Combining STEM with Entrepreneurial Thinking: Dr. Iyad Obeid and I-Corps

Written by
Casey Tinney, Temple University
Oct. 11, 2023

After some experience with the National Science Foundation's I-Corps (Innovation-Corps) program earlier in his career, Dr. Iyad Obeid didn't imagine that would eventually land him the title of Faculty Advisor for the Temple University chapter of I-Corps. 

Interdisciplinary research is something Obeid is very familiar with. With focuses on both electrical and bioengineering, it's no surprise that he's also embraced entrepreneurial thinking throughout his career.  

Obeid's research focuses on neural processes, or how our brains store, process, and communicate information internally. During his first few years at Temple, after discovering some overlap in fields, Obeid partnered with fellow Temple professor, Dr. Joseph Picone in seizure detection research. 

After earning prize money from the University City Science Center, Obeid and Picone found themselves exposed to another side of academic research. "We were part of this entrepreneur eco-system," explains Obeid. That's when Obeid was first introduced to I-Corps. 

At the time, I-Corps was a national organization that worked with members of the STEM field and educated them on how to spin off a company and what that may entail. "It'll teach to reimagine your research in terms of a product that somebody might want to pay money for," explains Obeid.  

Through I-Corps, Obeid and Picone were educated on the importance of customer discovery. Obeid describes the customer discovery process as "[taking] the technology that I've been building in my lab, I can develop it in a way that specifically addresses the market need that I have uncovered." This idea of translating research and machinery into a product that focuses on the end-user is a core tenant of I-Corps. 

For Obeid and Picone, this led to interviewing nearly 100 neurologists to determine their experience and processes in analyzing seizures and seizure detection. After their customer discovery phase, they felt they had an idea of what their end-product for seizure detection needed to look like and accomplish to benefit the end-user.  

The education Obeid and Picone received through I-Corps eventually led to them establishing an LLC and even receiving an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Grant from the government. 

While Obeid and Picone eventually directed their research elsewhere, I-Corps stuck with Obeid. Several years later, after the current advisor left Temple, he found himself once again involved with I-Corps, but this time, as a faculty advisor. 

I-Corps is now organized into both a regional and a national organization. Temple is a member of the Northeast Hub of I-Corps along with 11 other universities. Each university sends several "teams" or groups of two students to the virtual regional course where they learn about customer discovery, translational research, and entrepreneurial thinking. The focus that ties these concepts together is the idea of considering the end user throughout the entire research process. 

The regional program consists of four half-day courses over one month. After these courses, students have the option to get involved with the national I-Corps program. The national program builds upon the basics taught at the regional level and moves into the lean startup methodology and specific steps for starting a business. 

Even for those not interested in starting business, I-Corps also works as a professional development program. Obeid explains the knowledge gained through I-Corps as a "standout thing on your resume where you can go and say, 'I know what a minimum viable product is and know how to figure out how to design that'...that kind of catches people's eye." 

Overall, I-Corps provides a new framework of thinking for STEM students that can help them take what they're interested in and learn in the classroom and see how that translates to a business or product. 

Obeid hopes that I-Corps can become a staple organization at Temple, with students benefiting greatly from the program, and sending multiple teams per year to the regional courses. 

Students interested in joining I-Corps can register to attend one of the online information sessions on November 8 or November 9.