Helping to advance new technologies while incubating emerging companies is the goal of the recently formed National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps™ Hub: West Region led by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. For Stacyann Russell, the Hub’s director, it’s a mission she’s tackling head on by setting a new standard for commercializing deep technologies. With a $15 million award announced last fall by the NSF, the I-Corps™ Hub program is part of the NSF’s expanded effort to cultivate new inventions and ventures in deep technologies.
You’ve been on the job officially as the new director since January. What’s your impression of The NSF I-Corps™ Hub: West Region?
The first thought that comes to mind is that we operate similar to a start-up. We are addressing an existing market need of helping to commercialize technologies coming out of the lab, but with a new and expanded approach. It’s exciting times. We are using best practices while keeping a beginner’s mindset to ensure we can maximize the technologies that exist in our region. Also, the people that are working with the Hub across USC and our other institutions are just best-in-class. They are engaged, open, creative and innovative. In a lot of ways, they model the types of teams we want to work with.
I want I-Corps™ Hub: West Region to set the standard for commercializing deep technologies in the West and nationally in the most diverse way possible. And when I talk about diversity, I mean diversity of people, geography, technology and industry. If there’s something deep tech and commercialization-related happening, we should have a seat at the table.
Describe your background in engineering and how has it helped you succeed in this position?
I have a B.S. in industrial and systems engineering from The Ohio State University and a master’s of engineering management from George Washington University. As an engineer, I’ve worked in product development, continuous improvement and manufacturing for complex systems such as nuclear reactors, 3D immersive environments, radars and satellites both for this atmosphere and space. I’ve also worked in manufacturing innovation across several industries such as consumer products and goods and industrial products. I would say those experiences, along with my MBA from USC and time as a supply chain consultant, have been instrumental in my understanding of the entire process from idea to market launch of complex systems from both the academic and commercial sides. I am able to bring a truly diverse perspective and creativity in the approach and programming we use to accomplish our goals as a Hub. These varied experiences have come together in a way that’s beyond my wildest imagination.
What challenges and opportunities stand out for you in your new role?
This is the first time the NSF has conducted the I-Corps™ program in this fashion, and the scale is much bigger. We collaborate with eight institutions (including USC) across California, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, and that number is anticipated to grow every year for the life of the grant. In that respect, it’s a heavy lift with a changing and growing team. However, it presents such a great opportunity to have a profound impact. We have the ability to establish a dynamic ecosystem that supports researchers in the translation of their technologies – one that’s never been seen before.
As the first African American woman national director/instructor in the country, what does this moment mean to you?
It means we still have work to do, which I’m proud to say the National Science Foundation, and here, within the Hub, we have been addressing with intentionality. The landscape has changed dramatically since I started a few years ago, and that is a testament to the great leadership we’ve had during that time.
What motivated you to take on the new position with the I-Corps™ Hub: West Region?
The people and the mission. There isn’t a better team I know to serve that is committed to ensuring people have access to the tools needed to bring deep technologies to market. The role is one of the ways I get to marry my love for entrepreneurship and engineering on a continuous basis.
What excites you most about taking on the role of director of the I-Corps™ Hub: West Region?
There are so many things! I’m excited about the people I’ll get to work with and the impact we’ll have. I’m eager to see the technologies we’ll get to interact with and how they’ll do in the marketplace. I’m looking forward to the systems that we’ll put in place to identify the top teams and technologies to work with. And finally, I’m especially excited about the partnerships and collaborative opportunities we will have along the way. It should be a great journey!
If you’d like to connect, you can find Stacyann on LinkedIn.
Published on June 28th, 2022
Last updated on June 28th, 2022