Two McLennan SBDC teams recently explored the market potential of their early stage innovations in an intense Southwest I-Corps workshop at UT Austin. Gus Welter, Lindsey Price, and Ilshat Ashatov of Blinc have a software development platform. Will McKerrall, John Fitch and Kristen McKerrall of Structural Health Data Systems have an infrastructure monitoring product. Both are in search of a business model.
I-Corps, short for ‘Innovation Corps’, is the rigorous market assessment and validation program pioneered by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote entrepreneurship and stimulate startup creation across the country. It is based on key concepts from the lean startup movement like customer discovery and business model development.
I-Corps is taught using a “flipped classroom.” All coursework is done prior to class to allow for student-led interaction and direct feedback from instructors. Teams are tasked with interviewing 20 or more potential customers in two weeks to determine “product-market fit” or whether a product solves a real market need.
This means, that after the opening workshop, teams spend a significant amount of time outside the classroom talking to potential customers about their business problems and needs. Teams reconvene for a closing workshop at the end of the two weeks to present their findings in a “lessons learned” workshop.
After spending considerable time in front of customers, McLennan teams came away with significant customer insights that have informed how they think about both their idea and next steps.
In the words of Gus Welter, "I-Corps was a tectonic shift in our approach and understanding of what we have to do to succeed as a startup. The combination of the Lean Startup content from Steve Blank, etc. plus the brutally honest & challenging feedback is really powerful. From the standpoint of a startup, I-Corps is in a league of its own..."