Lenore Blum

Carnegie Mellon University is opening a training center that will help startup companies take concepts in the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math and move them successfully into the marketplace.

The National Science Foundation has awarded CMU a three-year grant totaling $300,000 to create an Innovation-Corps (I-Corp) site on campus, a physical space that will further promote CMU’s ability to spin out successful startups.

I-Corp will be a part of the CMU Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and focus on workshops, mentoring, funding for projects, customer delivery and access to incubator space.

“The funds will help us in our work at the earliest stages to transform cutting-edge university research and great ideas to winning commercial ventures,” says Lenore Blum, co-director of CIE and founder of CMU’s Project Olympus. Blum traveled this week to Silicon Valley to further promote what she says are dazzling cutting-edge companies and research coming out of CMU.

The primary goal of CMU I-Corp is to create an efficient and replicable process to commercialize innovations based on customer discovery and product adaptation. I-Corp was started by CMU President Subra Suresh when he was director of the National Science Foundation.

The program works through team building, explains Blum. Each year CIE will recruit two 15-person teams that will work with faculty and mentors. The teams will be encouraged to participate in venture competitions and showcase events.

After six months, successful teams will move on to the next level, participating in programs such as the NSF I-Corps Site Team Program and the AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear accelerators in Pittsburgh.

“The CIE works closely with economic and innovation stakeholders in the region and many of the regional foundations, investors and business people,” Blum adds. “Because of all these efforts, the number of CMU spin-off companies starting off in the region has increased dramatically in the past seven years.”

CMU, which produced 36 startups in 2013, is among the top universities without a medical school in the number of startups created per research dollars spent, she says.

“Increased early stage investments in the region will be critical for keeping these companies in town as they grow,” Blum says.

In May, CMU established a separate organization to facilitate entrepreneurship called the Integrated Innovation Institute (III).

The concept, new for a university setting, is a joint initiative of the College of Engineering, the College of Fine Arts (CFA) and the Tepper School of Business.

III promotes the cross-pollinization of entrepreneurs in the fields of engineering, design and business, a hallmark of an education at CMU.

—Bee Shindler assisted with this story

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...