RIT partners with prestigious National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Hub

University consortium will divide $15 million for further development of innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem

A. Sue Weisler

RIT is partnering with the National Science Foundation and a university consortium to further enhance the region’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Here, student teams pitch their business ideas to potential investors at the culmination of the Saunders Student Accelerator Program, an intense accelerator program aimed at assisting student entrepreneurs and innovators in developing their business concepts to a point where they are ready to begin to seek angel investment.

In a move to further enhance an already robust innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, Rochester Institute of Technology is partnering with the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Hub: Interior Northeast Region.

RIT will join a consortium of 10 renowned regional colleges and universities that will utilize $15 million in NSF funding over the next five years to implement and execute a cohesive innovation ecosystem that delivers inclusive models of education and workforce training designed for and by innovators in rural regions and small cities. According to NSF, the Interior Northeast Region is representative of portions of the United States that are largely rural, economically underserved, and working to restore economic vitality.

Joining RIT in the effort are Dartmouth College, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Buffalo, Syracuse University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester, University of Vermont, West Virginia University, and Hub lead institution Cornell University. Each college and university will host regional I-Corps courses and contribute to programming and curriculum strategy.

“RIT is delighted to be a partner in the new regional I-Corps Hub,” said Ryne Raffaelle, RIT vice president for research and associate provost. “We are proud to continue our collaboration in the promotion of technology commercialization, entrepreneurship, and development of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem, all of which play integral roles in our university’s mission. We are looking forward to working with the NSF and our partner institutions to positively impact our regional economy in this unique way.”

A mission-critical element of the Hub’s approach to entrepreneurship is the creation and administration of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives. Hub leadership and partners are working to support the development of STEM research talent who are women, veterans, people of color, and individuals with disabilities. These initiatives will include collaborations with organizations like the National GEM Consortium’s Inclusion in Innovation Initiative (i4) and RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

RIT has a history of creating and boosting the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem on campus through majors, programs, courses, partnerships with companies, student development, and signature events such as Imagine RIT: Creativity and Innovation Festival. The university’s Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship provides early-stage commercialization support and training to students and faculty with innovative concepts and technologies through programs like IdeaLab, Tiger Tank, Studio 930 Design Consultancy, and the Student Accelerator Program. RIT’s technology business incubator, Venture Creations, supports the creation and growth of university-aligned technology-focused firms. And RIT’s Saunders College of Business offers uniquely designed coursework to create the foundation of entrepreneurial development, including a master’s degree in technology innovation management and entrepreneurship. Additionally, RIT’s MAGIC Center is a university-wide research center with a multidisciplinary entrepreneurial approach to digital media research and production.

“Our partnership with the NSF through the I-Corps program further validates our efforts and commitment to training the next generation of inventors and innovators,” said Richard DeMartino, professor and Albert J. Simone Endowed Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at RIT. “Not only are our students creative, but they are willing to actively build upon classroom instruction and learn from those who were once in their shoes. This additional funding from NSF and sharing of resources will enhance the important work that we do to support critical thinking, out-of-the-box creativity, and the natural drive that is intrinsic in all entrepreneurs.”

Founded by the NSF in 2011, I-Corps programming nationwide empowers researchers to combine their technical and scientific knowledge with an entrepreneurial mindset to develop new technologies and startups that benefit society. RIT, through the Simone Center, has been an NSF I-Corps Site since 2012 and is part of the Upstate New York I-Corps Node, along with Cornell University and University of Rochester.

The Interior Northeast Region Hub launched Jan. 1, 2023.

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