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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.

 

RIT all-female race team places third in national competition

6 May

RIT student wearing a purple helmet driving an orange and sliver electric race car.

Hot Wheelz, Rochester Institute of Technology’s all-female race team, finished third in the electric category in its first national event, the Formula Hybrid competition that took place May 2-5, 2016 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. The team’s on- and off-track performance also was recognized with two additional trophies, the GM Spirit of Formula Hybrid and the Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Gracious Professionalism awards. More.

 

RIT/NTID student team making strides with Wavio wireless sound recognition system

4 May

Greyson from Hz Innovations in black t-shirt explaining invention to man in suit and bow tie

The student team of Hz Innovations is confident that they have developed a product that deaf and hard-of-hearing homeowners can’t possibly live without. A working prototype of their Wavio wireless sound recognition system will be on display and in action at Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, May 7.

Wavio contains sound-capturing units that are connected to a home Wi-Fi system. When a doorbell rings, smoke alarm chimes, water faucet drips or dog barks, for example, the unit notifies the homeowner via smartphone, smart watch, tablet or laptop, and identifies the sound. According to developers, virtually any sound deemed important to the homeowner can be recorded and “memorized” by the system during installation.

At the booth, visitors will participate in live demonstrations and be able to offer feedback on the Wavio device. The team is also interested in collecting testimonials from deaf and hard-of-hearing students and homeowners to find out how Wavio could impact their lives.

The team—Greyson Watkins, Chrystal Schlenker, Zach Baltzer and Nicholas Lamb—have won or placed in several local and regional business competitions over the past year and recently secured a contract to produce 1,000 units. In fact, with product manufacturing a key component to success, the co-founders are anxious to grow their team and are encouraging students to drop off résumés at their Imagine RIT booth in the Student Alumni Union.

“We’re certainly looking for deaf people and engineers to join our team,” said Lamb, a fifth-year electrical engineering student from Waterloo, N.Y. “And we’re also looking for people who are anxious to learn more about becoming part of a unique start-up business.”

Added Baltzer, a fourth-year microelectronic engineering student from Hilton, N.Y., “It’s amazing that a little more than a year ago we were looking for a cool project to focus on. Now we’re co-founders of a company.”

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.

RIT/NTID researchers study safety of electronic cigarette flavorings

8 Feb

RIT/NTID part of team studying effects of flavorings used in e-cigarettes.

RIT/NTID faculty and student researchers are developing methods to analyze the effects of flavorings used in electronic cigarettes. In partnership with RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering and the University of Rochester Medical Center, RIT/NTID, the world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, is part of the team that has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the study. More.