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I-Corps@CCTSI uses 'Shark Tank' tactics to launch innovations

By Wendy S. Meyer

ICorps@CCTSI participant Leah Villegas, PhD
I-Corps@CCTSI participant Leah Villegas, PhD
On the final day of the inaugural I-Corps@CCSTI short course, seven teams of students and faculty gathered in the Gossard Forum auditorium to present their business innovations—"Shark Tank" style—to a panel of academic and industry experts. “Shark Tank” is a popular TV show where people pitch business ideas to a panel of self-made millionaires and entrepreneurs.

The goal of this new course, sponsored by the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI), is to guide teams of scientists through the early stages of customer discovery so they can test their business model hypotheses for their technology or innovation. Teams were given three weeks to conduct 30 interviews with potential customers and then present their learnings and next steps to the panel that included Elaine Morrato, DrPH, Colorado School of Public Health, David Charron, MBA, NSF I-Corps trainer, Berkeley Haas School of Business, and Richard Duke, PhD, of the Colorado Institute for Drug, Device and Diagnostic Development (CID4).
“The course allowed us to get out of the building,” said participant Leah Villegas, PhD, who with her two team members MyPhoung Le, PhD, and Heath Austin, BA, are in the process of developing a therapeutic to treat pulmonary hypertension. “We met with different patients who might have pulmonary hypertension and physicians who treat them. The interviews gave us human perspective and provided that value to what we are doing,” Villegas said.

After Villegas presented her team’s primary insights, value proposition and business model, panelists had the opportunity to ask probing questions and share comments.​

David Charron, MBA, and Elaine Morrato, DrPH, led the 
inaugural I-Corps@CCTSI training.

Duke offered the advice to “draft the label and work backwards” in order to focus their work with customers. Charron said, “For 30 [customer] interviews, you just knocked it out of the park!” With a big smile, Villegas responded, “Our team is very committed.”

Though an actual therapeutic is years off, Villegas and her team say they received key information on the pre-clinical and clinical study designs, made connections for future partners and have a clearer vision of their next steps. They plan to apply to the national I-Corps program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
I-Corps@CCTSI Class Photo
The innovations proposed by the other teams included graphical interface statistical software for researchers; digital health apps for parents and caregivers of teens, new mothers and health providers; and services to promote health equity and to validate digital health solutions. After going through the course, some teams realized they needed to adjust their innovation; some decided not to continue with their original idea at all.

Morrato leads the program and will be offering it twice a year through the CCTSI with the broad goal of expanding the pipeline of commercially-viable innovations and accelerating the translation of biomedical discoveries to improve human health. Both CU Innovations and CID4 are partnering with I-Corps@CCTSI, providing adjunct faculty for the program. 

“Relatively few investigators recognize the commercial potential or value of the products stemming from their clinical and translational research,” said Morrato. “Of those who do, very few successfully navigate the knowledge and innovation transfer process. With I-Corps@CCTSI, we plan to cultivate teams ready to pursue commercialization and strengthen workforce capacity by fostering an entrepreneurial culture.”

The next course will take place in April 2017. See I-Corps@CCTSI​ for more information and to register.

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