Professor Burt Swersey received this year’s Sustainable Practice Impact Award from the Lemelson Foundation and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in developing clean technologies, implementing sustainable business practices, and providing exceptional educational opportunities. Exceptional education is Swersey’s area of expertise: he currently teaches Inventor’s Studio and How to Change the World, two courses with the primary goal of convincing students to believe in themselves.
“Burt constantly challenges me to think bigger,” says Meghan Olson ’14, one of his former students. “My excitement for learning has grown exponentially since the day I met him. The moment Burt shouted, ‘You’re going to change the bloody world!’ while pounding his fist on the table and developing tears in his eyes, I knew I would do something with my career that would make a difference for humanity.”
Swersey has been a tireless proponent of entrepreneurship, serving to support RPI’s Severino Center, Change the World Challenge, and Foundry-RPI programs. “Burt is truly part of the institutional culture surrounding entrepreneurship,” said Jason Kuruzovich director of the Severino Center. He also provides more than just education. When students Eben Bayer ’07 and Gavin McIntyre ’07 developed a biodegradable packing product in his course, Swersey stepped up as their first angel investor and encouraged them to take the entrepreneurial leap. Since then, their company Ecovative Design has been awarded close to a million dollars in funding, opened a new production facility, and developed a partnership with packing company Sealed Air. They were recently named by Fast Company as one of the top 10 innovative companies dedicated to social good.
Rollio Continues to Build Momentum
RPI student Jake Soffer ’17 has had a busy freshman year, balancing academics with the founding of his own company. Soffer’s startup, Rollio, was inspired by a noticeable gap between in-office and out-of-office operations for sales representatives on the road. He developed a web and mobile app to bridge this gap. Rollio facilitates reporting for client meetings to utilize big data analytics and identify valuable trends in the behavior of representatives. Customer relationship management systems have collected overwhelming amounts of data in the past, but Rollio provides a new way to put this data to good use with specialized algorithms and innovative applications. Rollio’s analytical capabilities fuel its use as an organizational tool to help client-facing professionals plan their day, maximizing their effectiveness by increasing valuable activities and eliminating inefficient ones.
Soffer says the company simply needs time to complete its prototype before taking off. He went on to commend the Severino Center as a valuable resource for new startups: “the center provides great advice, resources, and experience-driven development for young entrepreneurs.” Rollio presented at the most recent Startup Tech Valley meet-up, and was recently awarded $2,500 as the second place finalist in the undergraduate division of RPI’s Business Model Competition.
Learn More about Entrepreneurship at RPI
For more information on local entrepreneurship, look out for meetings of the Foundry-RPI, which take place Tuesdays (4/22, 4/29) 6–7:30 pm in the Games Room of the Rensselaer Union. All entrepreneurs on campus are welcome, and provides feedback, mentorship, and free food! Details can be found at http://scte.rpi.edu/foundry.html.