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RIT selected to receive National Science Foundation I-Corps grant

15 Feb

Scot Atkins with dark short hair and striped button down shirt and dark suit coat

Rochester Institute of Technology is among eight National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) sites across the country selected to each receive $30,000 grants to increase participation and promote inclusion of underrepresented populations in the National Innovation Network.

These I-Corps sites, designed to provide infrastructure, resources, networking and training to move scientific discoveries from university labs to the marketplace, will use the awards to pilot novel approaches and partnerships that promote inclusive entrepreneurship through the initiative. The pilot activities will engage differently-abled individuals, first-generation college students, racial and ethnic minorities and women, as well as Minority-Serving Institutions.

As outlined in the proposal, RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will partner with RIT’s I-Corps site initiative—programmatically embedded into the Albert J. Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship—as well as the National Association of the Deaf and the Association of Higher Education and Disability to increase opportunities available to deaf and hard-of-hearing college students who are aspiring STEM entrepreneurs. Through a national network of universities with high concentrations of deaf and hard-of-hearing students, RIT plans to recruit new instructors and coaches along with extending I-Corps training. Program administrators also will create curricula on the use of technologies that will enable people who are deaf or hard of hearing to participate in online entrepreneurship coaching.

“This is a great opportunity to generate more opportunities for entrepreneurship among deaf and hard-of-hearing college students across the nation, not just here at NTID,” said Scot Atkins, NTID business studies professor and a nationally recognized expert in deaf entrepreneurship. “This grant award will allow us to capitalize on our existing successes and infrastructure for entrepreneurship within RIT/NTID and work with a larger audience.”

Atkins will help lead the initiative at RIT/NTID. Details of the proposal include:

            • Creation of entrepreneurial assets that will increase the number of graduates with an emphasis on STEM with business creation/tech commercialization knowledge, experience and team-building skills

            • Continued development of new ventures based in the Simone Center that will create businesses with growth potential and provide economic development to upstate New York

            • Pre-seed/early stage pipeline for potential new ventures

            • Successful undergraduate innovation processes that promote and advance the development of balanced student teams, experienced coaching and access to university support services such as networking, prototyping labs and other high-tech facilities

            • Programs and events sponsored by the Simone Center that target early-stage business development with the goal of transitioning these investment-ready projects and businesses to RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator.

“RIT is an institution that serves a large population of deaf and hard-of-hearing students and has processes in place that will accommodate those students and others to explore entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Richard DeMartino, the Albert J. Simone Endowed Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, director of RIT’s Simone Center, and a professor in the Saunders College of Business. “Our program design is student-centric, having the joint impact of immersing students in an entrepreneurial curriculum and launching innovative products that focus on STEM related fields, software, sustainability, imaging sciences, micro-e, design, new media, interactive gaming and other areas. We’re looking forward to utilizing resources, mentors and I-Corps funding to further enhance opportunities for our underrepresented students to enter the exciting arena of entrepreneurship.”

NTID and Saunders College of Business already have a robust research agenda focusing on the dynamics of entrepreneurship, including opportunities and challenges for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, added DeMartino.

NTID is also home to the Next Big Idea, an annual entrepreneurship competition sponsored by ZVRS for deaf and hard-of-hearing students with a track record of producing innovative products, businesses or services that solve problems or eliminate existing challenges for potential consumers.  

“NTID is proud to be partnering with RIT’s Simone Center as one of the eight sites nationwide to receive I-Corps funds,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “NTID leads the way in developing deaf and hard-of-hearing entrepreneurs, and this NSF funding will help to expand and continue our position in this vital role.”  

Deaf entrepreneurs on the rise

14 Jun

Deaf entrepreneur Alec Satterly wearing a green shirt seated at a desk, working on a computer.

This article about the growth of Deaf entrepreneurship by W. Scott Atkins, a business studies professor at RIT/NTID and nationally recognized deaf entrepreneurship expert, originally appeared in the Rochester “Democrat & Chronicle” and is reprinted with permission. (Photo credit:  A. Sue Weisler, RIT)

Deaf entrepreneurs on the rise, locally, nationally 

There is a revolution happening in Rochester and all across the United States. The number of deaf people running their own businesses has grown by leaps and bounds. Technological advances have made it possible for these individuals to access networks, customers and suppliers. There are now growing networks of deaf entrepreneurs.

Last weekend, I attended an event for local deaf entrepreneurs sponsored by Convo, a deaf-owned video relay service (VRS), and run by CEO Jarrod Musano, a deaf graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. There were 30-35 deaf business owners at the event, and they were grateful for the opportunity to network. I overheard a deaf realtor say to a deaf business owner who owns several rental properties, “Contact me and let’s see if we can do business together.” Convo has coordinated these types of events in other cities and has invested in a “Deaf Business Ecosystem,” which includes the creation of an online directory that now contains information on more than 250 deaf-owned businesses from all over the country.

Last semester at RIT/NTID, I was involved with a student business competition called the Next Big Idea, sponsored by VRS provider ZVRS, which provided opportunities for students to work on cross-disciplinary teams to innovate new products and services. This year, 15 teams competed for the opportunity to win cash prizes. It is my hope that many of these concepts will develop into full-fledged businesses.

In a class that I teach at RIT/NTID, called Introduction to Entrepreneurship, deaf and hard-of-hearing students create their own business with less than $20 of their own money. One student, Alec Satterly, established a bike repair business and was able to earn $650 during his winter break. Over the next few years, Alec participated in several entrepreneurship efforts on the RIT/NTID campus and has been very successful.

In 2014, his team, Cenify, won the ZVRS Next Big Idea grand prize of $5,000, and that summer, he and his team gained entry into the Saunders Summer Start-up Program, an incubator program at RIT. Cenify has since moved into RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator, which helps companies move to the next phase of their businesses. This is just one illustration of how RIT/NTID fosters entrepreneurship on campus. In addition, RIT/NTID brings alumni who are business owners to campus to speak with students. Alumnus and RIT Trustee Rob Rice, owner and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm BayFirst Solutions, presented last year. RIT/NTID also works closely with RIT’s Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship in an effort to boost the number of deaf entrepreneurs on campus. Currently, we have two all-deaf teams who are part of the Saunders Summer Start-up Program.

This is only the beginning. There are many deaf and hard-of-hearing people who want to create their own businesses, but they are not sure where to start. It is important that we invest in new infrastructures to make this happen. This requires a collaborative effort by universities, agencies, corporations and other entrepreneurs. With their support, I am optimistic that we will continue to see the growth of a new generation of deaf entrepreneurs, especially here in Rochester.

 

Innovation and creativity on display

9 May

Ferris wheel made out of Kinetics blocks.

Tens of thousands of visitors came to RIT’s campus on May 7, 2016 to tour the more than 400 interactive exhibits that comprised the ninth annual Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. The festival showcases the talents and entrepreneurial creativity of RIT students, faculty and staff. More.

NTID by the Numbers

28 Mar

graphic of the words NTID by the numbers

RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf has grown exponentially since enrolling its first class in 1968. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they do give you a glimpse of what NTID looks like today. Check out NTID by the Numbers.

RIT’s upward momentum and monumental discovery

8 Mar

The past year has been Rochester Institute of Technology’s most productive year of research on record, and last month, RIT played a pivotal role in a major discovery in the world of science. Our researchers were part of a team that proved Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was right, opening an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

This is just one of many areas of research in which RIT students and faculty currently are engaged. Watch and learn what other discoveries RIT researchers are hard at work preparing to bring to the world.