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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.


From co-op to career

26 May

Christopher Robinson wearing glasses, bright green golf shirt holding safety glasses standing with CNC machinery

Recent RIT/NTID graduate Christopher Robinson’s summer co-op as a CNC Operator became a job after graduation.


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Degree programs

A.O.S., Computer Integrated Machining Technology, 2016

Year of graduation


Place of employment

Place of employment Cyromech, Syracuse, New York

Job Title

Computer numeric control (CNC) operator

Work Responsibilities

Some of my responsibilities were to use blueprints to create precision products on the CNC machine. I set controls; inspected machines; and scheduled maintenance and repair to ensure operation, quality standards and correct specifications.

How my career relates to my degree from RIT/NTID

I learned much about blueprints, following directions, working on several products at once and how to use a variety of other machines: HASS lathe, manual lathe and mill and turning machines. My co-op gave me relevant work experience and helped me develop my knowledge and skills. At RIT/NTID, I learned time management, assertiveness, persistence and to work with deadlines. These skills helped me to succeed on co-op and will help me succeed in life as well. I appreciate the experience I got on the CNC mill machine because that was really valuable on my co-op. And, I have accepted a full-time job with Cryomech for after graduation.


Be responsible, be prepared, be assertive, be persistent and don’t give up. Fight for what you believe in and don’t let anything or anyone get you down. Maintain a positive attitude and stay motivated. Stay safe and avoid risky behavior. Most of all, grab your opportunity.

Meet the RIT/NTID 2016 college delegates

20 May

left to right Leslie William and Chloe Ho in graduation cap and gown.

Meet Leslie Williams and Chi Man “Chloe” Ho, who were selected as the 2016 NTID College delegates. Delegates are selected based on their academic standing and give a speech at NTID’s commencement.

Leslie Williams is NTID’s undergraduate delegate. A student in the laboratory, science technology associate degree program, she knew she wanted to attend RIT since elementary school and be a part of the deaf community in Rochester. Williams, from Chicago, Illinois, is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Following graduation, she plans to enroll in RIT’s College of Health Sciences and Technology and pursue a bachelor’s degree in diagnostic medical sonography.

After earning her master’s degree in secondary education of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, Chloe Ho, NTID’s graduate delegate, will return to her hometown of Hong Kong. Prior to coming to RIT, Ho worked in sign bilingualism and co-enrollment in the deaf education program run by the Center for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. It is the first program in Asia applying this specific educational model to enhance inclusion of both deaf and hearing students in a mainstream school setting. She will return to the program following graduation. She is excited to contribute the experiences and knowledge she gained at RIT to the field of deaf education there.

RIT/NTID students graduate with accolades

20 May

eight students with President Buckley holding award plaques.

Several students at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf were honored with their families and friends at an academic awards ceremony May 20. NTID President and RIT Vice President and Dean Gerry Buckley hosted the ceremony.

The graduates who received awards are:

·         Marissa Woodruff, an applied liberal arts major from Binghamton, N.Y., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning an associate degree.

·         Nathan Scott, an applied arts and science major from Schenectady N.Y., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.

·         Kyle Murbach, a computing security major from Wheaton, Ill., received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a master’s degree.

·         Caitlyn Alana Lacerra, a business technology major from Marlborough, Mass., and Leslie Williams, a laboratory science technology major from Harwood Heights, Ill., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning associate degrees.

·         Natalie Snyder, a biomedical sciences major from Rockville, Md., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.

·         Courtney Kellogg, a graduate student in chemistry from Lake Waukomis, Mo., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a master’s degree.

·         Hunter Ekberg, an ASL-English interpreting major from Coon Rapids, Minn., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for interpreting students earning a bachelor’s degree.

·         Leslie Williams, a laboratory science technology major from Harwood Heights, Ill., is the 2016 NTID college delegate for undergraduate students.

·         Chloe Ho, a graduate student from Hong Kong enrolled in the secondary education of students who are deaf or hard of hearing program, is the 2016 NTID college delegate for graduate students.


Other students who had recent achievements include: Chelsea Behrens, an ASL-English interpreting major from West Islip, N.Y.; Eliza Fowler, an ASL-English interpreting major from Hyde Park, Vt.; Rebecca Lucas, an ASL-English interpreting major from Schenectady, N.Y.; and Hunter Ekberg, an ASL-English interpreting major from Coon Rapids, Minn., were all named RIT Outstanding Undergraduate Scholars.

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.