Venture Exploration Program

An interactive structured program to explore the pathway from academia to venture creation

MIT PhD students and postdocs: are you 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: Essentials. Offered by MIT Innovation Initiative, the NSF I-Corps node at MIT, and in collaboration with The Engine, VEP Essentials is a 6-week, 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. Essentials 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. 

Your new understanding and experiences may inform your research or even provide the confidence needed to pursue venture creation. Upon completion of Essentials, you will receive certification demonstrating successful completion of the MIT I-Corps program, which may be helpful in future NSF grant requests.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis before June 5. Please contact Thomas Luly at MIT Innovation Initiative with any questions.

VEP Essentials Program Schedule
All sessions will be held virtually via Zoom. Sessions 1, 3, and 6 will be 2-2.5 hours in duration, and sessions 2, 4, and 5 will be 1-2 hours in duration. Exact times will be posted soon.




VEP Essentials Frequently Asked Questions


Who is eligible to participate?
VEP Essentials is open to MIT postdocs and PhD candidates who have completed qualifying exams. (The program is open to a limited number of participants from other universities; more on this below.) 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). 

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 in your application.

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 Essentials 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 Essentials, 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).

If I’m not at MIT, can I still participate?
Yes, but not on an individual basis; you’ll need to apply as part of a team with at least one MIT student or postdoc. The same eligibility requirements apply. Note that non-MIT participants will be accommodated on a space-available basis.

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 Essentials will help you take a step forward towards that goal.