RIT 'Shark Tank' Conference Inspires Students
By Bennett J. Loudon, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
A three-student team of students from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf won the â€śshark tankâ€ť competition and a $2,000 prize Friday at the 2012 Entrepreneurs Conference at Rochester Institute of Technology.
The students â€” Tyler Swob, 20, a fourth-year applied math major from San Diego, 22-year-old Jeremiah Thompson, a fourth-year business management student from Olathe, Kansas, and 30-year-old Shane Qualls, a third-year computer integrated machining technology major also from Olathe â€” invented an underwater communication system for SCUBA divers.
â€śIâ€™m seriously considering a masterâ€™s in engineering management degree so this is going to help with my masterâ€™s program,â€ť Swob said through a sign-language interpreter.
The trio finished second in last yearâ€™s competition with an idea for a system that communicates between sports referees and hearing-impaired players.
The shark tank competition came at the end of the one-day conference that included keynote speaker Austin McChord, a 2009 RIT graduate and the founder and CEO of Datto Inc. In five years, McChord grew Datto from a basement start-up to an award-winning provider of data backup and disaster recovery service with 100 employees and revenue in the millions.
The conference, attended by about 600 people, also included a talk by Luis von Ahn, an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and a founder of CAPTCHA, the online anti-spam application. Von Ahn discussed his new free online language learning initiative called Duolingo.
â€śThe conference is one of a variety of programs that involves getting students active collecting their ideas and then helping them get the experiential education to advance it,â€ť said Richard DeMartino, director the RITâ€™s Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Alissa Anderson, 22, of Clifton Park, Saratoga County, a mechanical engineering student who attended the conference, said she doesnâ€™t have a specific idea yet, but she hopes to have her own business some day.
â€śI donâ€™t come from a marketing background so Iâ€™ve been picking up a lot of marketing tricks and ideas for how to use technology on the business side of things,â€ť she said.
About 50 teams of students applied for the shark tank contest. Five finalists were chosen to make a five-minute presentation to a panel of judges.
Brad Linch, 20, of Santa Fe, N.M., and his partner Mohammed Alhamed, won second prize of $1,250 with their idea for an application that gets Internet users to click on banner ads by paying them a small cash reward.
â€śThis was good for us because this was really our first time trying to make money with the idea. This was our first presentation. It definitely helped us a lot,â€ť Linch said.