Rochester Institute of Technology recently hosted the international finals for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!). Founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester, with support from the Kauffman Foundation and subsequently E. Philip Saunders and other local business leaders, YEA! serves thousands of pre-college students in more than 150 communities across the United States. This year’s competition also included top international talent from China and India. We are so honored to host the world’s top aspiring entrepreneurs who descended upon Rochester to celebrate their passions and achievements.
In 2011, the United States Chamber of Commerce-led Campaign for Free Enterprise became a national sponsor to encourage a spirit of enterprise among tomorrow’s future leaders.
Combining these highly successful pre-college outreach programs with the talent now being attracted by our colleges and universities from across the world establishes the foundation for our budding entrepreneurial ecosystem. As Rochester Beacon publisher Alex Zapesochny illustrates, Rochester is truly in a category of one when it comes to entrepreneurial potential. He cites research from the Center for Governmental Research that shows that Rochester is ranked No. 1 in the country for producing the most STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) college graduates, per capita. This is even more impressive when adding that we are second only to universities in Orlando, Fla., in producing the largest number of arts graduates (think Disney). As Zapesochny suggests, this can only mean that we must be No. 1 in producing STEAM (STEM + Arts) graduates, a significant ingredient for talent-hungry entrepreneurial ventures.
While some of our talent leaves the area for opportunities across the nation and beyond, seeds of opportunity are being planted and cultivated right here in Rochester, bringing hundreds of jobs to our community. RIT graduate and Datto founder Austin McChord expanded his company in downtown Rochester. Companies like Catalant, LiveTiles and EmployeeChannel have followed Datto and are also finding success here. Mark Oney, senior vice president of product operations at EmployeeChannel Inc., is an RIT graduate who resides in Silicon Valley and has been involved in multiple start-ups. Although EmployeeChannel was founded in Silicon Valley, the company has also expanded in Rochester. Catalant is bringing significant venture capital, such as Highland Capital, that includes lead investor David Fialkow, who introduced Catalant to and invested in Datto, and who co-produced the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary film, “Icarus.”
These companies point to “talent access” from our local colleges and universities, as well as a disproportionate number of highly skilled workers in Rochester. They also cite an “infectious” innovative spirit and appreciation for a favorable combination of commercial cost structure, standard of living and cost of living that cannot be found in bigger city centers. Rochester also offers a desired location between the southern shores of Lake Ontario and the burgeoning Finger Lakes region that supports performing arts centers, community festivals, world-class wineries, professional sports teams, Strong National Museum of Play, George Eastman House, and the list goes on.
A recent Rochester Business Journal article highlighted a new book, “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth,” from MIT economists Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson. The book suggests that economic growth can be supported by the establishment of technology hubs across the nation. It indicates that there are dozens of cities in the United States that have the preconditions for success: a large pool of educated workers, high-quality universities and a low cost of living—and it ranked Rochester No. 1! This is why companies like Amazon and T-Mobile, for example, put Rochester at the top of their lists for their expansion plans.
Our local colleges and universities, home to two National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Nodes, are also nurturing these entrepreneurial advancements on campuses through programming and maker spaces supporting a plethora of activities, resources, and entrepreneurship competitions. Adding to our rich university resources, Rochester has public and private entrepreneurial initiatives such as NextCorps, Rochester Downtown Innovation Zone, The Entrepreneurs Network, RocGrowth, High Tech Rochester, Urban League of Rochester, Finger Lakes Business Accelerator Cooperative, Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Business Accelerator Cooperative.
Jim Senall, president of NextCorps, centered on the sixth floor of Sibley Square, says, “Already, we’re supporting more than 60 different start-ups … four of which are international.” And as freelancer Martin Edic points out, at the Village Gate Square complex alone, “there are three companies (CaterTrax, CloudCheckr and Jorsek) that have collectively created over 200 jobs in enterprise software with wide-spread applications.” Carlson Cowork currently supports dozens of start-ups and there are other Cowork spaces springing up across the Rochester region. The greater Rochester area also features enormous entrepreneurial resources backed by government champions like Mayor Lovely Warren, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, and others.
We love Rochester for our rich history of innovation, powering the likes of companies big and small such as Bausch & Lomb, Capstone IT, Century Mold, Constellation Brands, Innovative, Kodak, Optimax, Optimation, Paychex, Rochester Business Journal, REDCOM, RF Communications, Wegmans and Xerox, just to name a few. Fueled by this history, we are beginning to see the convergence of university research and talent, government backing, and private investments come together to drive entrepreneurial and economic results.
As we head into the summer months, I encourage Rochester families to check out the many pre-college entrepreneurial activities offered by RIT and other local colleges and universities. And I hope that everyone in the community will take the opportunity to explore Rochester’s resources and events that will ignite the entrepreneurial spirit within us all.
Once again, the future of Rochester looks bright, driven by our rich entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Jacqueline Mozrall is dean of Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.