RIT donation to fund "gap year" fellowships to bring promising ideas to market

RIT students created OWA, a dehydrated shampoo. New scholarships will allow students with promising ideas to be paid to take a year off of school.

Beginning as early as next year, some RIT students will be paid to take a year off, with the idea that what they do with that year is as valuable for themselves as their degree. It's also potentially valuable for the local economy.

When Kailey Bradt became frustrated transferring her shampoo into three-ounce bottles to get it through TSA screening, she put her chemical engineering studies to work. The outcome was a dehydrated shampoo. "She really invented it in her closet," said fellow student Lindsay Reardon. "She bought all of the ingredients herself and took them to her apartment and started mixing them."

It's taken about eight months to develop OWA Haircare's first product. Reardon, a marketing student, is part of the team that has given up many nights, weekends and other time from school and a full time job. "It's really between all of your other commitments that you find time to prioritize this," she told 13WHAM's Jane Flasch. "If we only had just a day or two weeks without any distraction."

RIT grad Austin McChord will make sure students now get that chance. He took a year off to develop his data back-up company called Datto, which now employs 700 people. His $50 million dollar gift to RIT will, in part, fund "gap year" fellowships for promising products or ideas. "It gives people an ability to take those risks and actually try an idea and see what happens," he said at an event last week.

Encouraging a year away from study is unusual in higher education. RIT came out in support of the idea last week as an addition to co-op programs already encouraged as part of study. McChord's $50 million dollar donation will help fund an incubator to flesh out student ideas and pay for these year-long fellowships.

"Having a year would be a gift to any budding entrepreneur who really needs the time to develop their idea or business," said Reardon.

OWA is short for Out of This World Amazing. It's already finding local fans.

"When we put it in, it suds up right away. Her hair is nice and shiny," said stylist MaryJo Pasquarella.

The product is also generating interest among investors and manufacturers.

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