The National Science Foundation Launches Y Combinator-Like Program; Will Vet 100 Teams by Fall

Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the nearly $7 billion government agency that supports research in science and engineering, may be dramatically changing the way that university research geeks approach their projects, as well as what gets funded by venture capitalists.

It’s kicking off Innovation Corps, a program that aims to transform the most promising commercial research projects into viable startups — lots of them, possibly. Indeed, beginning this fall, the NSF will annually provide 100 science and engineering projects  with $50,000. It will also enroll 25 teams at a time in a quarterly crash course on entrepreneurship.

Specifically, they’ll head to the Lean Launchpad class at Stanford taught by entrepreneur Steve Blank, who tells me the program’s participants will attend the course physically at the outset of the quarter, then, in the weeks following, virtually.

Blank often has venture capitalists teach the Stanford course with him. Floodgate’s Ann Miura-Ko and Jon Feiber of Mohr, Davidow Ventures participated in the winter quarter, for example. The NSF-driven course will be no different, he says. Already signed on to join him are Mohr, Davidow; True Ventures; and others to be disclosed soon.

The Innovation Corps participants will be receiving more than lectures. The beauty of the program, says Blank, is that it’s “designed to make teams go out and talk with customers, like they’re starting a company. We want them testing their hypotheses outside the comforts of their research labs and reporting back every week.” And hopefully discovering that there’s a market for what they are creating.

If not, they haven’t wasted much time. If so, they have the option to license their intellectual property or else attempt to raise funding through a “demo day” at the end of each quarter, one that will surely feature every VC from Santa Monica to Sand Hill Road (and beyond). As Blank puts it: “The program gives VCs a pipeline that they’ve never before had access to, because most engineers have no idea how to speak to customers, and many are in Podunk universities.”

“Everyone is a winner here if this thing works,” he adds.

Blank has more on the new program at his blog, which you can find here.