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The Foundry-RPI: Developing Entrepreneurial Leaders in an Experience-Based CommunityFoundry-RPI


Making the leap from entrepreneurial student to business startup is no easy task. Are you looking for a place to start? Looking for a place where you can get feedback and support from like-minded peers and experienced business professionals?

The Foundry-RPI program is designed to provide just that place. Launched at Rensselaer with the support of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship as an experiment in the spring semester of 2012, the program found success through the summer, and will continue in the fall of 2012. Over the spring and summer terms 17 startup companies and 24 students have participated in the program.

  Rutvik J. Mehta, Ph.D. ’11, president of ThermoAura, Inc., participates in a project review at the Foundry-RPI. He is currently attempting to commercialize an RPI technology that makes the manufacturing of nanomaterials more efficient.


This fall, the Foundry-RPI is coming out of beta and launching as a fully-supported program of the Severino Center. An information session for the fall 2012 program will be held September 19 at 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Fischbach Room, Folsom Library.

The Foundry-RPI is based upon the Foundry system developed at the University of Utah. In the system, a cohort of student entrepreneurs engage in a lightweight planning process, build a network of advisors, and obtain peer feedback on a weekly basis. Participants commit to a weekly planning process, obtain feedback from their peers, and learn the practices of entrepreneurship and management.

Unlike a typical incubator program, the Foundry is designed to create entrepreneurs, not companies. This hasn’t hindered the success of the participants though. A recent Fast Company article noted that since the Foundry in Utah was initiated in May 2010, it has produced 64 revenue-generating companies, 75 jobs, and about $12 million in revenue.

Check out the Foundry-RPI website or Facebook page for more information and upcoming meetings.

A Home-Grown Connection

The Foundry system was created by Rensselaer graduate Rob Wuebker, Ph.D. ’09, an alumnus of the Rensselaer Lally School. Jason Kuruzovich, assistant professor of information systems at the Lally School, started the Foundry-RPI after seeing the Foundry system in action during a conference at the University of Utah.

“The Foundry-RPI gives student entrepreneurs a framework in which to test their business model and a place to come together for feedback and support,” said Kuruzovich. “At the same time, it’s also a group where it’s okay to archive an idea or pivot the business direction. We are working to develop a group of ‘business model hackers’—students who are trained in techniques to test business models with the minimum amount of investment and effort.”

  Jason Kuruzovich, assistant professor at the Lally School and faculty sponsor of the Foundry-RPI, listens to a student project review during a recent group meeting.


An Eye on the Future of the Region

Originally created to accelerate regional economic growth through the development of entrepreneurial leaders, the Foundry program provides an experience-based community of learning and sharing conducive to those who are starting and growing real companies.

Foundry-RPI emphasizes tactical and leadership skill-building, which is appealing to participating students. The program is free to students and can help them form connections to the multitude of resources throughout the Rensselaer Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE), including the incubator program, technology park, and other research and support centers on campus.

In the future, as it continues to gain momentum, the Foundry-RPI has the potential to contribute to the Capital Region and local economy not only by fostering entrepreneurial leadership, learning, and new ventures, but also with new job creation, economic growth, and development of local businesses.

All Learning Is Important

James Spencer, a veteran entrepreneur and business leader, joined Rensselaer this July as director of real estate and business development. In his new role, he directs all activities related to the Rensselaer Technology Park and the EVE business incubation program.

The incubator program is designed to help entrepreneurs to accelerate the growth of their business and the associated social and economic impacts. EVE links Rensselaer institutional resources and alumni/ae expertise symbiotically with community strengths, in a multi-faceted partnership for mutual benefit.

“The Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship offers many programs for students and faculty interested in learning about and experiencing entrepreneurship,” noted Gina O’Connor, associate dean and professor at the Rensselaer Lally School and director of the Severino Center. “Within our portfolio of programs, Foundry-RPI serves those students who are furthest along in the venture process.”

“As students mature further, they move into our incubation program and then, hopefully, into our Tech Park,” added O’Connor. “The Rensselaer Emerging Ventures Ecosystem is one of the most well-designed innovation management systems among universities that we know of, and the Foundry-RPI has taken its place among the most successful elements of the EVE system.”

Spencer recently attended a Foundry-RPI meeting and shared information about the resources at both Rensselaer and in the community, as well as his own experiences as a seasoned entrepreneur and business leader. He also engaged with students about their own projects and businesses and answered their questions. “The great thing is all of this work you’re doing right now is contributing to your learning,” said Spencer. “Whether through entrepreneurship or someday working as an employee at a company – it’s not a one-time deal.”

  James Spencer, director of real estate and business development at Rensselaer, shares his experience as an entrepreneur and business leader and engages with Rensselaer students at a summer Foundry-RPI meeting.


An Effective Formula

Foundry-RPI teams make significant headway in meetings due to a two-pronged approach: (1) they succinctly articulate the business they are developing and (2) they clearly specify the results they want to achieve. They also utilize industry tools such as MOKR (Mission, Objectives, and Key Results) documents and management reports to organize and track their goals, progress, and significant outcomes. This also helps the students evaluate each other’s work systematically.

“So often, technical students become short-sighted in proving their detailed technology that they forget to test a minimum viable product (MVP) and the market,” said Kelly Reardon, senior program administrator at the Severino Center. “The Foundry-RPI has opened students’ eyes to the importance of the bigger picture beyond the lab.”

Students like the group’s setup and have each found different ways to benefit from its purpose.

“The first step to learning how to start a business is finding out what you don’t know. The second step to starting a business is to then ask the right questions. Foundry-RPI offers a collaborative environment to find out what you don’t know about the world of start-ups and allows you to start asking those crucial questions to get you to the next step.”
- Eric Shannon, B.S., M.S. ’13

  Foundry-RPI students listen to a team presentation in order to evaluate current business progress and provide feedback to their peers.


“This program gets us to look differently and critically at our challenges and assumptions. In the hopes of being successful, a young entrepreneur should grasp at every opportunity they can find, and the Foundry-RPI is a great opportunity for cultivated feedback and insight from peers.”
- Colleen Costello, B.S. '12

“The Foundry-RPI program brings entrepreneurs of all types together and helps them to find the mentors and resources needed for success!”
- Casey Hoffman, Ph.D. ’12

“Take all the advice you can get and find what works. I found out a lot of things that work and have come to help me out.”
- Deon Robinson, B.S. ’14

“If you are an RPI student looking to create or join a start-up, the Foundry–RPI is the single best thing you can do.”
- Will Gathright, M.S. ’11, Ph.D. ’12

To find out more about Foundry-RPI, contact the Severino Center, or visit the group’s website or Facebook page.




Published – September 6, 2012

Contact: Julie K. Tracy
Phone: (518) 276-3053

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