From working to develop the passion of entrepreneurship in the city’s youngest residents to maximizing the potential of current business owners, CUE is positioned to be a leader within the urban community and a central resource for urban entrepreneurial programs and research.
Ebony Miller, CUE’s interim director, believes the center’s strength lies in providing business and consulting resources—and much-needed encouragement— to urban entrepreneurs and anyone with an existing business or hoping to launch a new business within the urban area.
“Experiential learning is especially important to the overall mission of the center,” said Miller. “The people who take advantage of the resources that we provide will walk away with the tools to succeed. We are the convener, a one-stop shop when it comes to giving the community what they need. After all, we are associated with one of the top academic institutions in the country. We are RIT—and we are positioned to provide the best possible learning environment for our business owners and those dreaming of one day becoming entrepreneurs by connecting them to the resources provided by our faculty, staff, students, and community partners.”
This past summer marked the first time CUE hosted nearly 200 Monroe County youngsters in a local iteration of the nationally recognized Lemonade Day program, teaching the city’s youngest entrepreneurs how to turn “lemons into lemonade.”
Founded in Houston in 2007, Lemonade Day is a 14-step process that walks youth from a dream to a business plan and teaches the same principles that are required to start a big company. Paired with adult mentors, the children manned lemonade booths at more than a dozen locations around the county. The profits they earned were theirs to keep.
“While the program inspires youngsters to work hard and make a profit, they are also taught to spend some, save some, and share some by giving back to their community,” said Miller. “CUE is proud to offer a helping hand to build self-worth and confidence, which are so important for our young people to succeed. And, the looks on their faces are simply priceless when they realize the power they hold to make a difference in their communities.”
Kayla Rizzo, a 16-year-old senior at Rochester Early College International High School, heard about CUE’s Future Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs 10-week summer program from her school counselor. Throughout the program, high school students work with RIT student mentors to identify organizations needing help to solve real-world business dilemmas and learn the “tools of the trade” along the way. At the end of the program, the high school students present their business plans to the organizations.
“For me, the most valuable part of the summer program was listening to all of the presentations about finances, management, and so many other aspects of business,” she said. “There are many things that they don’t teach you in high school that are so valuable and that you will need when you get to college, like managing your money.”
Rizzo, who hopes to attend RIT and major in astrophysics, also offered young entrepreneurs a bit of advice after successfully completing the program.
“Networking,” she said. “You have to reach out to people who will support you and connect with people who will help build you up along the way.”
Myneco Ramirez proudly calls Rochester home. The RIT alumna (’09 information technology), Chicago native, and smallbusiness owner was anxious to put down roots in Rochester following graduation, based on the promise of a resurgence in innovation. She rents a downtown apartment with her husband, Brandon, also an RIT graduate, so they can be part of Rochester’s city-living revitalization. And with support from CUE, Ramirez and other local business owners have become key players in building Rochester’s new ecosystem and shaping the city’s startup business culture.
CUE has been playing an integral role in helping Ramirez to build her business strategy. Ramirez was a member of the first class of CUE’s Capacity Building Program, an intensive six-month customized training program designed for fledgling entrepreneurs that assesses the business’ structure, teaches business owners key skills like finance, marketing, and selling, among others, and stresses growth stimulation. The advice she received would prove valuable later when Ramirez launched her company.
“I learned so much about myself and what I was truly passionate about,” she said. “I learned how to work, how to manage, how to be a business owner. In fact, many of the business principles I learned at the CUE were new to me because I was so focused on the ‘technology’ part of IT in college. I graduated from that program armed with the knowledge that I needed to make a fresh start.”
Today, Ramirez is a successful IT consultant and founder and CEO of MBR Concepts LLC. She is also in a position to give back to the center that jump-started her career by partnering with CUE to teach young people about entrepreneurship and give them an opportunity to use their skills to solve real-world business problems in the Future Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs program.
Always looking ahead to what’s next, Ramirez smiles when she considers how she is able to use her business and her experience as an entrepreneur to re-position her adopted home as a hub for encouraging and educating new business owners.
“When most people attend college, they learn about career options— doctor, lawyer, IT professional,” Ramirez said. “But there is another option on the table—starting your own business. I just knew that I didn’t fit into that traditional 9-to-5 mold. And I suspect that there are so many others who feel the same way. I envision a great future for the CUE. It’s a phenomenal resource for people like me—and there’s nothing better than having unwavering support right in your backyard.”
Ebony Miller has been named interim director of RIT’s Center for Urban Entrepreneurship. Miller previously served as the CUE’s program manager. In her new role, Miller will be responsible for advancing the center’s mission, which includes providing business and consulting resources and encouragement to urban entrepreneurs and anyone with an existing business or hoping to launch a new business within the urban area. She will also lead the center’s efforts to raise funds to provide critical assistance to underserved businesses in high-growth sectors, and foster outreach and collaboration with the Rochester City School District and entrepreneurship education for dislocated workers. She will also maintain partnerships with entrepreneurship and training efforts currently found within RIT’s Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Venture Creations business incubator, Center for Bioscience Education and Technology, the Clean Energy Incubator, and the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute.
Miller came to RIT in 2011 as a senior staff specialist for the Kate Gleason College of Engineering. She became program manager for CUE in 2013. In her most recent role, she created CUE’s Capacity Building Program, raised the funds to implement Lemonade Day in Monroe County, and built relationships with partnering organizations.
“I am both excited and humbled as I embark upon this new role,” said Miller. “I look forward to continuing to cultivate our urban entrepreneurial ecosystem through our service and program offerings and constant assessment in collaboration with our partnering organizations.”
Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in communication and a master’s degree in informatics from University at Buffalo.