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The University Magazine

Innovative programs provide kick start for emerging entrepreneurs

California's Silicon Valley has roots deep in the classrooms and labs of Stanford University.

Likewise, development of the Boston's high-tech corridor was largely driven by MIT.

Will programs now underway at RIT ultimately spur an economic and technical renaissance in the Rochester area?

Maybe so. The university is stepping up its efforts in this regard. The overall goal: Provide experiences, mentoring and coursework that foster entrepreneurial thinking.

"Studies have proven that people who have had that experiential education are much more likely to start businesses later in life," says Richard DeMartino, director of the Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and associate professor of management, Saunders College of Business. "Maybe not right out of school, but soon after that. The age at which young college graduates start businesses is getting younger and younger."

This is good news for the region, says Sandra Parker, president and CEO, Rochester Business Alliance.

"It has been the small businesses that have sustained the area over the past decade as the large companies have cut back," she says. "That's going to be even more true in the future. We look to the young, educated people for the innovation and business growth we need and we work closely with the area colleges and universities to encourage that."

Among the newest programs and facilities aimed at helping students nurture their inner entrepreneur are:

  • Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (, founded four years ago, the umbrella for a collection of academic programs and facilities, including a student business incubator within RIT's Venture Creations business incubator.
  • Center for Student Innovation (, a multi-faceted facility opened last year where students from all disciplines can collaborate, brainstorm, build, and showcase their ideas.
  • Entrepreneurs Hall (, which combines a residential facility and academic courses, mentoring, co-ops, and 24/7 access to the Center for Student Innovation. Entrepreneurs Hall, opening this September, gained national attention in "Incubation Nation: Where Great Ideas Are Born," an article in the May 2010 issue of Inc. magazine.
  • Shark Tank business presentation competition. In the first of what is intended to become an annual program, 17 groups of students summed up their business ideas in short "elevator talks" before a panel of business people, and $3,500 in prize money was awarded.
  • RIT48, also new this spring, a weekend event that brought students from across campus together to collaborate, receive coaching from professionals, develop an idea for a startup company and present it to a panel of judges. To see a video on the inaugural event, visit
  • Deaf Entrepreneurship Research Initiative, a multidisciplinary effort to explore the current state of deaf entrepreneurship. Funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the project involves NTID, the Saunders College of Business, the Simone Center and the Lab for Social Computing. The initiative hopes to announce research results by June 2011, says DeMartino, principal investigator.