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Q4: Richard DeMartino, director, the Simone Center for Student Innovation

Rochester Business Journal
August 17, 2012

Q: This month BestCollegesOnline.com ranked Rochester Institute of Technology's student business incubator No. 1 in the nation. What does this ranking mean to RIT and the Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship?

A: The ranking is recognition of RIT's unique approach to innovation and entrepreneurship. RIT builds on its diversity of programs (technology, design/art, business and humanities) and applied focus (co-ops, applied classroom projects and learning by doing) to foster learning about the innovation and entrepreneurial processes.
 
Q: What does the strength of RIT's incubator mean for the region?
A: RIT has always produced alumni who are applied and ready to solve problems. RIT's transition toward multidisciplinary innovation will benefit the region by creating alumni who are obsessed with creating value through new ventures, social organizations and existing businesses. Roughly one in 25 of our student teams creates a high-growth business opportunity. These opportunities will impact the community in the short term. The more significant impact, however, will occur in the longer term as a new generation of RIT alumni creates even more value throughout the community. 
 
Q: What growth or developments do you see in the future for student innovation and business incubation at RIT?
A: RIT's academic programs facilitate thousands of innovation-oriented projects each year. The Simone Center supports dozens of multidisciplinary innovation and entrepreneurial projects that are seeking commercialization or realization. Our goal in the next several years is to dramatically increase the number of multidisciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship projects we facilitate. The vast majority will come from student ideas and discipline-related projects which students want to continue and expand. To the best of my knowledge, no university in the country has attempted to create multidisciplinary innovation and entrepreneurial projects on this type of scale.
 
Q: What is RIT's approach to innovation and business incubation, and how are these efforts integrated across different areas and programs?
A: The Simone Center is primarily focused on academic outcomes and secondarily interested in the commercial outcomes. We work with students early in their projects' conception, and if they show promise of becoming a scaling business or program, we transition them to the RIT commercial incubator, Venture Creations. The Simone Center is predicated on the fantastic education that students get in their home disciplines. It's advised by a multidisciplinary board with representatives from all of RIT's colleges. The center's mission emphasizes assisting students in learning to create value for themselves, their employers and society. We want students to understand the innovation and entrepreneurship process in a real setting-and be able to repeat it many times throughout their careers. Two major foci of programs are the need for the right team and leadership. RIT possesses internationally recognized programs in technology, design/art, business, etc. Many universities have engineering and computer science students developing products and services. All business schools have students developing business plans (really business cases). RIT is different: We assist lead entrepreneurs and innovators in forming appropriate and balanced teams to develop both business and product (technology) cases. We build on RIT's wonderful diversity of programs to allow our projects to be real.
 
With the assistance of an innovation coach, our student teams develop unique ideas, which include inventions, and refine the business and technology case with real stakeholders. They work with customers, develop usable prototypes, learn about the real nature of the market and decide whether there is a real opportunity. They can then decide if they want to go further and execute their vision.
 
  The Simone Center's programs affect students from different programs in different ways. If you are an industrial design student with an award-winning product design, we can assist you in building a team that includes engineers and business students. The engineers provide expertise in building the product and determining its cost, while the business students lead in obtaining the voice of the customer, market knowledge and capital needs. The students work together and learn from each other, gaining key skills that will help them throughout their careers.
 
  The same is true if an idea is generated by an engineering, a mathematics, a business or a social science student. We facilitate team development, learning and early-stage execution. The Simone Center works closely with all the colleges to support their students and add a multidisciplinary dimension to their concepts.
 
  All students at RIT, regardless of the program, can gain course credit for their activities if they wish and, with the support of the student's home department, may gain co-op credit. But course or co-op credit is not the primary reason for student involvement; they want to learn and create.
 
8/17/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 

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