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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Innovation Ecosystem: Promoting student innovation and entrepreneurship



The motto of entrepreneurship at RPI:  A way to think. A way to learn. A way to succeed. 
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seal.jpg

"Entrepreneurial thinking lies at the heart of Rensselaer’s philosophy. Like our faculty, Rensselaer students are encouraged to pursue creativity and discovery — and the results are often spectacular. Our undergraduates embrace change in ways that have transformed how the world works, plays, and lives.

Our entrepreneurship program is built on the premise that not everyone wants to, or needs to, become an entrepreneur, but in today’s world everyone should know how to think like one."

This statement shows RPI's commitment to entrepreneurial thinking, not so much the outcome of entreprenurship. The RPI Exemplar's program is a great example of the culture of entrepreneurship that RPI thrives on, as the Exemplar's program is designed for students who have a high level of interest in complementing their education by aquiring an entrepreneurial perspective.

Formal programs:

  • B.S. Electronic Arts (Media, Ecology, Entrepreneurship and Experimentation)
  • BS. Design,Innovation and Society
  • M.S. Technological Communication & Entrepreneurship
  • Ph.D. Science and Technology Studies
  • Minor Entrepreneurship

Extracurricular Activities:


Conferences and Workshops: 

Education geared toward entrepreneurial thinking encourages students at RPI to think in different ways, to come up with new ideas to solve problems and to enter on-campus competitions such as the Eship competition series, the Class of ’51 Entrepreneurial Fund, the Elevator Pitch Competition, and the RPI Business Plan Competition.  These programs often provide the spark which gives students the entrepreneurial bug and encourages them to continue pursuing their ideas.

The Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship (SCTE), centered in Rensselaer’s Lally School of Management & Technology, helps to foster new generations of budding and successful entrepreneurs through outreach programs, education, and support systems.  In recognition of the fact that most business students aren’t inventors, the Lally School intersects with other schools on campus to encourage the formation of new student teams and the fusing of their ideas.

Small Buhrmaster grants in the amounts of $1,000 to $2,000 are available, as determined by the Director of the Severino Center, for student ventures to test the market feasibility of their business concepts and to establish and define their target customers.  Mr. Buhrmaster, ’69 is a friend of the Lally school and a member of its advisory council.

The Severino Center also provides Mentoring and Resources via the Student Sandbox, Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, the Rensselaer Student Entrepreneurship Club, and assistance in finding teammates.  Experienced entrepreneur volunteers are assigned to coach teams that receive a Buhrmaster grant to help guide them in their market and business development activities.  

Lanscape Canvas Spreadsheet

The Fall 2018 Landscape Canvas can be found at this link

Encouraging faculty innovation and entrepreneurship

Incredible professors like Burt Swersey, Dr. Eric Ledet, and many others

"For the last decade, the Rensselaer Plan has provided a blueprint for transformation and impact. It has guided the development of an exceptional campus environment for advancing research with the potential to address science and society’s most challenging problems. Based on this strong foundation, Rensselaer research is creating a better future through the innovation and engineering of a better world. With our accelerated trajectory, the best is yet to come."

Research is huge on RPI's campus and encouraging innovation is both in line with The Rensselaer Plan and Rensselaer's motto of "why not change the world?"

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Innovation and Entrepreneurship Classes and Activities

There are multiple different types of organizations and classes that try to teach theses sorts of opportunities and ways of thinking at Rensselaer, including a class called How to Change the World and Starting a New Venture. In addition to this, there are activities such as Design for America and Foundry that are also a part of the I&E spectrum. In addition to these supplementary classes, there are also other courses such as Capstone Senior Design Course that help to develop interdisciplinary bridges across multiple academic departments. A prerequisite for this sort of course consists of many different classes across many different academic subjects, as well as the class Introduction to Engineering design during most engineering student's sophomore years, which focus on giving exposure to the design process that will help Rensselaer's engineering students in the future. 

Other Resources

In addition to classes, Rensselaer offers many different types of laboratories that are opened during certain hours of the day. These include the Mercer Lab for Electronics, the MILL, the Forge and Student Shop. These labs are opened during certain hours of the day that give certain students access to different types of equipment for them to do prototyping and other types of work with.

There are many different co-op and internship opportunities at Rensselaer as well, that work with many companies. Some of Rensselaer's top employers are United Technology Corporation, Boeing, Cisco, General Electric, GlobalFoundries, Deloitte, Epic Systems, FactSet, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Schlumberger, Hasbro and IBM.

Actively supporting the university technology transfer function

RPI Office of Technology Commercialization:

RPI Technology Transfer/Innovation Hub:

The Rensselaer Plan

The Rensselaer Plan addresses technology transfer and intellectual property policies that encourage entrepreneurship.  Research is the major driver of science and technology transfer, invention, and innovation. Technological entrepreneurship completes the technology lifecycle — from discovery to the creation of impact in the global marketplace. With an expanding research base, we will cultivate a campus culture that provides the spirit and motivation for inventors to pursue commercialization. We will: Increase awareness of intellectual property, preserving its value in research agreements and maximizing its value under shared equity arrangements and licensing agreements, covering intellectual property developed in research and materials developed for distance education.  Create intellectual property policies that encourage entrepreneurship and allowthe university to take equity positions in new ventures as appropriate.  Ensure that intellectual property policies have adequate and appropriate conflictof interest and conflict of commitment provisions. Develop an awareness and infrastructure of intellectual property rights policies, incentives, and marketing to support innovation and commercialization.

Creating and Supporting New Ventures

World-class technological research universities excel in transferring research outputs to the commercial sector. We will create innovative programs targeted at growing major new technological ventures and creating value. We will:  Enhance the process of matching researchers and entrepreneurs to create new ventures that take Rensselaer intellectual property to market  Provide business planning and facilitate venture capital for faculty and students for start-up companies that commercialize leading-edge Rensselaer research.  Expand the Incubator program to accommodate more start-ups and second-stage incubation.  Expand the flow of technology, talent, and ventures into the Rensselaer Technology Park and the Capital Region. Bring new focus to the Rensselaer Technology Park as the locus for mature ventures based on the technologies taught and researched at the Institute. Work with private and public sources to attract new venture capital and entrepreneurial talent to the Capital Region.

Facilitating University-Industry Collaboration

RPI Tech Park

Rensselaer Technology Park is a university related park for technology ventures seeking a unique environment focused on the interface between industry and education.

According to the website, the University Interactions Policy of the Tech Park is built upon "a fundamental objective of the Park is to develop interactions between tenant companies and the university.  Such interactions enrich the educational environment of the university and help the companies stay on the leading edge of their technologies.  All companies in the Park automatically become “affiliates” of Rensselaer."  Building a synergistic environment is a responsibility shared by all members of the Park staff."

EVE (Emerging Ventures Ecosystem)

The work of turning ideas into real companies happens in RPI’s incubator, the Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE).  EVE is a distributed incubation program which accelerates the growth of new businesses and boosts the transfer of scientific and technological breakthroughs from the laboratory and classroom to the marketplace, for social and economic impact.

Launched in February 2011, the Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute serves to link “Rensselaer institutional resources and alumni/ae expertise symbiotically with community strengths, in a multi-faceted partnership for mutual benefit.”  The goal of EVE is to nurture new businesses and to build upon the decades of successful efforts of RPI’s previous incubator by helping young businesses grow and succeed.

Rensselaer’s previous incubator program was opened in 1980 as the nation’s first such program wholly sponsored and operated by a university. In its later stages, the incubator was primarily used for its “brick and mortar” assets, as place for entrepreneurially minded students to rent at a low cost, with convenient access to a photocopier.  The model of RPI’s old incubator was traditional: it was rented by students who were seeking to start a venture, which either lived or died, and then moved on.  The RPI Incubator building was closed in late 2009 simply because it did not make any money for the institution.

The new EVE program utilizes an innovative distributed incubation model, maintaining a central office in Troy, NY and working with each company to find an ideal matchup of space-to-enterprise in Troy and the surrounding area.  EVE is overseen by James Spencer, who has 20 years of experience in leading organizational creation and growth as an entrepreneurial business executive.

Once a new company completes the application process for the EVE program — through which Rensselaer will determine, in part, whether the entrepreneur is willing to put in the effort to make the company successful — the program will assign a status to the company: pre-seed, emerging, or early stage. Assigning these descriptions will help EVE mentors and administrators determine the specific services needed by each business.

Under EVE, businesses that are accepted into the program will receive a series of specific services that will help accelerate their growth.  A board of advisers will be established from community resources or alumni/ae for each new company.  If a company already has a board of advisers or directors, EVE will assign an additional person to the board to act as a liaison to mobilize resources within the Institute.

Upon formation of a board of advisors, three or four key objectives are developed by each company with the help of their advisory board.  Milestones for these objectives are then established for each quarter, in an effort to create a concrete plan for success and to generate measurable objectives; new goals are developed for succeeding semesters.  Companies must continue to show steady progress in order to remain in the program.

As a member of EVE, a company will have access to the Entrepreneur(s)-in-Residence at the Lally School as well as other resources including labs, patenting and licensing services, faculty, and students for work-study assignments, internships (REIP), and student projects.  Additional resources for EVE members include alumni/ae and community volunteers such as attorneys and accountants who are available to answer questions and provide advice and one time assistance for basic questions.  If an EVE company requires further professional assistance, they are encouraged to select a professional service company from a list provided through the EVE program. Such services may be offered at a discount to seed and early stage companies.

EVE hosts monthly peer review meetings, known as CEO Roundtable Discussions, among the CEOs of the incubated companies as a framework for peer-to-peer coaching among the mix of pre-seed, early state, and emerging companies supported by the EVE incubator program.  At these meetings, participants will sign disclosure agreements allowing a platform for confidential open discussions about topics and issues of importance to them.  The companies will also be invited to a monthly meeting featuring a speaker or a lecturer based upon a topic selected by the EVE companies’ CEOs and will also attend quarterly meet-ups for all employees of incubated companies, allowing the employees to build relationships and exchange ideas.

EVE promotes and introduces its companies to investors, assists them in identifying and seeking grant opportunities such as NYSERDA and SBIR, and helps them prepare for business plan competitions; the companies are given assistance in preparing applications, presentations, and pitches.  Additionally, members are provided access to professional grant writers to assist them as needed.

The EVE companies are invited to expand their professional networks through networking opportunities within the local business and academic community in order increase exposure to decision makers, funding sources from grants, and potential angel investors.  EVE is physically located off-campus in an effort to incubate companies directly in the community of Troy, NY and to strategically re-invent the typical “brick and mortar” business incubation model followed by RPI’s old incubator.  EVE is not a center where entrepreneurial students can simply rent space and use a photocopier the way a “brick and mortar” incubator is often used, but it is a 4,000 square foot center which strictly focuses on moving students through a business development continuum and on preparing them to fill vacant business facilities in the Troy community, leased at very low prices by realtors.  EVE does not want to focus on space like the traditional brick and mortar incubation model because if a company takes up too much space, they can’t let others in; student startups enrolled in EVE are treated like real businesses.

EVE was launched in February of 2011 with eight companies and now supports over thirty.  The continuum of business development begins with the formation of customized ninety-day plans which include 3-5 specific short term goals, preparing these young ventures to fill business space in the community.  Each venture enrolled in EVE has access to a huge network of professional individuals which include over 90,000 alumni that can potentially serve as mentors (25-30 of which are very active), the wind tunnel and prototyping capabilities at RPI, NYSERDA money, professional services (the first hour or two of which are provided for free), and accounting firms to help set up Quickbooks.  Although many professional services are not provided for EVE companies, aggressive rates are negotiated with local providers and funding often comes from venture pitches.

The key to RPI’s Emerging Ventures Ecosystem is that companies never graduate from the incubator because business development and iteration is never finalized.  Companies supported by EVE are always welcome to come back and ask for assistance in making new connections with the large international network of individuals.  RPI’s large alumni network serves as a virtual incubator in the sense that the network is leveraged to help grow companies as they experience the transition from technology ideas and intellectual property to commercialization through their education. 

Engaging with regional and local economic development efforts

Startup Tech Valley - Where Entrepreneurs and the Community Come Together

A monthly meetup for first-time entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, employees of startups, serviceprodiders to startups, and anyone else who wants to be involved.

Tech Valley Center of Gravity

The Tech Valley Center of Gravity is a federation of makers, hackers, crafters, and artists who share camaraderie, space, and resources to do our tinkering. We have a permanent makerspace, several satellite locations, and a community of local individuals and organizations to share and support them. We are based in downtown Troy, NY, and sponsor events all over the New York State Capital Region.

Our primary goal is to build a community around the idea of doing for ourselves, rather than just passively consuming, and learning how the arts, crafts, and technologies that surround us every day work, along the way. We also aim to create a network of contacts for small business and start-ups in the Capital Region to connect with local leaders, like-minded businesses and individuals, and tools and resources they might not otherwise have access to.

IgniteU NY

IgniteU NY is an independent program focused on developing the entrepreneurs of New York State. They have created a professional yet fun environment filled with all the technology and amenities you need to flourish. Itis also an industry agnostic program focused primarily on the development of the entrepreneur, moreso than the development of the company. They offer various programs to connect entrepreneurs with their community and help them develop a wide range of entrepreneurial skill.

IgniteU NY offers a unique nine-week summer accelerator program for entrepreneurs. The experiential program incorporates aspects of the lean startup methodology and adds general business development and startup education.

They are looking for startups who have a proof of concept and a validated business model that describes their customer segments and value propositions.

The accelerator program, along with all of the other IgniteU initiatives, puts an emphasis on engaging in the community and building relationships.


TAccelerate518 (A518) is a consortium of stakeholders nestled in the heart of our State—New York’s Capital Region. The Capital Region encompasses four counties: Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga. The synergy of these four counties is the catalyst for invention and innovation.

The Capital Region has a rich history of incubating and growing multinational corporations, including: New York Central Railroad, American Express, Cap Cities, General Electric, American Locomotive Company, Albany International, International Paper, and Albany Molecular Research. Accelerate518 is a platform to facilitate multiple groups working together to advance entrepreneurship and innovation in the Capital Region.  The goals of A518 include fostering active collaboration among educators and stakeholders, providing practical resources for entrepreneurs, sharing resources for education and training, and developing a network of individuals committed to invigorating the startup culture of the Capital Region.  We have aligned our interests to help the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem grow companies and create sustainable jobs. Initial core members of A518 include: CEG, Albany Medical College, Albany Law School, Hudson Valley Community College, RPI, Sage Colleges, Siena College, Skidmore College, Union College, and University at Albany.

Landscape Canvas and Presentation

Landscape Canvas Documentation

Landscape Presentation

Related Links

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Student Priorities

University Innovation Fellows

Fall 2018:

Gabriella Fantell

Siddharth Rao

Fall 2017:

Jacquelyn Demshick

Jacqueline Curtsinger

Ria Shroff

Spring 2017:

Jacquelyn Demshick

Jacqueline Curtsinger

Ria Shroff

Fall 2017:

Vincent Arena

Zaire Johnson

Spring 2016:

Jim Boulter

Jordan Dunne

Ray Parker

Hayley Roy Gill

Spring 2014:

Meghan Olson