The 9th annual Saunders Student Accelerator Investor Demo Night took place this week at the Rochester Institute of Technology. More than 100 attendees watched pitches from eight teams, which have been developing startups as part of a hands-on applied entrepreneurship program. This year marks the first time that the program has been available to students on a year-round basis, greatly expanding the number of students and startups that RIT now impacts.
The eight startups aim to address a wide variety of customers and needs:
• Sign-Speak seeks to empower the deaf community by facilitating communication between the deaf/hard-of-hearing and the hearing communities. It does this through a sign language recognition technology that enables translation and captioning in real time. Last year, Sign-Speak won RIT’s Tiger Tank competition, besting 59 other ideas.
• Blueprint is trying to develop a tool for the creation and use of special education content. It can help teach basic skills through behavioral guidance and repetition-tracking features. One of its aims is to help teach skills that enable independence.
• FriendZone will soon be unveiling its mobile app to make it easier for people to plan social events and meet up with friends. The goal is to help young professionals minimize screen time in favor of real-life “facetime” with friends. It will do this by serving as an integrated platform for personal calendars, group chats and event calendars.
• Payble is a mobile app aimed at restaurants and their customers. By enabling a much quicker and easier process for paying the check, the app will improve efficiency and “table turn” for restaurants while creating a better user experiences for guests.
• WinutRx is developing an app to help those with chronic illnesses to adhere to precise diet restrictions in order to maintain optimal health. The software will serve to educate patients and make it easier for them to manage their chronic conditions. The company is currently in the process of a crowdfunding campaign to help finance further progress.
• QuickTix is an online platform to help small theaters and schools to easily sell tickets to their events. It offers simple pricing options and active customer support to differentiate from competitors. QuickTix was used to register attendees for the investor demo night, and it seemed to work quite well.
• VeeTV is creating a video-streaming service showing sign language and deaf community content. It aims to revolutionize sign language entertainment and to support deaf filmmakers and actors in the process.
• Sniffy aims to develop a tool to help dog owners to better train their dogs. It will do this through trackable plans and professional dog training support. The company is currently pursuing a crowdfunding campaign.
One never knows which, if any, of these young startups will go on to long-term success. But measuring the success of a student startup incubator (or the university that runs it) by the number of companies it produces misses the real point of teaching entrepreneurship.
The goal of such educational programs should be to provide the structure and opportunity for students to practice and become better at the art of entrepreneurship. For those that actually go on to become entrepreneurs after college, this practice lays the foundation for developing critical skills related to the creativity, persuasion and persistence one needs for success. For those that go on to other kinds of careers, learning entrepreneurial skills and approaches will help with navigating a wide range of business and professional challenges.
From what was clearly on display during the demo night presentations, these students have already benefitted from their entrepreneurial education—no matter what ultimately comes of their startups. And both RIT and Rochester will be all the better for it.
After three years of coaching early stage startups at High Tech Rochester (now Nextcorps), I totally agree that whether these startups succeed as businesses is not the point. The maturity required to bring an idea to the point where you can present it to an experienced audience as a potential business is an incredible learning experience.
VeeTV seems like a doable winner to me- start a YouTube channel and invite creators to post deaf-friendly content. No reason to pitch that, just do it! Definitely a first-mover challenge…