Rocket Innovations

Executive Director

Norm Rapino, Executive Director

Norman Rapino Ph.D, MBA

After obtaining a PhD in Chemistry and an MBA, Norm became a successful serial entrepreneur with ventures in the service sector, technology, and e-commerce. He is an active Angel Investor. Recently he was a Mentor-in-Residence in the Office of Technology Transfer at the University of Michigan, then moving to the Center for Entrepreneurship in the role of Director of Mentoring, and also as the Network Specialist for The University of Michigan’s NSF Innovation Corps program. Starting in January 2016 he became the Executive Director of Rocket Innovations at The University of Toledo. At RI, he is focused on providing programmatic support and other needed resources to help move faculty ideas and research outcomes from an internal university setting out into the world, where they can solve big problems and meet societal needs.

  • Initiate faculty relationships and interdisciplinary connections from all of UToledo’s Colleges, leading to successful research and commercial outcomes via 1:1 personal collaboration, venture creation, incubation and market entry.
  • Obtained enough outside grant funding to currently be financially self-sufficient.
  • Deliver innovation, entrepreneurship, project development, and other educational and training programs to the Health Science and Main campuses.
  • Act as PI and/or Co-I on various grant and economic development programs.
  • Serve faculty with input and collaboration on research, SBIR and commercialization grants
  • Multiple participations (>10) as a panelist in the NSF SBIR and other programs, and as an Assessment Coordinator (>5) in the NSF’s Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC) program. 
  • UToledo through RI’s efforts is #8 out of >100 Universities and Colleges that deliver teams/projects to the NSF National Level I-Corps program, with $1M in grant revenue for 20 participants.
  • Maintain and grow a network of industry contacts and domain experts connected to University faculty and their research interests and outcomes


  • From the UToledo NSF Site program, in addition to winning $360k in new grant funding:
  • 127 Total Projects with 242 Total Participants
  • 66 UT faculty projects, including participants from 9 of UToledo’s Colleges: Med and Life Science; Nat Sci & Math; Arts & Letters; Health & Human Services; Education; College of Business and Innovation; Nursing; Pharmacy; Engineering
  • Over $2.5M in new grant and follow on funding for support of graduated projects

 Executive Director of the Rocket Innovations Venture Fund

  • Manage fund operations at the $10M fund formed to invest in technology grown from within the University.
  • Harvest Return-on-Investment from existing investments. Recent success with LogoBar, Rocket Ventures, Spinal Balance, and OsteoNovus.
  • Source potential new investments and oversee “Venture Investment Program” and “Student Venture Investment Program” 
    • Ready to restart the Venture Investment Program with initial placement in Guardian Medical.
    • Developed and currently seeking projects for the Student Venture Investment Program.
  • Build and lead the team to perform an initial screening and investment due diligence, and develop financial models and term sheets.
  • Serve on initial venture Boards as needed, including Rocket Ventures
  • Develop and maintain connections to other regional Universities, VentureWell, the Midwest Engineering Entrepreneurial Network, the Midwest I-Corps Network, the Association of Deans of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and other entities devoted to innovation and technology translation. 

Professor of Practice for Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurially-Minded Learning
College of Engineering

  • Work to implement the deliverables promised as a grant recipient and KEEN partner school.
  • Deliver KEEN orientation and educational programming to the College of Engineering faculty and students, including the Angel Pitch and Senior Design Showcase prize competitions.
  • Direct the activities and deliver educational programming at the Student Incubator, and serve as faculty advisor to Young Entrepreneurs Society (YES)
  • Develop and execute programming for the “University of Toledo Student Incubator”

 Principal Investigator (PI) and Grantee

  • National Science Foundations I-Corps Site Grants at The University of Toledo
  • NSF Advance & I-Corps Joint Program Grant; a grant program devoted to the promotion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for underrepresented and underserved groups, and female faculty.
  • NSF Supplement Grant to develop and execute the Northcoast ICorps Program in partnership with the University of Akron.
  • College of Engineering KEEN program. 
Last Updated: 6/27/22