I-Corps Program

About I-Corps

The National Science Foundation (NSF) created the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) (hereinafter I-Corps) Program in 2011 to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that builds upon fundamental research to guide the output of scientific discoveries closer to the development of technologies, products and processes that benefit society." NSF's I-Corps training is designed to lower the market risk inherent in bringing a product or innovation to market, thereby, improving the chances for a viable business. Since NSF started the I-Corps Program in 2011, several other Federal agencies have funded I-Corps cohorts including NIH, DHS, USDA, DOD and DOE.

The goals of the SBIR/STTR and the I-Corps programs overlap by encouraging the innovation and entrepreneurship of small businesses and enabling those businesses to commercialize their innovations. NASA's SBIR/STTR program releases solicitations for research and development that are of interest to NASA's Mission Directorates with the goal that the selected technologies will become a success by being transitioned, or infused, into a NASA program, or by commercial success outside of NASA and the Federal Government.

With these goals in mind, NASA, through the SBIR/STTR Program, worked with NSF to implement a pilot I-Corps program in 2017 as part of the NASA SBIR/STTR Solicitation. The NASA I-Corps program enables small businesses, including start-up firms, to increase the odds of accelerating the process of developing their SBIR/STTR technologies into a repeatable and scalable business model. The program accomplishes this by putting the firms through a version of the Lean Launchpad – I-Corps process which includes:

  • Developing their business model hypotheses using the Business Model Canvas.
  • Testing those hypotheses through the Customer Development Interview process.

The intended results of I-Corps are to enable firms to conduct customer discovery to learn their customers' needs, to obtain a better understanding of their company's value proposition as it relates to those customer needs, and to develop an outline of a business plan for moving forward.

The I-Corps training program will introduce the concept of a Business Model Canvas, which provides the framework that guides the I-Corps learning. As part of this curriculum, each team must commit to pursuing a formal hypothesis-validation approach to identify and mitigate gaps in knowledge in the following seven areas:

  • Value Proposition of the proposed product or service
  • Customer/User-case and pain point
  • Demand Creation
  • Channel Development
  • Revenue Model
  • Partnership Strategy
  • Resource Requirement

The I-Corps curriculum uses a hypothesis-driven method of customer discovery in order to gain insights into the issues associated with technology commercialization. During the course, I-Corps teams share what they learn with other teams, obtaining new insights into the prospective impact of the technology being developed under the SBIR or STTR training grant. It is anticipated that the feedback and learning captured during the I-Corps program will help inform future Phase II SBIR/STTR projects and commercialization strategies.

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I-Corps Cohort for SBIR

SBIR teams will participate in a modified, less intensive "bootcamp" version of I-Corps that will last 12 weeks. NASA is offering this bootcamp because the time commitment for I-Corps runs concurrently with the period of performance for Phase I and therefore I-Corps is to be completed by the last day of the Phase I period of performance. NASA expects the Principal Investigator (and potentially the Entrepreneurial Lead) to be heavily involved in both the I-Corps training and the Phase I effort which may include the Phase II proposal writing effort. Each SBIR team participating in I-Corps training, including all its team members, will be required to:

  • Attend a 1-Day kick-off Entrepreneurial Immersion course (exact location and date to be announced).
  • Conduct approximately 30 customer interviews over the 12-week program, and submit interview summary reports.
  • Participate in 2 weekly webinar sessions and submit regular updates to the team's business model canvas.
  • Attend, in person, the final 1-day close out I-Corps Lessons Learned session (to be held in the same region as the kick-off course).

Note: If one or more team members cannot meet these requirements, the team should not pursue the program.

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I-Corps Cohort for STTR

STTR teams will participate in the complete version of I-Corps lasting 6 weeks. Similar to SBIR awards, I-Corps is to be completed by the last day of the Phase I period of performance. The Principal Investigator (and potentially the Entrepreneurial Lead) is expected to be heavily involved in the Phase I effort and in any Phase II proposal writing effort. The commitment to I-Corps will be concurrent with the Phase I work; however, the longer period of performance for an STTR Phase I allows for a more extensive I-Corps experience. During the I-Corps course, each participating STTR team, including all its team members, will be required to:

  • Attend, in person, an evening reception and 3-day kick-off Entrepreneurial Immersion course (exact location and date to be announced).
  • Conduct approximately 100 customer interviews over the 6-week program, and submit interview summary reports. This process of customer discovery "outside the building" is expected to require a minimum of 15 hours per week for at least five weeks.
  • Participate in the 5 weekly webinar sessions and submit regular updates to the team's business model canvas. In addition, it is expected that I-Corps teams will take advantage of instructor office hours.
  • Attend, in person, the final 2-day course close out/lessons learned session (to be held in the same region as the kick-off course).

Note: If one or more team members cannot meet these requirements, the team should not pursue the program.

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Introductory Webinars

NSF holds a monthly Introductory Webinar to present basic information and answer questions about I-Corps. These Webinars provide updated information about I-Corps contacts, the curriculum, important dates and other aspects of the program.

NSF will include some material which is specific to NASA in its upcoming webinars. You are welcome to attend these sessions and participation is voluntary. For information on audio and visual access, please visit NSF's I-Corps webinar homepage at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/teams.jsp#webinars [2]

Upcoming NSF I-Corps Webinars

  • Thursday, February 8th at 2:00 PM ET
  • Tuesday, March 6th at 2:00 PM ET

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Opt-In Form

Phase I SBIR/STTR offerors must complete a short I-Corps Opt-In Form as part of their Phase I proposal submission. The form does not count towards the page count of Phase I proposals. In the event a large number of offerors express interest, the Government reserves the right to limit the number of offerors invited to submit I-Corps proposals based upon the Government's assessment of the initial summary statements.

NASA will use the Opt-In form to determine eligibility to participate in the I-Corps program. This form will request the following representations:

  • The firm shall verify that it is eligible to participate in NASA's SBIR/STTR Program. Eligibility requirements are: 1) the firm is a small business, 2) the firm has not previously participated in I-Corps programs offered by other Federal agencies, and 3) the firm is submitting an SBIR or STTR Phase I proposal to the active NASA SBIR/STTR Solicitation.
  • The firm shall confirm that it is opting-in for consideration to participate in I-Corps.
  • The firm shall verify that it is aware that I-Corps teams will participate in an entrepreneurial immersion course that will require each team participant to invest significant time. The complete version (for STTR teams) will require a minimum of 15 to 20 hours of time per week for 6 weeks. The bootcamp version (for SBIR teams) will require approximately one-third of the total STTR work volume, spread over a 12-week period.
  • The firm shall verify that it is able to provide the substantial commitment of time and effort required to successfully participate.
  • The firm shall verify that it is aware that I-Corps specifically targets the commercialization of SBIR/STTR-funded research.
  • The firm shall verify that it understands that if selected for an interview, it will need to identify a Principal Investigator (PI), Entrepreneurial Lead (EL), and Industry Mentor/Expert to participate in the interview.
  • The firm shall provide a short statement explaining why they believe their technology or company would benefit from participation in I-Corps.

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I-Corps Proposal

To be qualified to submit an I-Corps proposal: 1) Offerors must have Opted-in to I-Corps as part of their Phase I proposals; 2) Offerors must be qualified to participate in I-Corps, and 3) Offerors must be selected for a Phase I award. Participating offerors must form a team composed of three main members: the principal investigator, the entrepreneurial lead and the mentor.

  • Principal Investigator (PI): The PI serves as the technical lead and project manager and must be the PI on the contracted SBIR/STTR award. The PI is required to have an in-depth knowledge of the technology being developed and has primary responsibility for achieving the technical success of the project. In the scenario where the PI is also the CEO of the small business, NASA I-Corps applicants are encouraged to consider designating an alternate C-Level Corporate Officer to lead the team. The PI will be responsible for overall grant management.
  • Entrepreneurial Lead (EL): The entrepreneurial lead should have relevant knowledge of the technology and a deep commitment to investigate the commercial landscape surrounding the innovation. This person should be a C-Level Corporate Officer (i.e. Chief Executive Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Operating Officer, or similar level officer). The CEO and/or CTO of the SBC are expected to participate as I-Corps™ team members. Having the SBC's key decision maker(s) on the I-Corps™ team ensures that the learning from the program will fully impact the business direction of the company. The Entrepreneurial Lead should also be capable and have the will to support the transition of the technology, should the I-Corps Teams project demonstrate the potential for commercial viability. The Entrepreneurial Lead will be responsible for proceeding along a content-guided path to develop, over the course of the training, a final technology-disposition plan.
  • Industry Mentor/Expert: The Industry Mentor/Expert should be an experienced or emerging entrepreneur with proximity to the SBC and experience in translating technologies to the marketplace. The Industry Expert should be selected as a third-party resource, or may be a person that has an established relationship with the company (e.g., Board Member), but who is not an employee. Ideally, the Industry Expert should have prior experience developing and commercializing other products within the broader technology space related to the specific SBIR/STTR project under development. The Mentor/Expert will be responsible for guiding the team forward and for tracking progress through regular communication with the cognizant I-Corps program director.

The I-Corps Proposal shall follow the same format requirements as the SBIR/STTR Phase I proposal. The format requirements are available in the SBIR/STTR Program Solicitation document (Chapter 3) and at https://sbir.nasa.gov/solicit/58007/detail?l1=58013 [3]. The I-Corps Proposal shall be limited to six pages, and shall include the following sections in order to be considered complete:

  • Certifications (to be accessible in the EHB).
  • Form NF1206 (to be accessible in the EHB).
  • GIC 12-01 Assurance of Compliance (to be accessible in the EHB).
  • GIC 12-02 Representation and Certification (to be accessible in the EHB).
  • I-Corps Team and Commercialization Plan (to be developed by the applicant and uploaded to the EHB with the required following sections. The overall plan is limited to five pages).
    • I-Corps Team: Biographical sketches of I-Corps team members (Principal Investigator, Entrepreneurial Lead, and Industry Mentor) of the team members proposing to undertake the commercialization feasibility research and their commitment to participate in I-Corps (limited to one page per team member).
    • Commercialization Plan (limited to two pages). This shall build upon the commercialization information provided in the Phase I proposal and include:
      • Identification of commercial application(s) and market(s) for the proposed technology.
      • Types of customers the firm plans to interview.
      • Sample list of potential customers for the targeted market(s).
      • Brief description of the potential non-NASA commercial impacts of the project.
      • Brief description of how the firm will select, contact, and request interviews for a minimum of thirty prospective customers for SBIR and one hundred prospective customers for STTR.
      • Planned travel.
      • Types of customer discovery the firm hopes to accomplish through I-Corps.
      • What steps the company will take to move the project closer to commercialization.
  • I-Corps Proposal Budget (to be developed by the applicant and uploaded to the EHB with the required following sections. The Budget is limited to one page).
    • Capped at $10,000 for each SBIR team, and $25,000 for each STTR team.
    • Only recovery of certain direct costs associated with participation in I-Corps and indirect costs are allowed; no recovery of profit is allowed.
    • The budget should include the following five components, which are the only allowable costs:
      • Maximum of $4,000 for Entrepreneurial Lead compensation (no compensation for the Principal Investigator or I-Corps Mentor) for each SBIR team and $5,500 for each STTR team.
      • An estimate for the travel costs associated with team member participation in required kick-off and close out / lessons learned meetings (i.e. airfare, per diem costs, other). Maximum is $3,000 for each SBIR team and $5,000 for each STTR team.
      • Costs for workshop registration fees that will be paid by the team to the instruction service (logistics) providers. Maximum is $450 for each SBIR team and $4,500 for each STTR team.
      • Estimated costs for travel associated with the three team members traveling as a group to conduct customer interviews (30 interviews for SBIR participants and 100 interviews for STTR participants). Maximums are $2,550 for each SBIR team and $10,000 for each STTR team.
      • Indirect costs associated for the above five direct cost categories.

Compensation for the Entrepreneurial Lead is supplemental to the compensation (either for direct or indirect cost) provided by the SBIR Phase I award(s). The Small Business Concern (SBC) may not propose and/or invoice for time and effort that is also budgeted/charged for compensation on the Phase I award(s).

For STTR awards, requested budget in the Workshop Registration Fees category and Travel for Kickoff and Close Out Meetings category may be exchanged, as long as the total sum for the two combined categories does not exceed $10,000.

The template for the Budget is the following:

Step Two I-Corps Proposal Budget

Item Amount

Entrepreneurial Lead compensation - Maximum of $5,500

Is this proposed Entrepreneurial Lead Compensation for time and effort also compensated through indirect or direct costs in the Phase I contract(s)? Yes __ or No__

If yes, please state what percentage _______%

$

Travel for kickoff and close out meetings -Maximum of $5,000

$

Workshop registration fees - Maximum of $4,500

$

Travel for customer interviews - Maximums of $2,550 (SBIRs) and $10,000(STTRs)

$

Indirect cost

$

Total

$

The I-Corps Proposal will be due one week after formal notification that the firm has been selected for negotiation of a Phase I SBIR or STTR contract. The firm shall submit their I-Corps Proposal into the Proposal Submission EHB, which shall be re-opened for those firms which have met the three qualifications identified above.

Note: Proposals for I-Corps have separate page limitations outside the page limitations for Phase I.

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NASA will review and assess those firms, and their proposals, competing to participate in I-Corps training to select the best participants to become an I-Corps cohort. I-Corps Proposals shall undergo administrative screening for completeness and adherence to the application guidelines. Incomplete applications or those not following application guidelines may be automatically rejected. Proposals that pass administrative screening shall then be reviewed to assess their content. NASA will perform a programmatic assessment of firms and their technologies, including:

  • Number of previous SBIR/STTR awards received by the firm and the firm's commercialization success rate (Companies with no or fairly recent SBIR/STTR awards will not be penalized for under past performance for the lack of SBIR/STTR commercialization under SBIR/STTR awards).
    • Potential for commercialization of the selected Phase I research/ solution to non-NASA markets (distinct from integration/transition into NASA programs).
    • Technical relevance to NASA.

Based on these assessments, certain offerors will be selected to participate in phone interviews conducted by the NASA SBIR/STTR PMO and the NSF-provided I-Corps instructors. NASA will use these interviews to determine the dynamics of the teams and gauge their level of commitment to meeting required for I-Corps to make the final selection. NASA will make the final selections for I-Corps based upon its initial assessments of the I-Corps proposals and the assessments of the phone interviews.

NASA anticipates approximately 25 SBIR and 10 STTR firms will be selected for participation in I-Corps.

Frequently Asked Questions

Download PDF of FAQ

About I-Corps

Who leads the program?

The training is led by I-Corps certified instructors who have each created one or more companies and who have also served as industry mentors. The instructors lead the classroom training material presentations, feedback and lessons learned discussions, office hours, and webinar presentations.

What is expected of me?

Besides classroom participation both at the Kickoff Workshop and Closing Workshop, the teams attend weekly webinars led by the instructors and perform weekly homework assignments (books/articles and videos).

What’s the NASA I-Corps curriculum?

The I-Corps training program introduces the concept of a Business Model Canvas, a framework that helps small companies understand how to describe, explain, price, develop, and market their product or service.  This is a critical part to a successful commercialization effort.

As part of the Canvas, each company creates a formal hypothesis-validation approach to identify and mitigate gaps in knowledge in the following seven areas:

  1. Product/Service Value Proposition
  2. Customer/User-Case and Pain Point
  3. Demand Creation
  4. Channel Development
  5. Revenue Model
  6. Partnership Strategy
  7. Resource Requirement

Are there deliverables needed to complete the NASA I-Corps Training?

Yes, the following deliverables are required:

  • Lessons Learned Presentation
  • 2-Minute Lessons Learned Video (I-Corps Cohort Program only)
  • 1-Minute Technical Video (I-Corps Cohort Program only)
  • Business Model Canvas Initial
  • Business Model Canvas Final
  • Two-page Account of Award Outcomes and Impact to Society that includes:
    • A brief statement (one page) of what value the firm obtained and learned by participating in the I-Corps Program
    • A brief statement (one page) of what commercialization planning and/or activities the firm plans to undertake in the next year

Applying to I-Corps

Is the I-Corps Opt-In form included in the Phase I Proposal 19-page count?

No, the I-Corps Opt-In form does not count towards the page count of the Phase I proposals.

If a company has multiple applicable SBIR/STTRs, can they apply to I-Corps more than once and receive more than one training grant?

NASA SBIR/STTR PMO will issue only one I-Corps Training Grant per company even if the company has two or more very different technologies.

Learning More about the Program

Who are the NASA I-Corps Program points of contact?

Technical and Programmatic:
Zach Burkland, Technical Officer Zachary.burkland@nasa.gov

Contractual:
Benjamin Benvenutti, Grant Administrator Officer
Benjamin.s.Benvenutti@nasa.gov

Further Reading? 

Yes, there are reference text books and videos recommended for those about to begin I-Corps. 

  • The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf
  • Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yues Pigneur
  • Steve Blank articles and videos at: https://steveblank.com
For the NASA I-Corps Pilot Program in 2017, NASA SBIR/STTR funded 10 teams, five SBIR Bootcamp teams and five STTR Cohort teams.

  • National Science Foundation hosts monthly I-Corps of which NASA will participate in the January, February, and March Webinars.
  • Recall that to qualify for the opportunity to submit an I-Corps proposal (Step 2), the firm must include a completed I-Corps Op In Form in its SBIR/STTR Phase I proposal and its SBIR/STTR Phase I proposal must be selected for award.
  • The following schedule includes the opening and closing dates for the submission of SBIR/STTR Phase I proposals which are the same dates for submission of the I-Corps Opt-in Form (Step 1).
I-Corps Activities

Dates

Locations

I-Corps Promotion

NSF I-Corps Webinars

1/4/2018

2/8/2018

3/6/2018

NASA SBIR/STTR Industry Day

To be announced

To be announced

NASA SBIR/STTR Phase I Solicitation

Open

1/11/2018

Close

3/9/2018

Awards Announced

6/11/2018

I-Corps Solicitation (Step 2)

Open

6/11/2018

Close

6/18/2018

Awards Announced

7/9/2018

I-Corps Grant Negotiation and Execution

Start

7/9/2018

Execution

8/8/2018

I-Corps Bootcamp

Kickoff Workshop

9/17/2018

To be announced

Closing Workshop

12/3/2018

To be announced

I-Corps Cohort

Summer Cohorts

To be announced

To be announced

Fall Cohorts

To be announced

To be announced

 

For the NASA I-Corps Program in 2018, NASA SBIR/STTR funded 17 teams, 14 SBIR Bootcamp teams and 3 STTR Cohort teams.

2018 SBIR I-Corps Bootcamp Companies

Company Title Principal Investigator Entrepreneurial Lead Industry Mentor
Spectral Energies, LLC Novel Methodology for the Rapid Acoustic Optimization of Supersonic Multi-Stream 3D Nozzles Christopher Ruscher Sivaram Gogineni James Mainord 
Great Lakes Sound & Vibration Inc. Auralization of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) in Urban Environments Greg Kangas Kevin Nelson William Chapin
Continuum Dynamics, Inc. Integrated Icing Detection Filter for On-Demand Aircraft Robert McKillip Alan Bilanin Brad Schrick
Redondo Optics, Inc. Intelligent Wireless Fiber Optic Sensor (iWiSe) Network System Edgar Mendoza John Prohaska Alexis Mendez
Pancopia, Inc. Second- Sage Biological Wastewater Processor William Cumbie Fei Dai Doug Juanarena
Actuated Medical, Inc. Additive Manufacturing of PEEK and Fiber-Reinforced PEEK for NASA Applications and Custom Medical Devices Roger Bagwell Nichole Williams Michael Hickner
Computational Physics, INC. A High Speed Tunable Etalon for LIDAR John Noto Jennifer Gannon Karron Myrick
Banpil Photonics, Inc. Broadband Uncooled IR Detector Based On Nano-Electromechanical Systems (NEMS Achyut Dutta Patrick Oduor Alak Deb
Cactus Materials Wafer Level Hybrid Interconnect Aligned (Cu/Oxide) Bonding for 3D Integration of Heterogenous (Si/GaAs) Submillimeter-Wave Arrays Tofael Ahmed Mohammed Rafiqul Islam Joaquin Santillan
Goeppert, LLC Detecting Life in Ocean Worlds with Low-Capacitance Solid-State Nanopores David Niedzwiecki Vanya Buvac Bernardo Cordovez
Arieca, LLC Thermally Conductive Rubber ("Thubber") for Passive Cooling of Heat-Generating Hardware Embedded in Soft Goods Space Technologies Carmel Majidi Navid Kazem Hasso Weiland
Blazetech Corporation Mars Entry and Earth Return Re-Entry Drag Brake Decelerators Hartmut Legner N. Albert Moussa Robert G. Kispert
Amphionic, LLC Dust-Free Fabrication of Uranium and Plutonium Oxide Powders for Radioisotope Systems, Nuclear Thermal Rockets, Nuclear Electric Propulsion, and Surface Power Reactors Manhee Jeong Suneel Joglekar Byron Wells                 Christopher Thomas 
Transition45 Technologies, Inc More Ductile Bulk Tungsten Edward Chen Charlie Chen James Hall

 

2018 STTR I-Corps Cohort Companies

Company Title Principal Investigator Entrepreneurial Lead Industry Mentor
Alphacore, Inc. Intelligent Power Source Reliability Monitoring and Failure Mitigation System Esko Mikkola Andrew Levy Pete Rodriguez
Sustainable Innovations, LLC Bifunctional Regenerative Electrochemical Air Transformation for Human Environments Trent Molter Nancy Selman Glenn Eisman
Sensatek Propulsion Technology, Inc. Wireless Passive Nanoparticle based Intelligent Sensor System for Extreme Environments Reamonn Soto Azryana Soto Stephanie Miller

 

For the NASA I-Corps Pilot Program in 2017, NASA SBIR/STTR funded 10 teams, 5 SBIR Bootcamp teams and five STTR Cohort teams.

2017 SBIR I-Corps Bootcamp Companies

Company Title

Principal Investigator

Entrepreneurial Lead

Industry Mentor

Tao of Systems Integration, Inc.

Low-Cost, Low-Power Sensor For In-Flight Unsteady Aerodynamic Force and Moment Estimation

Arun Mangalam

Siva Mangalam

Daniel Morris

Innovative Imaging and Research Corporation

An Affordable Autonomous Hydrogen Flame Detection System for Rocket Propulsion

Mary Pagnutti

Robert Ryan

Joseph Graben

Innovative Space Technologies, LLC

Ultra-lightweight Multifunctional Magnesium Alloy Shielding Structures

Keith Rhodes

James Stanley

Bill Lowry

Altius Space Machines, Inc.

Robotic Interface DogTags for Autonomous Habitat Outfitting and Logistics

Evgeniy Tkachenko

Jonathan Goff

Vince Tate

MaXentric Technologies, LLC

Optically Assisted Analog-to-Digital Converter for Next Generation "Software Defined" Radios

Chris Thomas

Kamran Mahbobi

Alan Pate

Powdermet, Inc.

Ultra-High Energy Density, High Power and High Efficiency Nanocomposite Capacitor for Aerospace Power System

Haixiong Tang

Andrew Sherman

Joseph Hensel

 

2017 STTR I-Corps Cohort Companies

Company Title

Principal Investigator

Entrepreneurial Lead

Industry Mentor

The Space Research Company LLC

Elemental Resource Breakdown Approach to Crew-Vehicle Design

Samuel Suh

Christine Fanchiang

Brandon Seifert

Nanosonic, Inc.

Reusable Nanocomposite Membranes for the Selective Recovery of Nutrients in Space

Carleen Bowers

Jennifer Lalli

Andrew Kassoff

Trace Matters Scientific LLC

Ambient Desorption, Ionization, and Extraction Source for Mars Exploration

Aydin Babakhani

Mohamad Mirghahari

Michael Evans

Intelligent Fiber Optic Systems Corporation

Multifunctional Integrated Photonic Lab-on-a-Chip for Astronaut Health Monitoring

Behzad Moslehi

William Price

David Krohn

During the I-Corps application process, applicants with questions, issues or problems with their I-Corps application may contact the NASA SBIR/STTR Program as follows:

  • NASA SBIR/STTR Website: https://sbir.nasa.gov/content/I-Corps
  • Help Desk:
    • E-mail: sbir@reisystems.com
    • Telephone: 301-937-0888 between 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (Mon. - Fri., Eastern Time)