Tracking driver fatigue, creating toys for developmentally disabled children, and developing body temperature-regulated apparel for multiple sclerosis patients are a few of the uniquely innovative business ideas created by multidisciplinary student teams during this year's Saunders Summer Start-Up program. The 11 teams officially unveiled their ideas to potential investors at the wrap-up event at Student Innovation Hall on Aug. 10.
Each summer, student teams are encouraged to jumpstart their ventures at the small-business launchpad in hopes of kickstarting real companies. The 10-week program course is sponsored by Saunders College of Business and hosted by the Albert J. Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This year, 11 teams were selected for entry out of the 40 teams that applied.
According to Richard DeMartino, professor and Simone Center director, "RIT has the oldest student accelerator in the country in the Simone Center, complete with an intensive and integrative entrepreneurship program. We are fortunate to report that participation in Saunders Summer Start-Up steadily increases with each passing year and the competition is always fierce."
Throughout the summer, each of the startups was offered a stipend, a team expense fund, working space at the Simone Center, and received support from RIT faculty, assigned mentors and community business leaders.
Jean Kase '00 (EMBA), executive director of The Entrepreneurs Network and a member of Rochester Angel Network, followed up with the teams at the event after working with them on their pitches several weeks ago.
"This cohort is a great mix of student companies-really creative and innovative and a good mix of goods and services that they're hoping to bring to market," said Kase. "Having members of the community serve as advisers and mentors who can be supportive is something that I feel is a way of giving back. Saunders Summer Start-Up is an excellent opportunity for these students to get real-world experience in what it takes to start a company. But even more important are the connections that RIT is providing them by encouraging meetings with business and technical experts."
Austin DePalma, a fourth-year photographic and imaging arts student from Chappaqua, N.Y., and his business partner Andrew McGee, an industrial design graduate student from Rochester, N.Y., developed the idea for Flux Keyboards. DePalma says he's happy the program helped them take their idea and apply it to the real world in order to get it off the ground.
"We've worked really hard on developing our product," said DePalma. "We were a little nervous, but we had a great pitch and were excited to share it. The coaching throughout the program was the best and we learned a lot about the process of running a start-up business and focusing on consumer development."
This summer's student teams were:
- Anova: A voice-to-text translation system for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals that uses a mini processor and microphone.
- Aware: Tracks driver fatigue and provides real-time alerts.
- Otto: Musical toy with additional software application for children with developmental disabilities that helps teach and define cause and effect for children.
- ThermApparel: Lower cost, discreet, flexible garment that assists multiple sclerosis patients by regulating body temperature in hot weather.
- Flux Keyboards: Portable, affordable and personalized device of modular keys and functions that can be selected and arranged by musicians.
- Form Eyewear: Customized eyewear that utilizes cross-platform software to measure facial dimensions that allow for perfect fit.
- Muscle Dispenser: Protein dispensing machines that provide protein shakes with personalized flavors to meet health goals.
- BeScene: Interactive shopping experience targeted toward video streamers.
- Sim Health: Software technology company that aggregates and helps therapists analyze data about patients between sessions.
- ThunderPro: At-home personal training app.
- Ugyo: An access-technology prototype for deaf-blind people with Usher Syndrome to improve communication with peers during meetings or other events
Richard Notargiacomo, interim director of RIT's Venture Creations business incubator, attended the event and thought that several start-ups could be candidates for entry into the incubator.
"The Saunders Summer Start-Up program is well-aligned with RIT's Venture Creations business incubator," said Notargiacomo. "We use the same processes and methods so that, for students who really want to drive their businesses forward, it makes for a smooth transition. All of the teams did an excellent job of hitting on the key issues shaping their businesses."