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.”