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Gotham Innovation Gambit as a National Model: Presentation at GCEC Conference

In early October, Ariella Trotsenko, director of the NY Innovation Hot Spot at CUNY, and Cira Cardaci, manager of the NY I-Corps Hub, presented at the Dallas annual conference of the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC), a leadership organization addressing issues facing the country’s leading university-based centers for entrepreneurship. The conference attracted more than 700 attendees representing 250 universities.

Trotsenko and Cardaci, both I-Corps instructors for the past several years, presented “Leveraging the Innovation Corps™ (I-Corps) to Serve Local Community-Based High-Tech

Entrepreneurs.” The presentation described the creation of the Gotham Innovation Gambit program, key lessons learned in building an engaged cohort and teaching team, and what they had learned in bringing the program to scale and seeking to maintain an inclusive high-tech startup community. The GIG program was funded via the EDA Sprint Award, which sought to support pandemic and post-pandemic economic development by investing in resilience-focused initiatives.

They began with an overview of CUNY and its offerings. Trotsenko and Cardaci described the challenges that can face community-based teams—as they are not affiliated with academia, they are on their own in developing their concept or IP, are often solo founders, and often need to do more extensive customer discovery. These challenges and the demonstrated need spurred the creation of the GIG program.

Trotsenko and Cardaci explained how the Hub and Hotspot worked in partnership to creating the GIG, modeling it on the Lean Startup Methodology – Business Model Canvas, requiring at least 20 customer discovery interviews. The Hub provided the I-Corps curriculum, tools, and instructor network, and the Hotspot provided logistics, TAs, and mentors.

To build the ecosystem of the GIG, they mapped out all regional universities, labs, maker spaces, accelerators, and incubators. They expanded the potential reach via networking, including attending niche meet-up events that cater to entrepreneurs and hosting community informational sessions.

As the program moved forward, Trotsenko and Cardaci explained how they established a rolling application process, conducting interviews via Zoom. They also established an intake and exit survey and tracked engagement metrics. They described the nine cohorts conducted under the EDA grant as of May 2023, with 137 total teams that conducted more than 2,400 interviews and participated in more than 375 office hour sessions.

The GIG program followed the traditional I-Corps curriculum, with a focus on customer discovery. Graduates of the GIG program received small stipends for domestic travel, for use in improving student networks, attending conferences, and gaining a greater understanding of marketplace ecosystems. The GIG program also provides information to guide next steps following the program, from information about external resources and accelerators, to access to storytelling expertise and insights from an entrepreneur-in-residence.

Trotsenko and Cardaci described how they have expanded post-I-Corps assistance for GIG participants to include a greater customer discovery reimbursement fund, a prototyping reimbursement fund, and an SBIR/STTR proposal assistance workshop. Further work is being done to develop workshops on intellectual property and storytelling.

In describing the key takeaways for universities considering the creation of a program modeled on CUNY’s Gotham Innovation Gambit, Trotsenko and Cardaci recommended connecting with regional I-Corps Hubs, especially if planning to work with academic or deep tech investors. They also recommended doing extensive regional outreach to better understand the underserved entrepreneurial gaps and support an expanded ecosystem of activities.


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