6:09pm

Fri October 21, 2011
Higher Ed

Conference highlights RIT's focus on entrepreneurship

More than 600 people turned out for RIT’s eighth annual entrepreneurship conference on Friday. School officials say this year’s conference was the biggest yet.

There were 12 sessions, a keynote from web entrepreneur David Kidder and even a “Shark Tank” competition for student entrepreneurs.

It all underscored RIT’s growing efforts to make entrepreneurship a major focus.

“The whole idea was to do something that is RIT-focused in its strengths - which are multi-disciplinary and experiential,” says Richard DeMartino, director of the school’s Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

DeMartino, who helped organize the conference, says RIT is uniquely positioned for fostering entrepreneurialism among its students.

“Because we don’t just have people imagining it and writing business plans; we have the engineers that can make it,” says DeMartino. “Most [places] can’t help you link together the technology, design and business people.”

Entrepreneurship in action

One student taking on that charge is Eric Irish, a third-year information science and technology student from Ithaca.

Irish was the winner of Friday’s “Shark Tank” competition, in which five finalists pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges.

“I’m getting two grand for this,” Irish says.

Irish’s winning concept is called CampusSafe - a phone app that helps users report on-campus incidents. Think of it as one of those blue light emergency phones in your pocket.

Irish says the app is in development with RIT right now (where it will be called TigerSafe), but ultimately he wants to branch out onto other campuses around the country.

As for pitching to potential investors, he thinks he has found the sweet spot:

“I simplified everything. I took out slides. I cut it down to just the bare meat,” explains Irish. “I identified the problem in the beginning, I identified the market and then I just came up with the solution and showed it to them. I think that really did it.”

As for that $2,000, Irish says he’s plowing it back into the product. He says most of it will go toward the Mac he recently bought to do iPhone development.