers, but it's a long way from an idea to a product," says Johns Hopkins' Christy Wyskiel, senior adviser to the president for enterprise development. "At Johns Hopkins, we're building an innovation ecosystem, a structure to help our researchers make that leap. Being in an I-Corps node is a cornerstone of that structure and a chance for us to collaborate with other outstanding universities working toward the same goal. That collaboration will help us all and, we hope, generate new economic activity throughout the Mid-Atlantic region."

The intensive and highly experiential I-Corps program was developed and is taught by entrepreneurs. The program's evidence-based methodology, drawing on decades of experience in Silicon Valley and featured in a Harvard Business Review cover story, emphasizes conducting hundreds of "experiments," or interviews, with as many potential customers as possible; gaining insights about the significant "pain points" and needs of specific customers; and tracking the results of those experiments in a business model.

A trained I-Corps team—typically consisting of an academic researcher, a would-be entrepreneur, and a mentor—may then create a startup company, obtain a patent, or license its technology to an existing company. The program aims to foster a culture of entrepreneurship among university researchers and students by fundamentally changing the way they think about future research and its applications.

"The creation of an I-Corps node here in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area has already done exactly what we envisioned: It leveraged the respective strengths of three top research universities, galvanized them as one, and catalyzed the region," says Dean Chang, associate vice president for innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland and lead principal investigator for the DC I-Corps regional node. "Adding a partner university like Johns Hopkins, which conducts more than twice as much federally funded research as any other school in the country, represents a doubling down on a winning strategy embodied by the National Innovation Network."

Ed Schlesinger, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering and a prime mover in the university's decision to join the node, says, "Johns Hopkins is committed to benefiting society by translating our discoveries from the laboratory into devices, systems, processes, therapeutics, and other technologies that will improve the human condition. Our inclusion in the DC I-Corps node enables us to team up with other leading institutions that share the goal of having a positive impact in our community and our nation."

As part of the DC I-Corps node, Johns Hopkins will provide instructors for both the national and regional training programs. It will also join Maryland, George Washington, and Virginia Tech in recruiting and selecting teams, matching mentors, and hosting regional training in the Mid-Atlantic.

"Between two national cohorts and four regional cohorts, we've trained more than 100 teams since the node was formed in February 2013," says DC I-Corps director and lead instructor Edmund Pendleton. "The regional teams have come not only from numerous universities but also from technology hotbeds like NIH, NASA, the Navy, and Children's National Medical Center. With Johns Hopkins aboard, we can increase training volume and broaden outreach, especially to teams focused on commercializing life science discoveries."

The newly expanded I-Corps node aims to offer a regional training program this October at Johns Hopkins and will also participate in the upcoming NIH SBIR I-Corps program announced by the White House. The node is also co-leading an I-Corps workshop in June at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and an I-Corps for Young Innovators program in July for rising high school seniors.

Along with the lead principal investigator, Chang, the co-principal investigators for the DC I-Corps regional node are Jim Chung, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship at the George Washington University, and Jack Lesko, associate dean for research and graduate studies at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering.

The universities have all woven elements of the I-Corps methodology into courses for both undergraduate and graduate students. They and Johns Hopkins have together sent 18 teams to the national I-Corps program and many more to DC I-Corps training. The three Johns Hopkins teams originated in three different schools within the university: the Whiting School of Engineering, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the conservatory of music at the Peabody Institute.