Elishia Ortiz is hoping to take her business to another level. Ashley Laughlin is excited to help her team get its business off the ground. Hannah Peckham’s skills may be the missing ingredient in a classmate’s business concept.
All three students are members of RIT’s Entrepreneurs Hall, a holistic program that combines a residential community, cohort entrepreneurship courses, mentoring and access to the university’s student incubator. It’s a cross-disciplinary program that includes an equal mix of technology, creative and business students.
“RIT’s unique portfolio of academic programs really drives the experience,” says Richard DeMartino, director of the Albert J. Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which runs Entrepreneurs Hall. “We have top national programs in engineering, design, computing and business that provide us with strengths that are not easily reproduced by other institutions.
“Entrepreneurs Hall allows our students to work with people who have diverse and complementary skill-sets to mature new businesses or commercialize technology concepts.”
One percent of incoming RIT students already own their own businesses. Class work, extracurricular activities, co-op experiences, busy social lives and limited skill-sets often prevent these businesses from reaching their full potential. Entrepreneurs Hall, which offers academic credit (students in the program work towards a minor in entrepreneurship) for these endeavors, changes all that.
Ortiz, a second-year business student, experienced remarkable success with her company, Young&Fit Forever, before she even arrived on campus. Young&Fit Forever offers an exercise DVD and fitness class for children ages 3 to 13. Wegmans supermarkets purchased the DVDs and sold them in 13 of its Rochester locations, where she held regular promotional events.
But her progress slowed substantially once she got to RIT.
“I no longer have time to promote my product due to my school commitments and part-time employment,” says Ortiz. “Being a part of this program will motivate me and help me make time to get my business moving again.”
Laughlin and fellow classmates in the industrial design program have launched a design firm called BLAC&C. The group formed and made contact with a potential client through RIT’s Center for Student Innovation.
While Laughlin is the only partner that is a member of Entrepreneurs Hall, she’s hoping her experience in the program will strengthen their company.
“It’s going to be great to have some guidance from people who are familiar with the entrepreneurial process,” Laughlin says.
Students don’t need to own their own business or even have a business concept to become a part of the program.
“I just like the idea of working with other people,” says Peckham, a second-year new media design student. “If I can’t come up with a business concept of my own, I might be able to be a designer for someone else. I already know how to design and program, so if I decide to go off on my own, I’ll know how to grow a business.”
A new dimension of the program—its residential component—opens this fall in Global Village, an internationally themed residential and retail complex on RIT’s west side. Entrepreneurs Hall does not require its students to live together in the program’s designated Global Village space, but doing so is strongly encouraged.
“Our facility in Global Village offers a casual, non-academic setting that gives students a chance to live together and learn from one another,” says Rupa Thind, the program manager for Entrepreneurs Hall. “The opportunity to pick a classmate’s brain and bounce ideas off each other in a classroom setting is pretty rare. But living together can help foster those relationships.”