Economic Development

Turning Innovators into Entrepreneurs

Daniel Schachtman

Innovations are springing from labs and classrooms universitywide. To help launch these big ideas, NUtech Ventures hosts introductory entrepreneurship workshops. NUtech, Nebraska’s technology commercialization affiliate, and its partners provide training and mentorship to help turn innovations and business ideas into marketable products and services.

The program, Nebraska Introduction to Customer Discovery, is modeled after the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, which seeks to advance technological commercialization and entrepreneurship.

“A lot of university technology, once it’s developed and protected, needs additional validation and de-risking,” said Brad Roth, NUtech’s executive director. “We see N-ICD as one of the first steps that can provide support to aspiring university inventors and entrepreneurs.”

During intense workshops, faculty, students and staff explore their innovation’s potential market and think deeply about prospective customers. Interviewing stakeholders is key to validating the real-world viability of their ideas.

Participants measure success in different ways, from testing ideas to learning new skills and even thinking differently about their long-term research, said Joy Eakin, who coordinates N-ICD.

The program, in its third year, has worked with over 60 teams from all four University of Nebraska campuses in a variety of fields. To date, three teams have been accepted into NSF’s I-Corps program.

One of those teams, led by George Holmes Professor of Agronomy Daniel Schachtman, is developing, with University of Missouri colleagues, environmentally friendly biofungicides to attack fungi that reduce crop yields. N-ICD helped the team identify the leafy greens industry, which is dealing with a vexing soil fungus, as an initial target market.

Schachtman said the program provides valuable access to additional resources, such as investors, I-Corps and Small Business Innovation Research grants.

“I’m really enthusiastic about the program,” he said. “The support and network I’ve gained has really blown me away. I’ve made many contacts, and I know how to move forward. We have a pretty clear plan for the next steps to start this business.”

NUtech’s N-ICD partners include the Nebraska Business Development Center, UNL Center for Entrepreneurship, The Combine Incubator, National Strategic Research Institute and Invest Nebraska.