Startup and Technology Commercialization Funds Available: NSF I-Corps and Rice Alliance Accelerators

Dear Rice Community,

I am writing to alert you to three opportunities for faculty, staff and students who are interested in commercializing technologies or starting a company.

$50,000 grant opportunity from National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps™)

Rice University is a founding partner of the Southwest NSF I-Corps™ Node, established in 2014 by Rice, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas Austin, and led on Rice’s campus by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship (Rice Alliance). This program provides the opportunity for graduate student and faculty researchers and scientists to participate in a six-week program to evaluate the commercial potential for a technology-based startup on a structured hypothesis-driven methodology.

The NSF provides $50,000 in grant funding to cover the time of a Ph.D. candidate or postdoc to participate, as well as funding for customer discovery and prototyping. At the end of the initial six weeks, the I-Corps™ team assesses whether it is feasible to launch a startup company from the research. If a startup is founded, the team is encouraged to consider applying for additional non-dilutive funding through the NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

To date, 10 Rice research teams have completed the NSF I-Corps™ program, receiving total grant funding of $500,000. This includes Volumetric, the team founded by Dr. Jordan Miller, which was acquired by 3D Systems for a value up to $400 million.

To apply, there are two paths of eligibility:

  1. Research funded by NSF during the past five years is automatically eligible to apply to the NSF I-Corps™ program.
  2. Teams can achieve NSF lineage through participation in a regional NSF I-Corps™ program (like IdeaLaunch, the idea-stage startup boot camp run by Rice Alliance).

The I-Corps™ Teams grant operates on a rolling basis, but requests faculty, postdocs or researchers to indicate their interest via email to Kerri Smith (, associate managing director of the Rice Alliance, by April 1. The Rice Alliance will coach and mentor the team through the I-Corps™ application process. Please email Kerri if you have any questions.

Summer stipend to participate in OwlSpark, the Rice University startup accelerator

In its 10th year, the Rice startup accelerator, OwlSpark, supports tech startup teams through an immersive 12-week program designed to facilitate their launch. OwlSpark delivers Rice students, faculty, staff and recent alumni across all disciplines a structured program that enables founders to validate and refine business models in preparation for launch. OwlSpark engages expertise from Rice and the greater Houston community to deliver premium content and shared experiences. Annually, OwlSpark engages more than 100 community speakers, mentors and subject matter experts who equip founders with necessary tech startup fundamentals and business principles.

OwlSpark has trained 180 entrepreneurs across 73 tech startups that have raised over $28 million, including Arovia, Medical Informatics, Starling Medical and Topl. Startups have spanned the energy, cleantech, environmental/water, carbon, life sciences, medical devices, consumer goods, digital, software, advanced materials, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, machine learning and/or blockchain industries.

The program culminates in the Bayou Startup Showcase, a pitch day jointly hosted by OwlSpark and the University of Houston’s RED Labs, where startups present their ventures to the greater Houston community.

Participants receive a monthly stipend of $1,000 based on successful engagement over the summer. For more information, visit Interested applicants must apply by April 1. Applications are accepted on a rolling, space-available basis. For more information, contact Jessica Fleenor, managing director of OwlSpark, at

Summer stipend to participate in new Rice University small business accelerator BlueLaunch BlueLaunch, led by the Rice Alliance, launches this summer. BlueLaunch is a 12-week accelerator focused on nontechnology-based small businesses, providing entrepreneurship education, mentoring and resources. BlueLaunch is an expansion of the Rice Alliance’s acceleration offerings to include more types of entrepreneurs with tailored programming for their specific business needs.

Like OwlSpark, the BlueLaunch Accelerator is open to all Rice faculty, staff and students, as well as recent alumni. Hosted in conjunction with the University of Houston’s small business accelerator, BlueLaunch’s curriculum and mentorship will help participants crystallize their businesses in the following areas: accounting, finance, legal, marketing and sales.

Participants will receive a monthly stipend of $1,000 based on successful engagement over the summer. Interested applicants must apply by April 1. Applications are accepted on a rolling, space-available basis. For more information contact Jessica Fleenor, managing director of BlueLaunch, at or visit the Rice Alliance website.

The Rice Alliance was founded in 2000 to serve as a catalyst for enabling the creation and success of startups and the commercialization of new technologies in the Rice University community and beyond. The Alliance supports Rice faculty, staff students and alumni with the formation of new ideas, by encouraging engineers, scientists and researchers to turn their work into commercial success and by connecting founders with mentors, investors and corporations.

If you have an interest in assessing the commercial potential of a technology or learning how to launch a technology-based or nontechnology-based company, I encourage you to consider one of these programs.

Warm Regards,

Reginald DesRoches, Howard Hughes Provost