National Labs, Polsky Center, and I-Corps Create Commercialization Partnership

A unique partnership between two of the Department of Energy’s Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs (LEEP) and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) I-Corps Program will offer valuable additional support for early-stage clean energy startups. Innovators in Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) and Innovation Crossroads (IC) will receive funding to prepare for National Science Foundation SBIR/STTR Phase I grants as part of new opportunities within the “SBIR Phase 0” award program. The NSF assists university-based startups and small businesses to transform their ideas into marketable products through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants.

The initiative is a collaboration between the Midwest I-Corps Node, the NSF SBIR, the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, CRI, and IC. The program is part of the NSF I-Corps Program, which supports ‘regional needs for innovation education and works to build, utilize and sustain a national innovation ecosystem that further enhances the development of technologies that benefit society.’

The SBIR Phase 0 funds can be used to reimburse early business startup expenses that are not covered by other funding sources. For example, hard tech startups often need legal services, business planning, guidance on SBIR/STTR grant applications, accounting/financial services and assistance with early customer discovery. Additionally, CRI and IC participants will have access to online education, training courses and workshops provided by the Midwest I-Corps Node and the Polsky Center. This Phase 0 support will help the startup to be well-positioned for future success earlier in the process.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Midwest I-Corps Node to provide CRI and IC entrepreneurs with world-class business training and support,” said Melissa Byrn, Director of Innovation Program at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, “Together, our organizations are contributing critical resources and developing a strong deep tech ecosystem in the Midwest.”

This collaboration will also support robust programming for the Midwest I-Corps Node, benefitting entrepreneurship programs at universities across the Midwest.

About CRI

Chain Reaction Innovations is part of the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). EERE created the Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs to provide an institutional home for innovative postdoctoral researchers to build their research into products and train to be clean energy entrepreneurs. Currently programs are located at Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Learn more at and

About the Midwest I-Corps Node

As part of the NSF National Innovation Network, the Midwest I-Corps Node is a joint initiative of the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Purdue University with a shared commitment to transforming traditional university research. The Midwest Node encourages faculty, students, and staff to interface directly with potential stakeholders and users of their technology. From one-on-one mentoring in ideation to full de-risking and funding support, we have a nationally recognized staff of instructors, trainers, and mentors that make the transition from lab to market a smooth, efficient, and valuable process for participants. Learn more at

About the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation applies world-class expertise from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to bring new ideas and breakthrough innovation to market. Through education, partnerships, and venture support, the Polsky Center advances the knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship and accelerates the commercialization of research. Among its offerings is Polsky’s nationally-ranked accelerator program, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, which is where companies like Grubhub and Braintree/Venmo got their start. Since 1996, the New Venture Challenge has helped launch more than 330 companies worldwide that have gone on to achieve more than $7.5 billion in mergers and exits and raised over $1 billion in funding. The Polsky Center helps students, faculty, staff, alumni, researchers and local entrepreneurs navigate the complex process of creating and growing a startup. Its resources include a 34,000 square-foot, multi-disciplinary co-working space called the Polsky Exchange; an Innovation Fund that invests in early-stage ventures; and a state-of-the-art Fabrication Lab for prototyping new products. By leveraging the University’s distinctive strengths in research, the Polsky Center paves the way for more ideas to have a meaningful impact on society. Learn more at

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