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Rensselaer Student Entrepreneur Launches Nextbillion.org To Help Those With Disabilities Through Mentorship



Extraordinary achievements in student innovation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) were recognized recently with several hallmark entrepreneurship awards—the 11 winning ideas for spring 2017 and the overall “Best of the Best” in the Change the World Challenge, and the Rensselaer Class of 1951 Student Entrepreneurship Awards.

NextBillion.org earned the “Best of the Best” honor and a $5,000 grand prize with its online program platform where university students who have a disability and are passionate about STEM fields can form empowering mentor relationships with industry leaders in the technology space and access job resources from companies. The mentors and mentees are matched based on their stories, experiences, skills, and goals. The mentor platform aims to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and the tech industry. The first cohort included mentors from several Fortune 500 companies. Created by Rensselaer student Ray Parker ’17, chemical engineering. In 2016, NextBillion.org won a World Summit Youth award in the category of innovation for sustainable development goals. 

The Change the World Challenge competition is a twice-yearly event created to support entrepreneurship education and inspire Rensselaer students to consider ways to improve the human condition. Each semester a $10,000 prize is shared by the winning students and student teams who develop the most promising innovative ideas and inventions. The “Best of the Best” award is chosen from the fall 2016 and spring 2017 Change the World Challenge winners. This award accelerates the progress of a student entry that demonstrated a strong commitment and clear momentum in pursuing the commercialization of its idea.

“The Change the World Challenge applies students’ skill sets of innovation, problem solving, and teamwork to develop entrepreneurial solutions to global or local challenges,” said Jason Kuruzovich, faculty director of the Severino Center. “The program involves an eight-week program for customer discovery and coaching from our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence.” 

Established in 2005 by Rensselaer alumnus and entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan ’85, the Change the World Challenge competition has helped to validate more than 150 new student ideas. The competition is overseen by the Paul J. ’69 and Kathleen M. Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship in the Rensselaer Lally School of Management.

“So many innovative products and services are created each year by Rensselaer students in the supportive and inspiring ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship here at this Institute,” said Thomas Begley, dean of the Lally School of Management. “The Change the World Challenge, made possible by the generosity of Sean O’Sullivan, is a premier stage for the collaboration, hard work, and dedication to creating solutions for social good.”

The exciting outcomes from the Change the World Challenge are a reflection of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer. The New Polytechnic emphasizes and supports collaboration across disciplines, sectors, and regions to address the great global challenges of our day, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges—from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

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