RIT Venture Creations technology business incubator launches four new companies

Forty-two start-ups and 559 jobs, in total, have been created to help boost economy
Man wearing glasses and suit talks at podium

Elizabeth Lamark

Rich Notargiacomo, director of RIT’s Venture Creations technology business incubator, announces the four graduating companies during the March 7 event.

From eye tracking to thermal cooling to all things mushrooms, Rochester Institute of Technology’s Venture Creations technology business incubator celebrated the launch of four new startups. A graduation ceremony was held March 7 at RIT’s Student Innovation Hall. The total number of launched companies now stands at 42, with 559 jobs having been created.

The 2019 graduating companies are:

ThermApparel: Creators of low-cost cooling apparel for people living with heat sensitivity. Their product, UnderCool, weighs less than 2 pounds and is made with a four-way stretch fabric that holds a biodegradable and non-toxic phase change material that freezes at room temperature and keeps a person cool for one-and-a-half hours. What started as a multidisciplinary student project in 2015 through RIT’s Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has developed into a business with the cooling vests being sold in all 50 states and in 13 countries. The company, which has developed a partnership with MS Focus: The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, is also expanding to market to customers who are heat sensitive due to medical drug side effects, hormonal imbalances, traumatic brain injuries and other neurological disorders. Co-founders are Bradley Dunn ’15 (industrial design) and Kurtis Kracke ’15 (industrial design).

Alumni, faculty and staff talk in a groupElizabeth Lamark George Zheng ’15 (mechanical engineering technology), right, explains his business, Leep Foods, to RIT President David Munson, left, and Ryne Raffaele, RIT vice president for research and associate provost.

Leep Foods: Leep Foods uses environmentally friendly and sustainable production methods to make previously inaccessible specialty mushrooms, such as Coral Maitake and Blue Oyster mushrooms, manufacturable at high quantities and quality standards. The company’s goal is to bring specialty mushrooms to the forefront of the American palette. Co-founded by George Zheng ’15 (mechanical engineering technology), Leep Foods products are available at Wegmans stores and have been incorporated into meals at local restaurants including The Owl House, Han Noodle Bar and Marty’s Meats.

Sky Op: The drone education company is focused on training individuals to safely use unmanned aerial vehicles in airspace for personal or business purposes. The company also offers certification test prep. It recently launched a high school and college drone training and education STEM-based curriculum. The company is co-founded by serial entrepreneur Brian Pitre, with Jon Thies serving as CEO.

Positive Science: Positive Science, founded by RIT alumnus Jason Babcock ’00 (imaging and photographic technology), ’03 (color science) is a head-mounted eye-tracking and behavioral analysis system that can be used by clients for a variety of projects. Hardware systems are customizable to allow researchers to explore applications in all areas of eye tracking; software provides an eye-tracking solution for the Mac OS platform that uses intuitive calibration and custom graphics. The company also provides post-capture reviews and comprehensive training. Positive Science products have been used by several clients including RIT, New York University, University of Rochester, Duke University and Nottingham University-Malaysia Campus, among others. The company also was a finalist in Luminate NY’s “Light Today with Tomorrow” event in 2018.

The keynote speaker was Shannon Chevier ’99 MS (software development and management), director of product management at REDCOM Laboratories. Her former company, IMSWorkX, graduated from Venture Creations in 2015 and was recently acquired by REDCOM.

Ryne Raffaele, vice president for research and associate provost at RIT, talked about Venture Creations as a critical piece of RIT’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, citing that the new companies have engaged several RIT students in the development of their businesses. “As we continue to provide our students with more and more guidance and instruction in entrepreneurship, it’s critical that we have an end-to-end capability for startups, and Venture Creations provides the ‘last mile’ in the business creation journey.”

RIT President David Munson explained the value of learning about entrepreneurship.

“Our students have a desire to do new things,” said Munson. “Our students also learn that success often requires many failures and they learn how to persist through them, because they are confident that they will succeed with skills and attitudes that I’m sure have played a key role in the companies that we celebrate tonight. They are creating new things that never before existed and then they are putting those concepts into motion for the betterment of the world. We, at RIT, are proud and pleased to be part of that; changing the world through innovation.”

Richard Notargiacomo is director of Venture Creations. “We are very proud of the track record that Venture Creations has developed over the past few years,” he said. “And we are especially proud of these four companies and look forward to witnessing their contribution to the continued economic development of our region. Rochester is an innovation hub, and Venture Creations, with our steady stream of top-quality, high-technology companies, is proud to be an active catalyst in that ecosystem.”

Venture Creations was created in 2003 to provide services to incubating companies, facilitating the development and operation of these companies for the purpose of advancing the educational and research missions of RIT through the enhancement of faculty, student and staff involvement in high technology. It was also created to promote economic development and competitiveness in Monroe County and New York state by encouraging and facilitating the transfer of technology resources to the marketplace.

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