Penn Center for Innovation

Do you have an idea for a startup in STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math)?


It’s time to test it with potential customers!

That’s where the I-Corps Program comes in. 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 $3000 for participating!  (Apply early to receive the biggest grant)

The training is aimed specifically at 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
  • Faculty, staff and students working on any STEM-related technology anywhere at Penn can apply.


Does your idea have what it takes to succeed?


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?

Each I-Corps course takes place over four weeks, and includes 4-6 in-person sessions, combined with ~8 hours of customer discovery by each team. View the next schedule.

Apply now – a limited number of teams are admitted to each I-Corps Short Course to allow for the best interaction with the instructors.



Recent I-Corps Cohort


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.

Applicants should have:

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

The short course has an in-person kick-off, weekly check-ins, and an in-person wrap-up. Courses are free to attend, and you do not require current/prior NSF funding to participate.


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

Perfect!  Apply to the I-Corps program 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.



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 $3,000 in funding for customer discovery


I-Corps Successes

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


  • 11 cohorts trained since 2015
  • 286 participants from across Penn
  • 115 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

Our first corporate sponsor is 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.