When the National Science Foundation (NSF) started the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Sites program aimed at turning science into business, Oregon State's Advantage Accelerator/RAIN Corvallis program applied. Armed with a $300,000 grant in 2015, innovators in Oregon State’s Iterate program have used these funds to develop a landfill filtration prototype, attend a vet tech trade show for customer discovery and test a photo-sharing application — and incubate many other promising projects.   

Iterate is the first phase in the Accelerator program and acts as an early-stage business incubator. Now halfway through the grant’s three-year period, Karl Mundorff, co-director of the Accelerator and lead principal investigator on the grant, shares what the Iterators have been up to. The answer is quite a lot.  

Mundorff’s role with the I-Corps program is to recruit teams and run them through a specially developed curriculum. Instead of giving seed money to all 30 Iterate teams at the start of the program, he and his team wait to see which early stage ideas show the most real-world potential. This early vetting phase is essential because “it gives people with a business idea the chance to evaluate it and see if the idea is viable,” he says.  

Teams that rise to the top can receive up to $3,000 to develop their prototypes. Here are just a few examples of innovative ideas gaining momentum: 

  • When rain falls on landfills, it filters through trash and picks up all kinds of nasty chemicals and metals. That’s where SGWhite Engineering comes in. Steven White, a Ph.D. student in biological and ecological engineering, and his team developed a water filtration system that can extract valuable metals like gold and silver from runoff and make the water pure enough to drink. With the assistance of Iterate funds, the team built a functional prototype.  
  • JULVIA Technologies Inc. developed SUTURELOCK™, a wound-closure device that improves the effectiveness of surgical sutures. This team used Iterate funds to attend a veterinary technology conference for customer discovery and partnered with the Oregon State College of Veterinary Medicine to test SUTURELOCK™ on animal patients.  
  • Soren Wrenn, who recently graduated with a degree in finance from the Oregon State College of Business, launched Hytchr. The company is creating a mobile app that connects photographers to the brands and people who need their content. He used Iterate grant funds to build portions of his website and to beta test with customers. Hytchr was one of five finalists at Bend’s Venture Conference, a pitching competition with a top prize of $15,000 for early-stage businesses. 

The I-Corps designation positions participants to apply for future grant funding to keep their businesses moving forward. Teams can cite their experience in Iterate or Accelerate when applying to programs like Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) — increasing their chances of funding. Early stage researchers can also start their NSF lineage by going through these programs.  

The Accelerator program staff will submit a letter of interest to become a Regional Node for NSF’s I-Corps in the fall, which would allow them to expand Iterate and Accelerate offerings statewide in partnership with other universities, including Oregon Health & Science University, University of Oregon, Portland State University and Oregon Tech.  

Mundorff emphasizes that Iterate provides “a chance for us to work with our researchers and the community to find products and services that can benefit not only the region but really, truly, the country. It is the front end of this pipeline that really helps us drive the whole commercialization process.”