Maryland Innovation Extension Hosts First I-Corps NEXT Cohort

August 4, 2022

The Maryland Innovation Extension hosted its first I-Corps NEXT cohort this summer, culminating in an event with final presentations from attendees on Wednesday, August 3 at the TEDCO headquarters in Columbia, Md.

I-Corps NEXT was offered exclusively to I-Corps teams that previously completed a regional I-Corps short course. Through I-Corps NEXT, participants dove deeper into building and refining their business models and engaged in further customer discovery. I-Corps mentors guided teams through the four-week, five-class course.

“There were 17 teams in this course, each striving to complete 50 potential customer interviews,” said Dan Kunitz, Director of the I-Corps Mid-Atlantic Hub. “At least 500 connections between entrepreneurs and their customers occurred that did not happen a month ago. The fact that these teams had those conversations is a huge success in our book. For starters, it addresses the number one reason startups fail: you are building something that nobody wants. By talking with customers, these teams will better serve them, as well as increase their own impact and chances of succeeding.”

Participating teams presented their company ideas, as well as what they learned through the course, especially in talking with potential customers. They also spent time validating segments of their business models, including revenue streams, channels, customer relationships, and key partnerships.

“The business model canvas helped me identify and hone in on customer segments,” said Jay Polaki, Founder and CEO of HR Geckos, a company developing software to transform human resources for organizations with automation and artificial intelligence. “I discovered new channels to reach customers and how to define customer relationships by personas. I am very thankful for this program.”

Marcia Hart, Co-Founder and CEO of Djit Medtech, a company developing technology for finger joint replacements, said that she came to I-Corps with an idea, but is leaving with a plan. “I-Corps has been invaluable,” she explained. “We could never be where we are so quickly without what we learned from this group.”

Chris Walsh, Professor Emeritus in the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Founder of the Apple Tree Architecture Project, is developing apple trees designed to thrive in hot, humid conditions. He interviewed 23 commercial fruit growers during a 2021 I-Corps cohort he participated in. This time, in I-Corps NEXT, he conducted ten in-depth interviews with fruit tree nursery managers. Walsh is trying to decide whether he should license his technology or launch a company. He said that he would like to participate in the National Science Foundation’s National I-Corps cohort to figure that out.

I-Corps NEXT teams included:

  • Alirtify: Kwabena (Koby) Okrah, John Shim, Steven Morrison, Buhlebenkosi Maposa, and Morein Ibrahim
  • Apple Tree Architecture Project: Chris Walsh and Kathy Hunt
  • Axient: Lina Castano
  • Barter Black: Nicole Murphy
  • Circlage: Shameema Sikder, Swaroop Vedula, and Jarrett Rodrigues
  • Djit Medtech: Marcia Hart
  • Gaja: Jonathan Ferber
  • HR Geckos: Jay Polaki
  • InceptEV: Matthew Guttenberg and Venkat Viswanathan
  • Neuro HealthShield: Matthew Evanusa
  • Phase, Inc.: Zeke Barlow and Jeff Schultz
  • Southern Maryland Dietician: Lisa Hugh and Margaret Udahogora
  • STORC: P.R. Jackson and Joseph Alfred
  • The Bowie Sun: Catherine Hollingsworth
  • William Edwards, LLC: Stacie Berg and Jonathon Berg
  • Xeddy: Basil Udo
  • You Heal with Horticulture: Ebony Jenkins

Following team presentations, Kunitz offered advice for teams, including: “Continue to engage with all the stakeholders in your ecosystem, gather evidence, and use that to validate a business model and make data-driven decisions. The process has been demonstrated to increase the odds of startup success, and the impact of success,” he said. Kunitz encouraged teams to take advantage of the many resources of the Maryland Innovation Extension, including keeping in touch with the instructors, mentors, and the many funding and support opportunities at TEDCO.

Representatives from TEDCO then wrapped up the event by telling teams about the resources the organization offers to innovators and entrepreneurs.

The Maryland Innovation Extension is an Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center, with additional support coming from matching partners at the UM Ventures Baltimore Fund, TEDCO MII, TEDCO RBII, TEDCO UBII, and the University System of Maryland (USM). Through the extension, the University of Maryland, along with partner institutions Bowie State University, Morgan State University, Coppin State University, and the University of Baltimore, are collaborating to bring entrepreneurial resources to the entire state of Maryland, with a particular focus on underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship.