Venture Exploration Program

Explore pathways from academia to venture creation

Are you a student or researcher considering entrepreneurship? Interested in learning more about the path from academia to venture creation? Even if you’re aiming for a career in academia, maybe you’re interested in better understanding how to communicate the broader impact of your research or learning how to build more effective teams.

If you answered yes to one (or more) of the above, we encourage you to apply to the Venture Exploration Program. Offered by MIT Innovation Initiative in collaboration with the NSF I-Corps node at MIT, VEP is a 6-month, virtual program that allows you to develop a business model for your research-derived product or service. VEP is the successor to the former Translational Fellows Program (TFP) at MIT.

You’ll learn the methodology and techniques of customer discovery—the process of obtaining valuable, firsthand feedback on ideas for the use of a technology—and business model development. Additionally, you’ll be able to apply for day-a-week funding through participation in the NSF I-Corps national program – a meaningful opportunity to take your VEP experience to the next level. 

VEP also offers programming that explores topics such as the balance between technology and market, competition, building a team, intellectual property, conflict of interest issues, and investment readiness. Participants will hear firsthand from MIT founders who have successfully navigated the path from academia to venture.


When is the application deadline?

Application deadline was January 15, 2021.



What are the program components?

There are three components to VEP:

  1. A monthly cohort meeting/speaker series;
  2. Participation in the I-Corps program; and
  3. Brief, monthly check-ins with the VEP team.

More details on these components are listed below.


What are the session topics?

The VEP speaker series will take place across eight 60- to 90-minute sessions. Dates below are tentative and might change slightly depending on availability; a final syllabus with details on speakers will be made available to participants.

January 25, 2021:   Kickoff
February 8:              Technology/Solution Readiness
March 8:                   Market Readiness
April 12:                    Team Readiness
May 10:                     Funding/Investment Readiness
May 24:                    Entrepreneurial Strategy
June 14:                    Regulatory, Scaling, and Next Steps
June 28:                   Group Presentations


What is I-Corps?

The I-Corps Program was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to foster the commercialization of research-based technology through grants and an active, hands-on curriculum. Learn more about I-Corps and the MIT I-Corps Node here.

MIT I-Corps alumni have gone on to launch high-profile startups, and many have found the methodologies and frameworks learned as part of the I-Corps curriculum to be tremendously helpful as they pursued venture creation. If any questions

Which version of I-Corps is right for me?

All VEP participants will take part in one of the following I-Corps ‘tracks’:

  • Track A: Those who have no prior experience with I-Corps will learn the methodology and conduct twelve customer discovery interviews by taking part in:
    • A three-week Spark course, or
    • A self-paced Flex course with an I-Corps instructor
  • Track B: Those who have already completed an I-Corps program (Spark or Fusion) or VEP Essentials in Summer 2020 will participate in a monthly lecture series focused on additional aspects of the business model canvas, along with an optional monthly office hour with an I-Corps instructor.
  • Track C: Those who have already completed an I-Corps program or VEP Essentials and are interested in applying for the National I-Corps program will work with the I-Corps team to prepare and submit an application.


Who can participate?

VEP is primarily for MIT postdocs and PhD candidates who have completed qualifying exams. You may participate as a solo member, or as part of a team. Your team can have members from outside of MIT.

If you’re a researcher, other type of student, and/or from another university, you’re welcome to apply: we’ll consider applications on a space-available basis. 

Participants are required to have a technology that will form the basis for their work in the program (usually, the tech that you’ve been working on in the lab). 


Frequently asked questions

If I’ve already participated in an MIT I-Corps program (e.g. MIT Spark), can I still participate?
Yes, you may apply to the program for participation, and are encouraged to continue with the customer discovery process.

Do I need to have a startup idea in mind already to participate?
Not at all – many participants are just beginning to think about tough tech entrepreneurship, so a lack of experience in this area isn’t a problem.

If I already have a startup, can I still participate?
Please let us know in the application form; we’ll reach out to discuss specifics.

Can I apply by myself, or do I need to be part of a team?
Either is fine – you can apply on an individual basis or as part of a team. If part of a team, each team member will have to submit an application.

Is participation in each session mandatory?
Yes, although we should be able to make reasonable accommodations for limited absences. If you have a schedule conflict, please let us know ASAP.

Is there funding?
Yes – each team is eligible to receive funding to defray expenses incurred as part of the customer discovery process.

I’m concerned about confidentiality and IP – should I be?
VEP helps participants explore the customer discovery and business model development processes, as well as other key facets of technology commercialization. No new IP will be generated during VEP, and we won’t get too far ‘into the weeds’ of your specific technology.

How are participants selected?
Each application will be reviewed by a team from the MIT Innovation Initiative and the MIT New England Regional Innovation Node (NERIN).

Must I commit to launching a startup at the end of the program?
Not at all – it’s called the Venture Exploration Program for a reason. If you decide that pursuing a startup isn’t for you, that’s fine – there are many paths from idea to impact beyond startups. If you do have the intention of launching a startup at some point, VEP will help you take a step forward towards that goal.