Penn Center for Innovation


Timing + Requirements

Do you have an idea for a startup in STEM? It’s time to test it with potential customers!

Through a grant from NSF, the I-Corps program works with Penn faculty, staff, post-docs, and students to test and validate startup ideas through Customer Discovery.

Participants learn valuable skills on connecting with customers, asking the right questions, and how to find partners to help get your startup off the ground. Plus teams are awarded grants of up to $2000 for participating!

Applications can be submitted at any time and are reviewed on a rolling basis. The final application deadline for the Fall 2021 cohort is Tuesday, September 28th. 

Course Start Date: Friday, October 15 (View the full schedule)




Information & Networking sessions

We will host several sessions via zoom to provide information about the fall I-Corps offering and to facilitate forming teams. You can attend even if you do not have an idea or a team.

Informational sessions are set for 12pm – 1pm Eastern on:



The Penn I-Corps course will help you:

  • Better understanding why technology has value and to whom.
  • Explore taking new technology to the marketplace
  • Learn how to apply for the $50,000 National I-Corps Program
  • Increase chances of receiving an SBIR/STTR award


Each I-Corps course takes place over four weeks, and includes 4-6 in-person or webinar sessions, combined with ~8 hours of customer discovery by each team. Courses are free to attend, and you do not require current/prior NSF funding to participate.  You can choose between the Fall or Spring cohorts.




Who is Eligible for I-Corps?

Open to the Penn community: faculty, students, post-docs, staff, and alumni who graduated in the past year. Teams ideas need to be authored by Penn individuals.


The key requirements are:

  • Team composition: two or more team members, all actively affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania (faculty, students, post-docs, alumni graduated within the past year)
  • Technology area: revolving around fundamental discoveries in science and engineering
  • Intellectual Property: developed by a team member as part of research or classwork at Penn
  • Commitment: fully attend all sessions and complete assignments, including conducting 20 interviews – takes 10 hrs. per week per team member


Applicants should have:

  • Enthusiasm to engage in learning about primary market research
  • Commitment to participate fully to attend both the classes and the customer discovery sessions
  • An established record in following through complex endeavors
  • Demonstrated ability to work well with others


I have an idea for a startup, but do not have partners to form a team.

Perfect!  Apply and we’ll partner you with faculty and other students.


I want to get involved with a startup, but I do not have my own idea.

Great! We love your entrepreneurial spirit.  Apply and we’ll try to pair you with a team who has an idea.


I am a faculty member looking to have a team formed.

You’re welcome too!  Based on your background and experience, we’ll pair you with a team that can leverage your skills. Contact us directly.



How Does I-Corps Work?

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis for either the fall or spring short-course.  We help you de-risk your idea to move it forward quickly and find answers to:

  • Who are my customers?
  • Do they care about the problem or need I am addressing?
  • Does my solution fit their needs?

For an in-depth discussion of Penn I-Corps, see I-Corps as a Training Tool for New Technology Development.


Does your idea have what it takes to succeed?


Chart of I-Corps BenefitsBenefits of the I-Corps Program

Completing a Short Course puts your team in an excellent position to apply to the national NSF Teams program — where you’ll have $50,000 in support to conduct customer discovery.  Other benefits include:

  • Participation in PCI events that expose you to key players in the entrepreneurship space
  • Mentors to guide you going forward
  • Support for applying to follow-on programs
  • Exposure to the Philadelphia startup ecosystem,
  • Up to $2,000 in funding for customer discovery


I-Corps Successes


inventXYZ logoWinner of the 2020 President’s Innovation Prize


Twine Logo

Raised $3M from investors


Strella Biotechnology

Winner of the 2019 President’s Innovation Prize



Winner of the 2019 President’s Innovation Prize



26 employees & $2M revenue forecasted


  • 12 cohorts trained since 2015
  • >300 participants from across Penn
  • 127 teams graduated
  • 37 active startups
  • $8.5 million in funding obtained by graduating teams from grants and investments
  • 58 jobs created
  • 5 companies are revenue-generating
  • 2 teams won the Penn President’s Innovation Prize ($150,000)
  • 8 teams awarded SBIR/STTR grants



Questions: contact Tomas Isakowitz

Collaborate. Educate. Accelerate.

The Penn I-Corps Site is an NSF program designed to facilitate commercialization of university research. The accelerator is a joint collaboration between the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), Penn Law’s Detkin IP and Technology Clinic, the City of Philadelphia, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of SE PA, Wharton Entrepreneurship, and Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation.  It was established in 2015.

Penn I-Corps is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1450467

I-Corps is currently sponsored by Pearl Cohen. Our first corporate sponsor was PwC.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1450467.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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