In October, the Southwest Node of NSF I-Corps hosted a regional program to develop potentially eligible teams for national I-Corps grants. Organized by Rice University and the University of Houston, seven teams from both schools spent 10 days learning and implementing best practices for linking their innovation to the right market.

The opening workshop, led by Kaz Karwowski (Rice Center for Engineering Leadership) and Lydia McClure (Austin Technology Incubator), introduced teams to business model development and customer discovery. In the days following, teams spent a significant amount of time talking to potential customers and testing their hypotheses. Teams reconvened at the end of the program to present their findings during the closing workshop.

“The I-Corps program is a proven platform for promoting entrepreneurship and stimulating startup creation across the country. Deploying regional programs is another way the Southwest I-Corps Node works to broaden and advance national innovation,” said Kerri Smith, Director of NSF I-Corps at Rice University. “Partnering with the University of Houston has been advantageous for both schools in the past, so the continued collaboration seemed like a natural fit. Joining forces expanded our reach into the robust research base within both universities.”

Participating teams from Rice included Arovia, an OwlSpark Class 3 alumni team that makes a 24-inch electronic display that collapses to easily fit inside a travel bag; Sampill, a team using stereolithographic 3D printing to create intricate hydrogel structures for oral drug delivery applications; and Stealth Organics, a team that has developed a family of biocompatible gels to be used as bio-inks in the 3D Bioprinting market.

During the program, the teams worked towards establishing NSF lineage, making them eligible to apply for a national $50,000 team grant. The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) is a seven-week hands-on course that enables scientists, engineers and researchers to understand the potential value of their innovation. Learn more at

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