The Download: Program aims to turn students, faculty into entrepreneurs

February 24, 2013

A seven-week program funded by the National Science Foundation aims to convert students and faculty researchers at three of the Washington region’s major universities into technology entrepreneurs.

Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, is a joint effort by the University of Maryland, George Washington University and Virginia Tech to take technology developed in university laboratories and turn them into commercial products.

Converting that know-how has been a perennial problem for academic institutions that have long developed some of the country’s most cutting-edge technology, yet lack the business acumen or motivation to bring them to market.

One hundred research teams are slated to participate in the Mid-Atlantic I-Corps program each year, half of which will be selected by the National Science Foundation and half by the participating universities.

The program is to teach students and faculty to engage with potential customers, develop business models, build low-cost prototypes, solicit feedback and make changes in response to that feedback. Mentors from local groups such as FounderCorps, Springboard, ACTiVATE and the Maryland Intellectual Property Legal Resource Center also plan to offer guidance to the academics.

The National Science Foundation provided a $3.75 million grant to finance the Mid-Atlantic program. Similar initiatives were announced in California and New York.

Work it out

District-based TouchdownSpace debuted an eponymous smartphone app and Web site last week that allows professionals to find and rent short-term office space around the Washington region.

Founder Caleb Parker said more people are working remotely as high-speed Internet and portable devices untether workers from their desks, but many still require office space from time to time, whether it is for a meeting or for just a more sophisticated milieu.

The latest version of TouchdownSpace counts 65 locations in Washington with roughly 240 spaces offered by works pace providers, such as Carr Workplaces, AdvantEdge Business Centers and Intelligent Office. Parker said the app allows those companies to make money off of their vacant space.

Washington is particularly well suited for flexible office space because many out-of-towners visit regularly for business, but don’t necessarily need a dedicated lease, he said. The company aims to expand to New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, San Diego and Boston.

Maryland money

A program at the University of Maryland that funds research partnerships between Maryland companies and academics at state institutions doled out $4.7 million last week to projects in agriculture, energy, sports and medicine, among other industries.

The 16 companies participating in Maryland Industrial Partnerships, or MIPS, contributed $3.3 million to the program and the state provided the remaining $1.4 million. Most of the companies received between $125,000 and $250,000 in total.

Germantown-based Earth Networks got $1.4 million, the largest sum of money. The company is working with a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, to improve its technology that automatically cools or heats a home based on weather conditions.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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