Entrepreneurial Leads (ELs) can be one person or a team and they are responsible for doing all of the customer discovery interviews. It may seem like a daunting task at first, but the program focuses on how to do this effectively. The EL will present their progress each week with a final presentation at the end on what lessons have been learned. The customer discovery portion of the program may take up to 5-10 hours a week depending on how the program develops. There may be opportunities to attend a conference, for example, where a large number of interviews can be conducted in a concentrated time frame. ELs are usually undergrads or grad students.
The format of the program follows the methodology of startup pioneer Steve Blank. The Value Proposition and Discovery sections of the Business Model Canvas that Blank uses are the focus of the WPI I-Corps™ Site program. The National Science Foundation has adopted the full Business Model Canvas curriculum in its I-Corps™ (Innovation Corps) program.
- Provide the tools to allow the teams to improve their commercial focus in order to have a market driven value proposition for their ideas
- Provide an experiential learning environment to determine idea viability
- Allow team members to practice and improve their entrepreneurship skills
This program requires teamwork, something that is consistent with the WPI learning experience. Each member has a special contribution to make.
Academic Leads (ALs) may have a variety of roles in the program, depending on the makeup of the team. The AL supports the EL through the program and helps form the value proposition and customer discovery segment of the Business Model Canvas. ALs participate in the weekly meetings and check in with their ELs frequently. The ALs are encouraged to participate in as many of the customer interviews as possible. ALs are usually the PI on the idea or an advisor on a MQP.
Mentors (ME) are responsible for guiding the team through the process and helping the team understand the market that they are seeking to enter. Where possible, the mentor may be able to make introductions to facilitate the customer discovery process. This is a voluntary role and the mentor should not expect any compensation for participating. Mentors aren’t required, but they are encouraged to participate in the customer discovery interviews when possible. It is encouraged that the Mentor attend as many of the sessions as possible, but certainly the first and last session. The Mentor then checks in with their team during the customer discovery process. The time commitment might end up being 1-2 hours per week. Mentors will be drawn from the Tech Advisors Network (TAN).
Applicants have to commit to attending all sessions and completing 30 customer interviews. The teams will also be expected to properly use the allocated funds for the completion of the program.