Licensing & Ventures Group


Off and Running! Newest I-Corps Cohort Gives Rave Reviews


Aug. 30, 2023


LVG Communications

This summer LVG hosted the most recent cohort of its Innovation Corps (I-Corps), officially launching the program’s new recognition as part of the National Science Foundation Mid-South Hub that will accelerate societal benefits of groundbreaking research.

The weekly sessions included training from nationally certified I-Corps instructor Julie Collins, as well as connection to mentors and meetings with experts from LVG’s staff. Areas of focus included learning the basics of the business model canvas; best practices for customer discovery; developing a value proposition; defining customer segments; and communicating lessons learned.

LVG Communications caught up with participants Helen Boyd and Suzanne Nguyen to hear more about their experiences.

Boyd is the COO of Warm Health Technology (WHT), a company started by UVA LVG that has developed a platform to help improve the engagement in care and health outcomes of people with chronic conditions. Boyd’s I-Corps team included marketing guru Jenny Knizner and LVG Entrepreneur in Residence Jeff Tennery.

Nguyen is a UVA graduate student and engineer for Carbon Pour, a company started by UVA civil and environmental engineering professor Andres Clarens that has created a low-carbon alternative cement. Joining Clarens and Nguyen on the team was UVA third-year student Alexander Edwards.

Q. Why did your team want to be a part of the I-Corps program? 

Suzanne Nguyen: As a company, Carbon Pour is still in its infancy. As engineers, we wanted to be part of the program so that we could learn about the process of bringing our research from the lab to the market. The phrase, “Begin as you intend to go on,” springs to mind. By seeking assistance at the beginning stages, we hope to avoid some of the common pitfalls of entrepreneurship.

Helen Boyd: Warm Health Technology was already at the stage where, five years since incorporation, we were evaluating our business model and trying to find new areas for growth, whether that be new customers, developing new functionality to the PL Cares®’ technology, or new products. The timing of this latest round of I-Corps was perfect, as participating in the program really forced the team, and me in particular, to carve out the time to sit down and look at our value proposition and our customers and work out what questions we should be asking various stakeholders in our ecosystem in order to get the information we need to move forward.

Q. What specific things have you learned?

HB: We have heard that our customers’ main challenges revolve around access to the right (useful) data and finding ways to reduce the social determinants of health barriers patients face in accessing healthcare. While we were already aware of these challenges, hearing how customers are (not) able to address them currently gave us a few ideas for where WHT could enhance our PL Cares®’ technology to better support them. We certainly have some ideas to research further.

In addition, we have been able to identify some key actions that WHT should take to improve how we market our product, such as focusing more on how PL Cares®’ supports patient communication with their care team. We can also build in some of the questions we developed for our I-Corps interviews into our initial meetings with prospective customers, so we can better address how PL Cares®’ might meet their needs.

In reviewing our current business model, we have identified that we have better success with a particular type of customer – largely due to how they are structured – which allows our partnership with them to be more effective and reach more patients. Knowing this, we can focus our marketing efforts on other similar organizations going forward.

SN: I think the intense, immersive and targeted program was a great opportunity to apply scientific principles to understanding market drivers. Through group meetings and office hours, we developed testable hypotheses, which led to strong question sets for the various stakeholders who agreed to be interviewed. We gathered and processed data from these conversations, allowing us to identify where our technology might be most useful to the industry. I found the ecosystem mapping exercise to be beneficial as it showed us that we needed to branch out from our original set of interviewees, both laterally and vertically.

Q. Did anything surprise you throughout the process?

SN: One of the things that I found surprising was the willingness of the industry to consider alternatives to Ordinary Portland Cement, provided the necessary specifications for cost, durability, and strength are met. Every conversation gave us not only answers to our questions, but a much better understanding of what “jobs” our solution could be hired for: the pinch points and top-of-mind problems.

HB: There were a few comments that hit home and made me think a little harder about what Warm Health Technology could be doing differently as we move forward. Specifically, just because a team’s invention addresses a need the team has identified, it doesn’t mean that everyone else, or indeed anyone else, sees the same need for that invention. To be able to sell something, you have to be able to demonstrate the value of your product to a potential customer, not just the features of the product. More startups fail because of lack of customers than from failure of the product or technology developed.

Q. Overall, how has the I-Corps experience been valuable?

SN: We had access to an incredible group of talented professionals both from NSF at the national and regional levels and from UVA with the LVG and EIRs. They listened thoughtfully, asked discerning questions that allowed us to develop a much more refined vision for our future steps and provided guidance with patience. Our cohort’s projects ranged from medical software to surgical implants to fast-charging batteries. I-Corps shows the entrepreneurial commonalities of building a structured plan to collect and measure data to show an opportunity within the ecosystem during market discovery.

HB: I think the program was of great value. In addition to continuing to interview stakeholders to gather more information, we have a number of next steps to work on.

For more information about the I-Corps program, visit or email