Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
Q: How have things changed because of COVID-19?
A: The National Science Foundation recognizes that COVID-19 has impacted the Customer Discover effort in several ways. First, in-person customer discovery can be much more difficult to conduct, with restrictions in travel and health concerns associated with meeting individuals face-to-face. Second, many in-person conferences and trade shows, traditionally great places to conduct Customer Discovery, have been postponed, cancelled, or moved virtual.
In response to this, the National Science Foundation is promoting Virtual Customer Discovery. Teams can now spend I-Corps Mini-Grant dollars on LinkedIn Premium, Virtual Conferences or Trade Shows, or on platforms like Zoom Pro to conduct this new type of Customer Discovery Interview. For more detailed information on eligible virtual expenses please consult our $3,000 Mini-Grant Reimbursement Guidelines document.
Q: Can I-Corps reimburse company expenses?
A: No, I-Corps funds can only be used to reimburse Individuals, not businesses. If you have a legal entity (Ex: LLC) formed for your idea, please remember to incur all expenses through a personal credit card, or other personal payment method so that we can reimburse you.
Q: What can I-Corps Funds be used for? What are eligible expenses?
A: We strongly recommend you consult our $3,000 Mini-Grant Reimbursement Guidelines document for the most up to date information on what expenses are Eligible and Non-Eligible, as well as how to properly file for reimbursement. If you have any questions after reading that document please email the I-Corps Team at firstname.lastname@example.org to seek clarification prior to spending funds that may not be reimbursable.
In summary, I-Corps Mini-Grant funding is designed to assist teams in performing Customer Discovery. This generally includes interacting 1-on-1, in-person or virtually, with potential customers to better understand their needs and challenges, and to validate assumptions about your target market.
Q: Is there a timeframe for expending my funding?
A: We strongly recommend completing your customer discovery and finalizing all expenses within one year of entering your I-Corps-affiliated boot camp. This ensures that you are keeping momentum and applying the customer discovery principles you have learned in the boot camp. That said, with the current COVID-19 global pandemic postponing many conferences and trade shows into 2021 or 2022, we recognize exceptions to this policy may be necessary, and will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Q: I really want to spend the funds on equipment and prototyping. Can I?
A: The goal of the I-Corps program is to get teams ‘out of the building’ interacting with potential customers for customer discovery – not to buy equipment. We do however understand that prototypes (both physical and digital) are useful for eliciting customer feedback. As such, our policy is to permit up to 50% of the team’s expenses ($1,500) to go towards prototyping (physical and digital) after the team has conducted 30 customer interviews. The teams should then perform additional customer interviews after the prototyping is complete.
Q: Can I pay a company to complete a prototype for me?
A: While we generally do not allow teams to use Mini-Grant funds for professional services, we also recognize that prototyping can often involve using machines with massive capital costs, which teams may not have access to. The principle goal of the I-Corps Program is to reduce the risk associated with translating technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace. If through using a company to prototype your idea you believe it advances your idea to the marketplace then the expense is allowable (counts towards your prototyping maximum of $1,500.) Please note that in order for the expense to be Allowable you can not own any part of the company you use for prototyping (this would equate to playing yourself from the grant, which is not allowed).
Q: Am I allowed to spend more than $3,000 on the development of my idea or business?
A: Certainly, however, only the first $3,000 of Allowable Expenses will be reimbursed by your I-Corps Mini-Grant. For example, if a team attends a conference that ends up costing $3400, assuming all expenses incurred are Allowable, the first $3,000 will be covered by the I-Corps Mini-Grant while the other $400 will be the responsibility of the team.
Q: Do I need to document my customer interviews?
A: Yes! It is highly recommended that you take notes during or immediately after an interview while information is still fresh. The nuances of a response given, or a question asked by the interviewee can be very difficult to remember after you have conducted multiple interviews, so taking good notes can really help you effectively analyze data later. Please consult your program director for additional tips on performing effective customer discovery interviews.
Q: Can our team have more than one entrepreneurial lead?
A: Yes, but only one entrepreneurial lead needs to be on the application form.
Q: I am an entrepreneur and am interested in participating, but do not yet have an academic lead or business mentor. Can you help?
A: Yes, the I-Corps Site team will do our best to help identify potential I-Corps team members. Please indicate this on your application.
Q: If I am the entrepreneurial lead with my own technology idea and I team up with a faculty member to explore the market potential of that idea, what happens if we co-invent something new?
A: If the faculty member makes an inventive contribution to your technology or solution, the new invention would then be jointly owned by the entrepreneurial lead and the university. Please have the faculty member contact the Office of Technology Management if you think you have jointly invented something new. Penn State Office of Technology Management
Q: The technology I am interested in was not funded by the NSF or other agencies. Can I still participate?
A: Yes. Any STEM-related business idea is eligible.
Q: I understand that there is a I-Corps National Teams Program offered by NSF that provides additional funding. What is required to participate in that program?
A: By completing in the I-Corps Site program, you will establish an NSF funding lineage for your project, making it eligible for other sources of commercialization-focused funding from NSF. For more information, please visit
Q: I have a question that was not answered by this document
A: Please contact the I-Corps Team at ICorps@psu.edu for questions on team eligibility, award details or starting an I-Corps boot camp at your Penn State campus.