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Gov't picks tech to incubate


The inaugural NSF I-Corps awards were announced today. The program aims to help bring products and ideas generated during lab research into the commercial marketplace.

A web app that will ease the decision-making process and a hand-held device that sniffs out bombs are among the first crop of potential products from a program that aims to turn basic science research into marketplace successes.

A total of 21 awards were handed out today to the inaugural class of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, or I—Corps, a public-private program that was announced this July to help researchers make the leap to entrepreneurship. 

"They are going to go from the not-for-profit sector to the for-profit sector, for those that prove successful," Errol Arkilic, the I-Corps program officer at the NSF, told me today.

"And when they get into the for-profit sector, they are fledging capitalist companies. They add value, they take in investment, they build economic power, they create jobs, they change industries."

Going to California
The awarded projects receive a $50,000 grant and a hook-up with mentors and entrepreneurs to help turn their ideas into marketable ventures.

The inaugural 21 awardees are headed to Stanford University in California where their specially designed training curriculum begins on Oct. 10.

The curriculum is modeled after startup guru Steve Blank's Learn LaunchPad class and will help them turn their high-tech ideas into workable business ventures. 

Blank called the launch of I-Corps "a new era for scientists and engineers" in a blog post this July when the program was announced.

"If this program works, it will change how we connect basic research to the business world. And it will lead to more startups and job creation," he wrote.

Curriculum concept
The concept of the curriculum, Arkilic explained to me, essentially trains the I-Corps awardees — all of them scientists and engineers whose research has been funded by the NSF — in a scientific method to test the commercial viability of their research.

They'll learn a framework for testing hypothesis on what people will pay for their projects, what it will cost to take to market, and how to navigate the patent landscape, for example.

"Some of them will fail on paper and that's OK," Arkilic said. "Better to do it there than get out and spend years of research and millions of dollars to figure out (the market) doesn't exist."

For those that do look promising, in turn, the project teams will have the training and mentors to guide them to success.

That could mean, for example, brighter LED screens for laptops and the ability to manufacture large amounts of the super-material graphene on the cheap.

You can check out the full list of awardees on the NSF website.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com.

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