By Dave Orsman

Perhaps the single most important way to help young entrepreneurs ‘stay the course’ is to provide them with early stage help – be it funding, training, advice (or all of these).

Universities are the US’s innovation engine – there’s no shortage of ideas for new, world-changing innovations. The main challenge student entrepreneurs face is getting the initial support to turn their idea for a product, service or company from an educational experience into a real-life venture.

So here’s a place to start. The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance funds and trains emerging university student innovators, with the goal of creating successful, socially beneficial ventures.

In the past year, NCIIA awarded over $450,000 to 27 student-led innovation projects and emerging ventures across the US. These E-Team grants, no more than $20,000 each, provide the capital students need to develop and test their prototype, conduct market research, or pay for legal advice.

A few NCIIA highlights:


  • Awarded $16,500. A team from Georgia Tech developing a system for treating diabetes more effectively. The team has created the means to encapsulate islet cells in a biocompatible hydrogel membrane, which allows glucose and insulin to diffuse through freely, but Immunoglobulin G and white blood cells will not be able to pass through. This effectively ‘hides’ the islet cells, preventing the body’s immune system from attacking them.


  • Awarded $9,945. A University of Virginia team developing PuzzleCast, a modular cast that treats broken arms by allowing an increasing range of motion to the damaged limb over the healing period. It consists of several interlocking thermoplastic components that have the ability to unlock degrees of freedom while still maintaining immobilization of the injured area. By increasing range of motion during the healing process, blood flow is increased, muscle atrophy is reduced, and overall healing time and physical therapy are shortened.


  • Awarded $8,800. A team from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, is developing RunnerPro, a portable, easy to use, and affordable device that continuously measures the impact forces experienced by runners during their course of activity. The device will measure the impact forces at numerous locations under the foot (below the toes, balls of the feet, mid-foot and heel) in real-time, collecting hundreds of samples of data every second and providing useful feedback to the user on improving posture and gait.


  • Awarded $16,000. A Johns Hopkins University team has developed an Antenatal Screening Kit that provides quick, affordable diagnosis for expectant mothers of various readily treatable diseases and health problems that can lead to complications during pregnancy. The kit will be used in developing countries, where access to diagnostic techniques can be limited and expensive. The kit is being tested in Nepal.


University students can apply for E-Team funding twice a year – in May and December. If accepted into the program, student teams will also receive business strategy training, and may be selected to present their innovation at NCIIA’s Open Minds annual showcase.


University IP

The Intellectual Property Owners Association ( listed 14 universities, including 13 American universities plus China’s Tsinghua University, among the top 300 organizations to receive patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2010.

The University of California system (349 patents)

  • MIT (174)
  • Stanford (155)
  • University of Wisconsin (136)
  • Caltech (134)
  • University of Texas (122)
  • Tsinghua University (104)
  • University of Illinois (85)
  • The University of South Florida, home to the National Academy of Inventors (83)
  • Columbia University (82)
  • University of Michigan (78)
  • Cornell (74)
  • University of Pennsylvania (77)
  • University of Washington (74)

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