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UA Little Rock Researchers Accepted to NSF I-Corps, Delta I-Fund Entrepreneurial Programs

Imran Sarker
Imran Sarker

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock doctoral student and professor have been accepted into two early-seed entrepreneurial programs that will help support the commercialization of new technologies in Arkansas.

Imran Sarker, a Ph.D. student in computer and information science from Bangladesh, and Dr. Mariofanna Milanova, a professor of computer science, are developing RightHand, an online marketplace fueled by artificial intelligence. RightHand connects service seekers and service providers within a short period of time and keeps service seekers informed about the update of requested service in real-time.

“It’s not a new idea, but we are using a deep learning based recommendation system to help match service seekers and service providers in a quicker way,” Sarker said. “We are trying to add a real-time system in our system so you can always know when that service provider is coming.”

Sarker and Milanova were accepted to the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program as well as Winrock International’s Delta I-Fund program this summer.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps was created in 2011 to help faculty and students in the sciences learn how to apply lean startup methods for bringing new technologies to the marketplace. With funding provided by the program and the support and mentorship provided by the site, researchers and students conduct market research, learn to identify product-market fit through interviews with potential customers, and develop prototypes.

Teams will receive funding of up to $1,000 to support their initial customer discovery efforts during the program and an additional $2,250 if their team continues to pursue the commercialization of their technology/research.

The Delta I-Fund is an early stage, proof-of-concept accelerator formed to train entrepreneurs in the eight-state Delta Regional Authority territory. Each startup team accepted into the program will complete 12 weeks of rigorous training, be matched to a mentor from the business community, and receive technical assistance or access to seed-stage investment capital. The team also received $7,500 in early seed funding from the Delta I-Fund.

Mariofanna Milanova
Dr. Mariofana Milanova. Photo by Ben Krain.

They will complete the NSF I-Corps program in August and the Delta I-Fund program at the end of September. Sarker plans to complete the customer segment and value proposition, designs, and build a prototype of RightHand.

Sarker said he is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Delta I-Fund and NSF I-Corps programs. Without the support and mentorship, he wasn’t sure that RightHand would become a reality. Sarker also wants to thank Milanova for guiding him from the beginning of this research project.

“When I started this idea, it was a raw idea,” Sarker said. “Right now, I am trying to turn my idea into reality. For example, I am doing customer interviews right so I can know what customer expectations are, will they like this project, and what they expect to pay. It’s a really good experience. I also got a chance to network with many people with very good experiences. We have wonderful mentors from industry and academia.”