Exploring Entrepreneurial Endeavors
by Cayla Keiser | published Mar. 2nd, 2019
Starting a business isn’t easy — you either fail or succeed. It requires dedication, patience and a willingness to take risks. Determining where to begin can be a tricky aspect, even when you already have an idea brewing. RIT provides multiple resources for students to get started, from full-time programs to competitions.
Established four years ago, the MAGIC Co-Up program was designed for students who want to work on anything in the digital media realm — including video games, graphic novels and online services. Jennifer Hinton, the assistant director of the MAGIC Center, said that every semester students can apply to the Co-Up program, a term that combines co-op with startup. Typically, Hinton said, they’ll accept up to five teams.
Co-Up is open to any student. Once accepted, students can then utilize the program and get paid hourly — like a part-time job — while still taking classes. Co-Up can also fulfill co-op requirements.
“We will serve as the co-op supervisor and do the work report and all of that, but in order for students to earn co-op credit, it has to be approved in advance by their academic department,” Hinton said.
Fourth year Game Design and Development major Noah Ratcliff and his team used the MAGIC Co-Up in Fall 2018 to work on their Rochester-themed game, Crazy Platez.
“Co-Up provides so much equipment that normal student teams wouldn't have access to. If you're working on a [Virtual Reality] game, we have a whole lab dedicated to it ... that's the kind of thing a student can’t get unless they go through the Co-Up,” Ratcliff said.
Co-Up teams have access to the MAGIC Center 24/7 and work with mentors to advance their projects. The Co-Up works with students near the beta stage of production so that they near publication by the end of Co-Up, Hinton said.
“I describe MAGIC [Co-Up] as an opt-in experience ... If you want to make something for yourself, you need to have a passion for it, you need to have a vision for it and you need to work on it ... even when you may not want to because that is what you committed to doing,” Hinton said.
"If you want to make something for yourself, you need to have a passion for it, you need to have a vision for it and you need to work on it … even when you may not want to."
The MAGIC Co-Up may not be for everyone. Some students might have projects better suited for another entrepreneurial program on campus. The Simone Center, for example, is home to programs, competitions and great minds to help get you started.
“The goal of the Simone Center is to support and educate students about the processes of starting a business and being an entrepreneur and creating innovations,” Dana W. Wolcott, the lead innovation coach at the Simone Center, said.
Some of the notable opportunities include their Applied Entrepreneurship/Applied Venture Creations course and the Saunders Student Accelerator.
Applied Entrepreneurship/Applied Venture Creations is open to all students — undergraduate or graduate — to begin their entrepreneurial adventures. At the start of the class, students go through a teaming process to determine who will work together for the rest of the semester.
Teams are partnered with a coach, and focus heavily on customer discovery at the start. The course instruction is unique — instructors with area-specific expertise take over every few weeks, so teams gain applicable knowledge at a quick pace.
“Some students are just getting started and maybe don’t even have an idea. Other students are already up and running and selling stuff,” Wolcott said. “We can help anybody progress on their business.”
The Applied Entrepreneurship course is required for eligibility into the Saunders Student Accelerator. While in the Accelerator, students are expected to work full time on their project, but are paid and given co-op credit.
The goal is to help budding entrepreneurs build their businesses and seek funds from investors, their website states. Programs are open to all majors — so long as the students are dedicated.
After working with the Simone Center, students can opt for a spot with Venture Creations. It works similarly to the Simone Center; however, it has more of an economic development objective. They pull in those with viable business ideas and remote connections to RIT — from faculty and alumni to “friends of RIT” — who are past the proof of concept stage, as explained by Rich Notargiacomo, director of Venture Creations.
“We like people to have at least advanced the technology — the product — to the point where maybe they made one [prototype],” he said. “The key is we don’t work with companies who still require invention. We want people to be past that.”
Venture Creations primarily supports technology-related businesses, as they take companies whose entrepreneurial goals align with those of the university.
“If someone comes in with a blockbuster pharmaceutical, we’d help refer them to somebody else; but, if someone comes in with a new photon detector, we’re there,” Notargiacomo said.
Once a business is accepted, Venture Creations looks at their entire business model to determine where to focus. Like the Simone Center, Venture Creations provides each business with coaches and mentors to further this focus.
“We believe that the coaching is the core of our service and to our success,” Notargiacomo noted.
"Coaching is the core of our service and to our success."
Overall, the program has been helpful to many aspiring businesses. With four more due in March, Venture Creations has graduated a total of 38 companies. Both the Simone Center and Venture Creations use effectively the same process — they simply see the same type of work at different levels.
“What we’re doing is very, very actively working with Simone Center to ensure that we get a good look at the student efforts, and that we are there for students who want to transition from a part-time endeavor to a full-time endeavor when they graduate,” Notargiacomo said. “... Our general rule is: Get your degree, we’ll figure out how to do the business later.”
For those simply wanting to dip their toes in the entrepreneurial waters rather than diving all the way in, there are competitions and weekend events.
The Simone Center hosts Tiger Tank, a competition for those with early-stage business ideas. IdeaLab is a weekend event for student teams to brainstorm and propose solutions to local community problems. Open to deaf and hard-of-hearing students to create a service, product, business or technology, The Next Big Idea is designed for students to propose solutions to existing challenges and problems.
No matter what your major or passions might be, there are entrepreneurial resources there to help.