Bio-Based Foundry Fosters Emerging Startup Ideas

Achievement date: 

The Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Iowa State University (ISU), continues evolving its Bio-Based Foundry, which fosters emerging startup ideas by providing an entrepreneurship course and supporting mentoring program. The entrepreneurship course develops technical insights into opportunities, the mentoring that follows evolves the best opportunities into an early-stage business concept, and both link with research and funding prospects (top figure). 


Theentrepreneurship course and supporting mentoring program fill a void at universities, which often have no forum to help technology-rich engineers formulate their nascent ideas. Benefits are evidenced by the existing startups that have begun to receive funding, while all of the companies from the first year of the Foundry have become incorporated and are actively building prototypes and applying for grants. To date, CBiRC has worked with four startup entities from CBiRC and six from university departments.


The Foundry interlinks early-stage ideas with business ideation, with translational-research opportunities, with innovation partners, and with industryan important innovation ecosystem that stimulates multi-faceted dialog around ideas, innovations, and inventions and formulates them in the context of a very specifically focused entity. A Business Model Canvas (bottom figure) is used as a template upon which to build concepts behind a startup idea.

The entrepreneurship course first teaches students to think about innovations in the context of funding for projects in large companies as well as revealing the possibility of forming a startup company. The course focuses on demystifying the process of transitioning from innovation to entrepreneurship by showing how to go about finding, founding, and funding a new company.


The follow-up mentoring program provides business insights for the best emerging startup ideas. The first and second bio-based mentoring classes were completed in 2013 and 2014, and the third is in the planning stage for 2015. Ten companies have been mentored through NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) process, in which business ideas are formulated as hypotheses that can be tested through interviews with future potential customers.