Investors Wanted: Entrepreneurs Jumpstart Businesses During Summer School

RIT students work with local business mentors in new pilot program




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Mitchell Skiba, left, William Beers, Lindsay Reardon and Robert Hyman are working on a mobile app during the Saunders Summer Start-up at RIT.

Lindsay Reardon is working with Richard Kaplan, chief executive officer of Torvec Inc. and former CEO of Pictometry International Corp., to initiate a smart-phone “app” called Streetwise. The marketing major, who graduated last May from the E. Philip Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology, is banking on Kaplan as a mentor because of his success in leading start-up companies to economic profitability.

It’s all part of a new pilot initiative sponsored by the Saunders College and RIT’s Albert J. Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Saunders Summer Start-up is an intense program aimed at assisting entrepreneurs and innovators in advancing their business concepts to a point where they are ready to begin to seek angel investment.

“Streetwise is a mobile app that tracks your GPS location while you are walking and tells you how safe or dangerous that area is by using color codes (yellow for caution, red for danger), and it’s based on actual crime data from the police department,” says Reardon, who is working on the project with RIT undergraduate students Robert Hyman, William Beers and Mitchell Skiba. Streetwise was originally presented as “Danger Zone” in RIT48—a contest held last March on campus where students had 48 hours to pitch, plan, develop and launch a Web startup.

“If you’re a runner, visiting a new city, or even just looking around for a new house, you can put this in your pocket and it will give you a warning or set off different alarms to let you know that you are in an unsafe environment. It’s been a great experience working with Dick Kaplan because he is very responsive and helps us brainstorm about bigger markets where we can expand the app. Right now we have data for Rochester but are working on building data for cities like Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Houston and San Francisco.”

Kaplan enjoys working with the students and says they are going through all the normal situations that entrepreneurs go through when they try to start a business.

“They are working on a business plan and figuring out what to do first, ” he explains. “It’s step by step by step. You don’t want to go through a lot of time and effort and then find out that it doesn’t work, or there’s a patent, or it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. Streetwise is in the research and development stage, but it’s very much a viable product because of it’s usefulness to everyday people.”

According to Richard DeMartino, associate professor of management in the Saunders College and director of the Simone Center, there are 22 students in the program working in six teams.

“It’s a win-win situation for these students for the summer because they receive free RIT housing and a living stipend of $3,000, and each team receives $2,500 for project expenses,” DeMartino explains. “Just being coached by mentors who have done it successfully gives these students an advantage to fundamentally change their lives. Our program is unique in the country in that it’s not solely in the conceptual stage of business; it’s in the accelerator phase, which helps you turbo-charge your small-business ideas with tools and strategies in marketing, sales, finance and growth. It also requires real product development and at the very least, a prototype.”

The program culminates on Aug. 15 during an “Investor Day” where the student teams pitch their business ideas to a group of real investors. For more information, contact Rupa Thind, assistant director at the Simone Center, at 585-475-7487 or rthind@saunders.rit.edu.

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Submitted

Mitchell Skiba, left, William Beers, Lindsay Reardon and Robert Hyman are working on a mobile app during the Saunders Summer Start-up at RIT.