Invent@NMU Hosts Customer Discovery Class


Invent@NMU recently hosted an Introduction to Customer Discovery course in its continuing effort to support entrepreneurial growth in the Upper Peninsula. The course was offered in partnership with the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship, with funding and support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. It is part of the national Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

According to a University of Michigan press release, I-Corps is designed to provide firsthand learning experiences that increase the probability of university innovations successfully reaching the market and stimulating economic development in the state. A basic knowledge of how to properly conduct customer discovery interviews is the first step in the commercialization process. The course at Invent@NMU covered the history and methodology of I-Corps, customer discovery best practices, ecosystem mapping, the business model canvas focusing on value propositions and customer segments, and next steps.

“We really appreciate working with the team from the University of Michigan to bring the I-Corps program to NMU,” said Robert Eslinger, NMU associate vice president for innovation, economic development and community engagement. “I think it was a great experience for the NMU faculty and teams that participated. With the addition of qualified local instructors, NMU and Innovate Marquette have added more opportunities to the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”   

By participating in the course, NMU students and faculty were able to study a methodology for how researchers explore and reveal the commercial potential of their technology. Though instructors helped guide participants, the teams engaged with actual customers for a bulk of the work.

“It was a humbling experience due to the adversity faced by trying accomplish the intensive requirements, but by the end, you have regained confidence and learned the language of start-up businesses,” said Marshall Merring, an NMU student and program participant. “As an ideas person, I can dream up a beneficial product all day. You never really know how it would realistically solve anyone problems unless you get out of the building and talk to potential end users.”

Invent@NMU Founding Director David Ollila said he recognized that the program aligns with the Invent mission and would benefit participants.

“The opportunity to partner with U-M provides the faculty of NMU a truly unique opportunity,” Ollila said. “Moving any idea forward requires conversations with equally passionate people. By connecting through this program, we are beginning to have robust dialogues with the most experienced leaders in entrepreneurship.”

Invent@NMU specializes in helping people bring their concepts to market. Inventors, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and educators work with clients to turn passions into processes. For more information, visit

NMU student Emma Finkbeiner prepared this report.

Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director