I-Corps@Rutgers – from Customer Discovery to Self-Discovery
I chose Rutgers because of the many opportunities it offers to its students, whether it is educational, social or professional. During my freshman year, I became an intern for the Rutgers I-Corps Site. After my first day, I quickly realized that I-Corps is one of those hidden gems of this university. This national program was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help innovators and entrepreneurs help commercialize their research or innovations or bring research out of the lab to benefit society.
When I started interning at I-Corps, I was excited to tell my friends and family. To my surprise, many did not know what this program was. After explaining how much this five-week cohort can help an individual with their innovation and business, they wanted to learn more.
The most interesting part of the program is that it is open to all STEM-based discoveries, whether someone has a discovery in medicine, computer science, or engineering – they can get value from I-Corps. As long as you have an idea that you want to see grow and a team, then I-Corps is here to help with the process. Team members are often from different fields with unique strengths and different perspectives. This really stood out to me, because as a Marketing major, I sometimes feel out-of-place around my STEM peers. My insecurity was challenged at I-Corps after seeing that some of the more advanced teams were those that were also thinking about their marketing plan. After interning at I-Corps, I realized I could add my own perspective to some of these teams. This goes to show that people from all fields can contribute and help when building innovations.
Most teams that participate in this program quickly see the value of it as soon as they conduct their first in-person meeting. You can see people breaking out of their shells after the first few hours. People see quickly that everyone is there to learn and to gain as much as they can from this opportunity. Even while networking with other teams, people are surprised at how much one team can help another. During the customer discovery training process, where the I-Corps Teaching Team helps teams learn about their customers and their needs, the connections made at I-Corps benefit them tremendously. These connections can lead to several potential interviewees and possible collaboration in the future.
Teams are required to conduct 25 Customer Discovery interviews to gain a broader understanding of the pain points of their potential customers, rather than simply “selling their technology.”
I-Corps adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic quickly and efficiently. When the University required all students, faculty, and staff to work from home, the I-Corps Leadership Team hosted virtual Office Hours to assess the impact of the government-imposed lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic and whether teams could complete the cohort. Surprisingly most teams were so committed to the I-Corps process that they did not want to give up! The I-Corps Teaching Team hosted meetings virtually via WebEx for the final 2 sessions. Teams quickly had to adjust to the loss of in-person interviews, but they were still able to continue with them online.
After being an intern for I-Corps for two consecutive semesters I can not wait to see what the program holds for me and others in the future. The end of each cohort is bitter-sweet because although I am excited to see the success each team will have in the future, I am also saddened to say goodbye to the people I have gotten to know over the few weeks. If you are interested in reading about some of the successes past teams have achieved, you can read them under “Success Stories”.
Author/Photo Credits: Asmaa Hussain is a freshman at Rutgers Business School, pursuing majors in Marketing and Psychology. She is currently interning for the Rutgers I-Corps Site program and is an Educational Opportunity Fund(EOF) Scholar. One of her favorite hobbies is photography.
Editor’s Note: Cohort 8 (Summer 2020) of the Rutgers I-Corps Site Program is open for applications until June 1st, 2020 at icorps.rutgers.edu