Dalhousie University gets Canada’s first I-Corps program to commercialize science research

Atlantic Canada will be home to the first-ever Canadian Innovation Corps (I-Corps), a program of the US-based National Science Foundation dedicated to commercializing scientific research, according to a report from Entrevestor.

Steve Blank, who is an architect of I-Corps and teaches entrepreneurship at several US-based universities including Stanford and UC Berkley, vouched for launching I-Corps in Canada. The program will be housed at Dalhousie University.

“I’ve been a little bit blown away by how much good science there is here,” said Blank, in a lunch meeting with university and government officials to discuss bringing the program to Canada. “It’s almost a criminal waste that there isn’t already an I-Corps here in Canada.”

I-Corps focuses on exposing scientists to thinking and processes that can turn their research and discoveries into commercial products. Each scientist teams up with an entrepreneur and a graduate student to manage the team’s lab, and together they work on learning what it takes to bring a product to market.

I-Corps launched in 2011 after the National Science Foundation asked Blank to turn the processes of the lean startup methodology, which Blank helped develop, into an academic program. As a result, the program is based on the lean startup methodology, a process in which startups canvas a wide range of potential clients to ensure they are producing something the market demands.

“The plan is to work with George Washington University over the next two years because they are certified NSF I-Corp trainers,” said Mary Kilfoil, a professor of entrepreneurship at Dalhousie University.

“It’s almost a criminal waste that there isn’t already an I-Corps here in Canada.”

Dalhousie University’s I-Corps program will be open to academics across Atlantic Canada, and the university has partnered with Washington, DC’s George Washington University to provide training to I-Corps’ staff and kick-off the pilot program.

“It doesn’t guarantee success but we can reduce the infant mortality in startups a lot,” said Blank. “It can improve science and scientists. Once they are exposed to these ideas, it changes everyone in their team for the next 20 years.”

Blank also said that it’s best to locate the I-Corps in the engineering school instead of the business school, so the program is close to those who work with applied science.

Speaking with current participants and graduates of the Launch Dal program — Dalhousie University’s launchpad and coworking space that is based on Blank’s lean startup methodology — Blank said Atlantic Canada should strive to design an ecosystem that reflects the region’s specific circumstances.

“Every region needs its own playbook,” said Blank. “What does the Halifax ecosystem look like? I think that what’s been happening here for the past five years is fantastic, but what needs to be done to make it an Atlantic Canadian model? But I’ve been blown away by what I’ve seen here.”

The I-Corps program is offered in 10 regions to help commercialize discoveries from fundamental research, and according to Blank, “1,500 of the best US scientists” have gone through the program in six years.

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi

Amira Zubairi is a staff writer and content creator at BetaKit with a strong interest in Canadian startup, business, and legal tech news. In her free time, Amira indulges in baking desserts, working out, and watching legal shows.