Resource Enhancement And Discovery System (READS)
DRACO Co-Authors Successful $50,000 NSF I-Corps Award
Project Deliverables and Outcomes
The READS & DRACO team co-authored the proposal and Dr. Gnimpieba & Dr. Lushbough were awarded a $50,000 NSF I-Corps grant.
Evaluation and Hiring
DRACO solicited candidates to be a part of the NSF I-Corps team, interviewed the finalists, and selected two highly motivated graduate students to serve as entrepreneurial leads on the NSF I-Corps customer discovery team.
Throughout the I-Corps process, DRACO coordinated team meetings, compiled valuable primary customer discovery data, and formulated a comprehensive report for use with investors and future grant funding.
Two professors in the biomedical engineering department, Etienne Gnimpieba and Carol Lushbaugh, who specialize in bioinformatics have been developing an innovative software platform, initially called the Biological Tool Discovery System or Bio-TDS. This platform addresses the drawbacks and limitations of current technology to aid researchers in identifying the best tools, software, reagents, and assays that allow them to conduct the highest caliber research. After publishing several papers and displaying the power of the system at several prominent scientific conferences, the two developers received very positive feedback from their colleagues in the field. Following several conversations, Carol and Etienne decided to explore the software’s commercialization potential, and they pitched the Bio-TDS idea to local angel investors. The idea was well received, however, a better understanding of the customer base and market potential would require more exploration. DRACO met with the Bio-TDS developers to discuss new avenues for customer discovery operations, and together, we determined that the best way to explore potential markets and truly discover their target customer segment would be through the National Science Foundation I-Corps Program. The I-Corps program is an intensive 6-week program aimed at helping early-stage companies identify who and where their target customers are, and how their technology can address their customer needs. The main component of this I-Corp process involved confirming the market potential of their product and identifying market spaces where the technology can be successfully be commercialized. To participate in this program, DRACO was brought on to assemble and support the team that would engage in this opportunity.
To gain insight into the I-Corps process, we began by reaching out to a previously awarded (2015) I-Corp team from USD. After learning about the team members, discussing their experience, their challenges, and what they learned from the I-Corps process, we utilized this information to write a job description for interviewing students to serve as Entrepreneurial Leads. After selecting the students, we arranged for the previous I-Corps team to share their application materials and answer questions from the newly formed I-Corp team. This four-member team, deemed the Resource Enhancement And Discovery System (READS) team, was composed of a Principal Investigator, an Industry Mentor, and two student Entrepreneurial Leads who would all adapt their skills to identify markets outside of the realm of research and bioinformatics, where this technology was originally developed.
I-Corps Entrepreneurial Lead – Tayler Hoekstra
Tayler is currently a Ph.D. candidate in USD’s BME program studying methods for calculating full-body range of motion and its potential as a diagnostic for therapeutic purposes. After obtaining his Master’s through the program in the Summer of 2019, Tayler also took a part-time position with Dordt University in Northwest Iowa as an Instructor of Physics & Engineering.