The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Startup Navigator


The innovation trail is tough to navigate, especially for first-time pre-startup and startup teams. You know your research and your technology but successfully going from concept through to commercialization is uncharted territory. The IALS Startup Navigator is designed to help founders get their bearings. For research-driven UMass STEM ventures, IALS Venture Development and its Business Innovation Fellows are here to help as cross-cutting resources working directly with founders to find a path from lab to market.

Team & Venture Structures | Market Discovery & Development | Business Models & Business Plans | Intellectual Property | Funding | Technology & Product


Team & Venture Structures

Before there is a startup, there are one or two would-be founders aiming to go from concept to a new company. Their early decisions can pave the way for success or make the road even more difficult than necessary. Check out the resources in this section to learn some good practices as well as pitfalls.

  • The Founder's Dilemmas  You can be rich or be king. As a founder, which will you choose?
  • The Very First Mistake Most Founders Make  As soon a pre-startup goes from a single founder to two, the question of what share of the business each will own arises. Learn how to navigate this awkward stage while laying the foundation for a high-performing founding team.
  • What Does an Aspiring Founder Need to Know?  One or two founders are unlikely to have all the skills needed for success. But it is hard to know what’s missing. This article will give you some ideas, whether you are coming from a technical or business background.
  • Advice on Launching a Tech Startup When You’re Not a White Man  Non-traditional founders face the challenge of navigating a landscape built for others. This article offers some advice to help and inspire.
  • Tech Startups: Diversity & Inclusion by the Numbers Did you know that diversity is associated with stronger financial performance? Check out this TechStars report to learn more about how to build a diverse team.
  • What Makes a Successful Startup Team  There are many factors that contribute to forming a successful startup team and many articles that offer advice. Read this article to become acquainted with some attributes of effective teams.
  • 5 Steps for Building a Great  Startup Team  When founders succeed in going from concept to company, early employees become essential. This article offers some basics to help founders develop good hiring habits.
  • Choose a Business Structure  When the time is right to establish a business structure, there will be choices. Get an overview of the choices so that you can make a good decision about the “entity choice” that’s right for your startup’s circumstances.
  • What you need to know about Startup Boards Few founders give much thought to board composition and structure. When an entity is formed and when external investors enter the picture, board composition can come up.
  • Startup Law Office hours  Offered monthly throughout the year. Up to 3 visits per year for each UMass pre-startups and startup founders. Discuss equity splits, entity choice, investor agreements,
  • UMass Amherst Research & Compliance  Conflict of interest information and resources to guide and help UMass Amherst researchers who are aiming to commercialize research based on their UMass research.

Market Discovery & Development

No startup becomes a successful company without finding product-market fit in a substantial market that contains customers with a significant unmet need. Savvy founders aim to find evidence of product-market fit as early as possible to reduce the risk of developing an unwanted product. This section includes resources that founders can use to learn about potential markets and gain training in customer discovery to test the interest of potential customers and gather evidence of product market-fit.

  • The Only Thing That Matters  Marc Andreeson’s classic article on product-market fit, in which he argues that it is the only thing that matters in the beginning.
  • UMass Libraries: Business Collection  Proprietary databases provide statistics and analyses that are not publicly available. Get information on market size, competitors, industry trends and more. Outside of Massachusetts, try your state university or public library for similar resources.
  • UMass Libraries: Entrepreneurship Collection Proprietary databases provide statistics and analyses that are not publicly available. Get information on market size, competitors, industry trends and more. Outside of Massachusetts, try your state university or public library for similar resources.
  • UMass Amherst Libraries: Business Reference Librarian  Allison Messier has the expertise to help startup teams find the information they need about market size, competitors, industry trends, investors and more.
  • VentureWell Customer Discovery Videos  Scroll to the bottom of this page for some videos with good practices about in-person customer interviews. Recent experiences show that video interviews work well too. Email I-Corps @ UMass director Karen Utgoff ( to learn more.
  • I-Corps @ UMass  As part of the National Science Foundation’s network, the UMass Amherst I-Corps Site offers training and mini-grants for UMass researchers in customer discovery interviewing to enable them to understand problems, needs, and priorities of potential customers.
  • National Science Foundation I-Corps National Teams Program   Up to $50K of funding from the National Science Foundation for teams of deep technology researchers to attend national workshops, receive training in the lean startup methodology, and conduct 100+ customer discovery interviews.

Business Models & Business Plans

Pre-startup teams need to put forth a business model concept that describes how they envision their startup will work. Putting together a business model helps clarify ideas and test assumptions about basics such as: What will be our first product? Who will be our first customers? What unmet need will we satisfy to attract our first customers? How will we generate revenue? What resources will we need? As the team progresses from pre-startup ideas to developing the startup, it will be time to begin developing a business plan. Whether your team is working on one or the other, here are some resources that can help.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) - patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets - are the lifeblood of many technology-based startups. A solid IP position and strategy can add great value to a new venture. Here are some resources to inform your thinking and help you prepare to make the most of time with an intellectual property attorney.


Pre-startup and startup teams need funding to fuel their efforts to de-risk and add value to their new ventures. Funding can be particularly difficult to come by in the earliest stages. Here are some resources to consider. Non-dilutive funding does not require the startup to give up any equity.

Non-Dilutive Funding 

Dilutive Funding

  • MassCEC Seed Investments Program This is a two-stage investment program that provides up to $250,000 in convertible notes to pre-seed or seed-stage clean energy startups. Contact John Gorman for more information.
  • Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC)  The MLSC is an economic development and investment agency dedicated to support innovation, research & development, commercialization, and manufacturing activities in the fields of biopharma, medical device, diagnostics, and digital health.
  • Maroon Venture Partners  Maroon Venture Partners Fund I, LP is a for-profit venture fund that invests in early stage companies linked to UMass Amherst.

Technology & Product

Building on research and early technologies to create early products and services that can solve real-world problems and satisfy the unmet needs of early customers presents challenges as work moves out of the university lab environment. Here are some resources to help.

  • National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation Program  Grant funding to university researchers for prototype and/or proof-of-concept development to increase the impact of NSF-funded research via industry collaborations, commercialization, licensing, and training for future innovators.
  • UMass Amherst: Manning/IALS Innovation Award  A new ‘Proof-of-Concept’ (POC) seed fund program that provide innovation awards of up to $100,000/award to advance translational and applied R&D efforts from permanent full-time UMass Amherst faculty, or Co-Founders/Leadership Team Members of a startup or pre-startup venture with auspices of such a faculty member.
  • UMass Core Facilities  A variety of state-of-the-art facilities ready to support startups and small businesses in their research and development efforts. Subsidies are available for Massachusetts-based ventures through the State Voucher Program.
  • UMass Amherst Collaboratories  Research laboratory spaces for up to 16 resident startups as well as more established companies.  Residents are not limited to any specific industry and will have easy access to core facilities on the UMass Amherst campus to aid in precision manufacturing, medical device prototyping and validation, product candidate characterization and evaluation.
  • Forge  This Greentown Labs affiliated non-profit helps startups navigate the journey from physical prototype to commercialization and impact at scale.

Navigating Listed Resources and Additional Support for Pre-startup and Startup Efforts

We curated the resources listed above to help all pre-startups and startups but know that they only scratch the surface. Here are some other resources that can provide guidance and direction to other resources.

  • IALS Venture Development  One-time and on-going support for UMass Amherst faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professional staff members considering opportunities for startups ventures based on UMass Amherst research. Resources include the IALS Business Innovation Fellows. Contact Karen Utgoff at for more information.
  • UMass Amherst: Technology Transfer Office  The TTO’s professional staff of PhD level scientists help UMass Amherst researchers project inventions that result from their work and facilitate licensing of those technologies to startup and well-established companies.
  • Ventures @ CICS  Information, advice, and support to anyone in the College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) community interested in exploring the commercial value of new technologies emerging from our research labs and class projects. The program is aimed at early stage concept development -- helping scientists and engineers move ideas from proof-of-concept towards marketable products with societal benefit.
  • College of Engineering Entrepreneur-in-Residence (scroll to bottom of the page)  Eric Crawley is an entrepreneur-in-residence and lecturer in the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst and has over 30 years of experience in developing technology and managing teams from startups to multinational corporations. Contact Eric at
  • Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship  A pan-campus entrepreneurship resource, the Center offers events and non-credit educational programs that are open to all as well as incubator space for student ventures. Contact for more information.