New Mexico Sate’s Arrowhead Center: Integrating I-Corps with Strategic Doing

The National Science Foundation administers a highly  successful program to accelerate  commercialization of university research. Called  Innovation Corps or I-Corps, the initiative builds a capability on university campuses to move promising research ideas into the market. Based on a methodology called Lean Launchpad, the program guides faculty and students through an intensive process of customer discovery. Universities participating in the I-Corps  program become notes in a national network.

The Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University is one of the I-Corps nodes. Now a small team at Arrowhead is experimenting with the integration of I-Corps training and Strategic Doing. Here’s an excerpt from a summary of this work.

The NSF I-Corps program, which assists scientists and engineers in defining commercial applications for their research, has built an innovation infrastructure with a clear pathway for shepherding discoveries derived from fundamental research into commercial products.

To date, this process, undergirded by the Lean Launchpad methodology, has brought to market a diverse range of innovations in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and more.  Through customer interviews and experiments, entrepreneur teams document, test, and continually refine their assumptions about their venture’s business model with an eye towards identifying what aspects of their breakthroughs are useful to the market.

The innovation process is complex and non-linear, demanding a high degree of collaboration, communication, and agility from entrepreneurial teams.  From customer discovery to commercialization, teams must have a strategy discipline that helps them to continually answer the questions, where are you going and how are you going to get there?

What if advances from an agile strategy discipline were woven into the existing structure of the lean approach to optimize non-linear movement through collaboration? What if, in the process of exploring market opportunities, entrepreneurial teams were also practicing the skills to build complex collaborations with simple rules? What if entrepreneurial teams, by first leveraging assets to create opportunities and identifying network connections, had a better idea of where not to go? What if I-Corps Sites, by themselves leveraging assets and networks, played a leadership role in expanding the local/regional ecosystem that nurtures entrepreneurs beyond the I-Corps program?

At Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University, an NSF I-Corps site, Strategic Doing practitioner Dr. Lauren Goldstein has piloted an approach that integrates Strategic Doing with I-Corps cohorts, including remote participants. Goldstein, along with site director Dr. Kramer Winingham, recognized a dip in momentum as go-decision teams navigated the time and space between the end of the cohort and the beginning of the application process to national I-Corps. With the support of Winingham, Goldstein held a workshop for Aggie I-Corps teams at the close of their cohort on December 4th, 2017. The energy, momentum, and unexpected pathfinder projects that teams created to move forward on their commercialization paths was enough anecdotal evidence to continue using the process seamlessly with current I-Corps curriculum.

Dr. Winingham states,

“I-Corps is very intense and participants learn a lot. Insights gained through I-Corps inform and direct future business strategy. There is also a lot of structure that goes away after I-Corps. We are interested in helping teams develop a sound path forward following the structure of the I-Corps program. Strategic Doing offers a systematic approach to digest insights and create actionable strategy to maintain momentum following an I-Corps program.”

Based on the results of the work with subsequent cohorts, Goldstein and the Aggie I-Corps managing team plan to integrate a very short introduction to the Strategic Doing process at the beginning of the cohort, along with another short session during Week 3 Next Steps, in addition to the Week 5 full workshop.

To optimize the workshop, NMSU will bring in additional Arrowhead staff members, as well as Arrowhead Innovation Network mentors and subject matter experts, to serve as guides to help teams uncover hidden assets within the NMSU innovation ecosystem and move them to the next level of performance.  In a feedback form for the most recent cohort workshop, 100% of participants responded that Strategic Doing was value added to their I-Corps experience.