Feature Friday! E. Ozie Productions

“The Beautiful Math of Coral,” an original novel by E. Ozie Productions founder, Ijeoma Asonye ’23

DC: What is your name, major, minor, and graduation year?
Asonye: My name is Ijeoma Asonye. I am a junior mechanical engineering major and creative writing minor graduating in 2023. I am also part of the QUEST Honors Program.

DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Asonye: I have been involved in Ladies First Founders. In the past, I would actively come to First Fridays!

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Asonye: With our foundations from the novel “The Beautiful Math of Coral”, E. Ozie Productions is a multimedia creative house. We are using our creative voice to rise to the forefront of revolutionary conversations about community, society, and identity. We believe in the power of art, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and storytelling for social impact through various different mediums.

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to start your own venture? 
Asonye: I’ve always loved books so the idea of writing a book came across my mind during the pandemic and I just jumped on the opportunity. My venture started off with my book “The Beautiful Math of Coral” after watching a TEDtalk of the same name. I would call my book a coming-of-age story that creates metaphors with concepts in STEM, mixed with lots of love and other intangible things. I think it’s a very swoon-worthy book. Now I am looking forward to expanding what kind of creative works we do in the future as a creative house like an AR app for books we are working on.

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Asonye: As of right now, ARTECHOUSE plays a big influence for my startup showing the beauty in STEM with their recent exhibition of “Life of A Neuron”. I love how ARTECHOUSE integrates art, science, and technology in the visual sphere. I also was inspired to create my own creative house by learning more about Einhorn’s Epic Productions which is an entertainment creative house. I think they are doing some really cool stuff for underserved gen-z fandoms which is an industry I am tapping into with my book. One of the co-founders of the company purchased my book and that is how I learned more about them.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Asonye: My most significant accomplishment, as of right now, would have to be that my book “The Beautiful Math of Coral” debuted as a #1 New Release on Amazon! I also participated in Terp Marketplace which was super exciting. I sold a few copies and was able to meet lots of people with an interest in books. My book got featured in the mechanical engineering department magazine, Metrics. Although I don’t consider it as a direct project under my company, the research I started as an undergraduate researcher, which is similar to the values of my company called “E.Ozie and The Mixed Reality For Humanity Project” received a grant from the Do Good Institute at UMD!

DC: As a young business owner, what motivates you?
Asonye: What I look to for motivation changes every day. It could be an hour long conversation I had with someone in the film industry that pumps me up or simple affirmations I say every day. As of lately, the music group BTS has motivated me to work hard. Funny enough my college essay was about their influence on me and now I’m a university student so I guess it must be working. I have a poster of them in my room on the cover of TIME Magazine with the headline “Next Generation Leaders”. Although the title “Next Generation Leader” seems like a lot to bear to me I imagine myself as one. Also hearing stories of boss women doing their thing in different industries like music, business, technology, etc.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Asonye: Three things: grow your network, explore, and surround yourself with like minded individuals.

To learn more about E. Ozie Productions please visit the website here.

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Feature Friday! Omega 3 LLC

Edwin Bright Djampa ’22, founder of Omega 3 LLC.

DC: What is your name, major, and graduation year?
Djampa: Edwin Bright Djampa, I go by my middle name Bright. My major is Nutritional Food Science, Graduation May 2022.

DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Djampa: I have been involved with the Pitch Dingman Competition in 2021.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Djampa: At Omega 3, we aim to provide consumers with an easy, accessible, and delicious way to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into their daily diets and reap the many health benefits of this essential, brain-boosting nutrient. We hope to empower people to take charge of their mental health through nutrition. We want the link between nutrition and brain function to be at the forefront of the dialogue surrounding mental health. We hope one day, you can walk into any local grocery store and find a section of food items dedicated to brain support.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Djampa: In the last 6 months we’ve been able to get into all the retail locations and cafes on UMD campus. We have also been able to get on to Georgetown University retail locations. We have also been able to partner with NAMI to provide participants with granola bars. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives.

DC: Can you describe your typical day as a student business owner?
Djampa: My typical day is: I wake up at 6am and review all emails and all potential orders. I work to respond to emails and fulfill orders. Then around 7am I either run around and check up on stores in person or I ship the online orders. Around 8am I eat breakfast and begin my class work for the day. My classes typically end at 12pm. I then take a 1 hour break to relax. At 2pm I begin to work on social media and branding content to promote Omega 3 (this typically takes about an hour and a half). For the remainder of the day 4-8pm, I then work to find new gyms, stores, universities, and yoga studios to enter into.  From 8 till about 12am I return to school work/class assignments. 

DC: What’s the most important thing you are working on right now, and how are you making it happen? 
Djampa: Currently at Omega 3 we are working on a huge rebranding effort. To make it more clear on our packaging and social media platforms that we are a brain-centric food company.  The rebranding efforts will be completely done in Mid January 2022.

DC: As a business owner, how do you define success?
Djampa: It is honestly very hard to define success as a business owner because the marker for success is ever-evolving. I would say true success for most business owners is when the business is no longer running them, but instead, they are in a position where they are running the business.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Djampa: Your internal compass is the only thing that will get you through this entire journey of entrepreneurship. Remain true to your internal compass. Also never ride the highs for too long and certainly don’t ride the lows. As hard as it may be, try and remain even-keel as much as possible.

To learn more about Omega 3, please visit the website here.

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The Ultimate Terp Marketplace Holiday Gift Guide

Terp Marketplace, taking place on Wednesday, November 10th, will be packed with innovative student ventures. This event is not only the perfect way for UMD entrepreneurs to test the market with their products and services but it’s also a great place to do some holiday shopping. 

Don’t wait until the last minute to get your family and friends a gift; come to Terp Marketplace and find anything from delicious food to clothes to sustainable household items. No matter who you’re shopping for, you’re bound to get something incredible. 

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the student-run companies that you’ll find at the event:

UMD Pre-game – Give your favorite Maryland sports fanatic some unique game day apparel! UMD Pre-game is a clothing company that will be selling affordable UMD T-shirts, jackets and more.

E. Ozie Productions – Love to read? Stop by E. Ozie Productions where Ijeoma Asonye will be selling her published original book, The Beautiful Math of Coral: A Novel. This coming-of-age story, about the relationship between STEM, art and the human experience, is a great read for any student. 

Organically Amateur – Try out this inclusive organic skincare brand that sells herbal-based products for all dark and brown skin types!

ModBars, LLC – These delicious granola bars are great for the foodie in your life. ModBars sells affordable and nutritious granola bars that also seek to meet an array of dietary needs and restrictions.

Biodegradable Coolers – Ditch your unsustainable styrofoam coolers for an environmentally friendly alternative! These biodegradable coolers are perfect for a sports game, bbq, or even the beach–because let’s be honest it’s never too early to have summer on your mind.

Handmade for Aid – For the fashionista in your life, get them a handmade piece of jewelry. This small business makes beautiful original accessories with the goal of donating the proceeds.

Ecosponge – Do your part to help the environment by purchasing an “Ecosponge.” This reusable sponge, made out of eco-friendly fiber, is a great compostable, sustainable and affordable gift for anyone who likes to clean. 

CHIP’D Cookies – Move over Levain, CHIP’D Cookies is here! Founder Ardyn Solomon will be selling a variety of these homemade cookies in flavors like Chocolate M&M, Chocolate PB, Funfetti, and more. They’re a great holiday treat and even come in gluten-free options.

Save the Wave – Help clean our oceans with this original marine-inspired artwork and apparel. Save the Wave will be selling items like T-shirts, hoodies and stickers to benefit ocean clean-up organizations–specifically those working to clean the California coast after the detrimental oil spill in October. 

Rooftop Garden Kits – If you or someone you know has a green thumb, buy one of these DIY gardening kits. The kit comes packaged with instructions and any necessary materials, so you can start your own mini garden stress-free in the comfort of your own home. 

Stop by Van Munching Hall tomorrow from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. to browse these among many other ventures like Tailored Treats, Gotta Buy Em’ All, Pop Pop’s Pro Planter, the Green project, Costa Verde, USnow Shop, Terrapin Tees, Build Bigger, Nuts 4 U, Oyster Fest, Terps on Wheels, Rent-A-Closet, Em G Art Designs, and UMD University Designs. 

We hope to see you there!

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Feature Friday! Fancy & Spicy

Founder Brin Xu ’22 and colleagues serving Fancy & Spicy samples at Dingman Fridays.

DC: What is your name, major, and graduation year?
Xu: Brin Xu, Sociology, 2022

DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Xu: I have been involved in Pitch Dingman competition, Terp Startup Accelerator, Terp Startup Fellows programs.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Xu: Fancy & Spicy is a digital culinary platform allowing anyone in the world to share authentic food experiences. We primarily offer online cooking classes, and plan to become a social platform for food lovers.

DC: Now that you’ve won the Pitch Dingman Competition ‘21, what’s next for your company? 
Xu: Since we won the Pitch Dingman Competition, we have been working on our scaling initiatives with support from the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. We are moving our company toward the path of sustainability.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Xu: In the last six months, we redesigned our website to build the foundation for future development, expanded products lines, built a team of 4 top chefs, continued producing attractive social media contents, and honed our value proposition. These efforts have been very rewarding. For example, we have acquired 157 new customers and received revenue about $10,000 so far.

DC: Can you describe your typical day as a business owner?
Xu: My typical day as a business owner is busy and fun. I usually read industry news and emails during my breakfast to catch up information. In the morning, I check our class bookings, billings, and cash flow to make sure things are on track. In the afternoon, I meet up with my customers, chefs, website developer and other stakeholders. Evening is a good time to reflect, and plan work for the next day.

DC: As a business owner, how do you define success?
Xu: As a business owner, I think success is running a profitable company that contributes to social goods. Knowing that I am doing is helping myself and others toward a better and heartier life means a lot to me.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Xu: I would advise them to find a supportive community. I have been very lucky to have the Center’s support through the way, otherwise Fancy & Spicy would not be here today. I encourage first-time founders reach out to communities and move forward. 

To learn more about Fancy & Spicy, please visit the website here.

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Terp Toolkit: Finding the Right Entrepreneurship Course for You

By Madison Mazer

As Spring 2022 course registration begins, keep in mind the array of entrepreneurship classes that the Dingman Center offers. Starting this week, students can sign up to take any of our three classes next semester including Fearless Founders: New Venture Practicum (BMGT 468R), Ladies First Founders (BMGT 369D), or Fearless Founders: Social Entrepreneurship Laboratory (BMGT 468U).

The best part, you don’t have to be a business major to take advantage of these unique classes. Programs and courses provided by the Dingman Center are open to all majors and all interested undergraduate students are encouraged to register or apply. 

Course overview:

BMGT 468R – Fearless Founders: New Venture Practicum

This three-credit course is for undergraduate students committed to an idea after validation. Students experiment with business models, revenue streams, and go-to-market strategies. By the end of this course, some startups are securing their first customers and generating revenue, while others are working on a beta or pilot. In the final class, students pitch for seed funding to move their business forward. The course is taught by Oliver Schlake, clinical professor, management and organization.

If you are interested in registering for the Spring 2022 class, please fill out our application.

BMGT 369D Ladies First Founders

Ladies First Founders is the Dingman Center’s one-credit spring semester course for female and non-binary students interested in entrepreneurship. Taught by Sara Herald, champion of our Ladies First Initiative, the course helps students build soft skills for overcoming gender biases in entrepreneurship. Students do not need to have launched a venture, as the focus of the course is on demystifying entrepreneurship. The syllabus includes a blend of skill-building workshops and networking events. Topics include the how to’s of networking and mentorship, finding balance as a founder/student/human, overcoming imposter syndrome, startup pitching and body language, funding and how to get it, and more.

BMGT 468U – Fearless Founders: Social Entrepreneurship Laboratory

Taught by Dingman Center Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence Drew Bewick, the Social Entrepreneurship Laboratory is an active learning environment for students to test their hypotheses around the creation of social ventures and develop a deep understanding of how the field of social entrepreneurship works. Teams will iteratively test their ideas for solving social problems through experimentation, document results, incorporate feedback from key stakeholders, develop a minimum viable product, and present their outcomes. Come to this class interested in changing the world and leave with a social entrepreneur’s mindset and valuable experience using pioneering startup methodologies.

Why entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship courses can service students beyond the classroom, teaching them important skills like innovation, collaboration, and complex problem-solving. Additionally, these courses can be useful to all students, not just those interested in pursuing a career in business. 

Ladies First Founders (BMGT369D) instructor, Sara Herald, agrees that these classes are the perfect oppurtunity to get valuable experience, which will apply to any field of study. 

“Learning how to think like an entrepreneur is beneficial for everyone, no matter what profession you go into. The entrepreneurial mindset involves the ability to maximize scarce resources while navigating uncertain environments; learning how to do that will make you incredibly valuable whether as a founder or leader in another company,” said Herald.  

Some of these courses, like Fearless Founders: Social Entrepreneurship Laboratory (BMGT468U), can even help you make a positive impact on your community. 

“Successfully employing market-based strategies to solve critical social and environmental concerns in ways that are both technologically viable and economically sustainable are in demand in the world today,” said BMGT468U Professor Drew Bewick. 

If you want “hands-on, active environment that fuses agile management and lean start-up practices like no other class in the region,” then according to Bewick, this is the class for you.  

Not only are these courses a great way to support your future, but they are also a way to receive day-to-day support. For example, Herald thinks of Ladies First Founders as more than just a class. 

“Ladies First Founders is a community of female entrepreneurs. It’s a place for women and non-binary Terps who want to start their own ventures to feel like they belong in entrepreneurship and support each other. We learn both the hard and soft skills of starting a company, but ultimately the most valuable thing students leave the course with is a sense of confidence and belief in themselves as future founders,” said Herald. 

Entrepreneurship on campus:

As an undergraduate student, now is the perfect time to start learning about entrepreneurship, especially if you’re interested in starting your own business someday. 

“When you’re a student, it’s a great time to get hands-on experience launching a venture. There are so many resources available at UMD, including the Dingman Center. It’s a safe place. Mentors are available to help you learn how to avoid common pitfalls. You’ll meet interesting students. You’ve heard how practice makes perfect? It’s no different when it comes to launching ventures to make an impact,” said Bewick. 

In addition to the Dingman Center, Herald advises taking advantage of on campus resources like the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Do Good Institute, UM Ventures, and MTech. There are extensive opportunities to further your venture and sharpen your entrepreneurial skills at UMD, and these courses are a great place to start. 

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Feature Friday! North Star Creations

Co-founders Mat and Elaine Parsons MBA ’22 with their children reading original book, How Does It Feel.

DC: What are your names, majors, and graduation years?
Parsons: Elaine and Mat Parsons, MBA program 2022.

DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Parsons: Pitch Dingman Competition 2021 Fearless Ideas Competition Grand Prize Winner, 2021 Terp Startup Accelerator Program, and weekly Dingman Friday Participant.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Parsons: We create products for parents to teach their children how to recognize and understand emotions. These tools will equip their children with self awareness and relationship skills to navigate through life.

DC: Now that you’ve completed Terp Startup Accelerator this past summer, what’s next for your company?
Parsons: Our plan is to launch on Kickstarter Oct. 22nd in order to get support to launch our company. Our goal is to raise $5,000 dollars so we can batch order our book, doll, and puzzles.

DC: Can you describe your typical day as a business owner?
Parsons: Putting out fires – I feel like a typical day is solving all of the things that have not worked out over the week!

DC: What’s the most important thing you are working on right now, and how are you making it happen?
Parsons: Without a doubt the most important thing we are working on is our book. We really believe that this book will be a great bridge for parents to start teaching their toddlers how to recognize and understand emotions.

DC: As a business owner, how do you define success?
Parsons: For our business success is helping as many kids as possible. Our two goals are: 

1. Teaching toddlers that these strong emotions they are feeling is ok.

2. Donating holiday toys to kids who can’t afford them.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Parsons: Read…Read…Read…The two books Lean Start Up and The One Page Marketing Plan have been our best friend.

To learn more about North Star Creations, please visit the website here.

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Feature Friday! Aurora

Aurora is an inclusive hosiery and apparel company that inspires wearers to be comfortable in their own skin.

DC: What’s your names, majors, minors, and graduation years?
Rickerby: Imani Rickerby, Co-founder & COO, Public Health Science major, 2017 graduation year; Sydney Parker, Co-founder & CMO, Communications major, Women’s Studies certificate, 2018 graduation year; Jasmine Snead, Co-founder & CFO, Government & Politics major, African American Studies certificate, 2017 graduation year; Masters in Public Policy/Masters in Business Administration, 2021 graduation year

Imani Rickerby ’17

DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Rickerby: Dingman Jumpstart, Ladies First, Dingman Fridays, New Venture Practicum, Terp Startup Accelerator, Pitch Dingman Competition, and Terp Startup Fellows. 

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Rickerby: Aurora Tights is the #1 most inclusive athletic hosiery and apparel brand. We make tights for dancers and ice skaters in five shades and seven sizes, from Child Small to Adult 3X. Since its inception, Aurora has empowered performers to bring their own dynamic color and light to the stage. Aurora creates an inclusive space for all athletes to #performincolor.

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Rickerby: The Aurora team is composed of a figure skater, synchronized ice skater, and a competitive dancer with over 60 years of performing experience combined. Imani Rickerby, Jasmine Snead, and Sydney Parker attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and are sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Jasmine, a figure skater of over 20 years, used to dye her tights in a bathtub before every competition, and the process was time-consuming, messy, experimental, and expensive. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Imani, a lifetime synchronized ice skater, grew up skating in tights that were too pale for her complexion. While they had different experiences, they were unified in feeling marginalized, unheard, and unseen in the sport they loved.  

Jasmine Snead ’17

While coaching a team of young synchronized ice skaters, Jasmine and Imani noticed that many of their students, particularly those of color, were reliving their experiences of isolation. Due to the lack of diverse skating gear, their students were lacking confidence, loneliness, and identity issues. Many times, athletes of color draw away from the sport – not because of a lack of talent – but due to the lack of community.  Inspired by their students, the duo both quickly realized that there was an unmet need and shared their stories with Sydney, their best friend and lifetime competitive dancer. 

Sydney had a similar experience while dancing, with the added pressure of being a dark-skinned woman in a predominately white sport. The hair products, makeup, and especially the apparel never fit her appearance. Sydney’s feelings of isolation rose so high she avoided even looking in the mirror. It was only after finding her community on her collegiate team of predominantly black women that Sydney started to have confidence in not only her skills, but also her appearance. She understood then what it meant to have a support channel to turn to in times of need. Together the three decided to be the catalysts to end the destructive cycle of monoculturalism within performance sports and instead build a community of empowerment.

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Rickerby: While we are a for-profit company, our social impact mission is directly baked into our business model. Supporting and empowering minority athletes to say involved in their passions is the fundamental driver of Aurora. We strive to make sure all athletes feel comfortable in their skin, excel at their athletic passions, and have a long-lasting tenure in their sport. 

DC: Can you describe/outline your typical day as a business owner?
Rickerby: Our typical day includes brainstorming strategies, solving day-to-day issues, responding to customers, monitoring our social media, and A LOT of meetings.

Sydney Parker ’18

DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas?
Rickerby: Before COVID-19, Aurora Tights had a lot of momentum. However, with social distancing policies, large events and team sports practices were canceled, and sports complexes and gyms were closed. As a result, there has been a substantial decline in tight sales, and several large accounts were postponed until teams can practice safely. As entrepreneurs, we looked for the silver lining. We launched our line of at-home workout apparel which kept Aurora alive while we all stayed safe in the home. Now with everything opening up, our large accounts are coming back into focus and our tights are set to be featured in the newest Shondaland show, “Inventing Anna,” and the Broadway show “SIX”!

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Rickerby: There have been a lot milestones within the last six months! We were accepted in the Desai Accelerator, which has been a huge driver for growth. Also, we hosted our third cohort of the Aurora Tights Internship, added 11 teams to our Aurora Teams program, refreshed brand, and rolled out our newest product – shimmery tights!

DC: As a young business owner, what motivates you?
Rickerby: Well, both ice skating and dance are diversifying rapidly, which is a huge motivator! To best support this inclusive environment, we need to change the definition of beauty in performance sports. To do this, the first step is ensuring that all performers have apparel in their unique skin tone. Currently, there is a whole population of performers who do not have tights that match their skin color or do not like the shades that are available to them. We strive to make sure adults and children, just like us, feel comfortable in their skin and excel at their athletic passions.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Rickerby: So many times as young people, we feel unqualified to go after our vision. We are so hard on ourselves and feel as if we must first become experts at something before execution. Yet many people do not put those same pressures on themselves and instead exude a confidence that is needed for the entrepreneurship world. I encourage young people to work every day on building that same level of confidence in themselves and to not be afraid to just do it. There is so much magic in our ideas and the world would be made better for it!

For more information about Aurora, please visit the website here.

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Feature Friday! ModBars

Co-founders Jeff Su ’21 and Wyatt Talcott ’22 selling ModBars at the Derwood Farmers Market in Rockville, MD.

DC: What are your names, majors, and graduation years?
Su: Jeff Su — Finance and Supply Chain Management ’21, Wyatt Talcott — Marketing ’22, Max Levine — Finance ’22, Joe Oleynik — Information Systems ’23

DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Su: Pitch Dingman 2019, Terp Startup 2020.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Su: We specialize in making a variety of different snack bars from protein, energy, to trail mix and even dessert bars. They’re low in sugar and packed with fiber so they’ll keep you feeling full without the sugar crash.

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Su: Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s the one that inspired me to just start and the whole thing a shot.

DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas?
Su: We definitely switched gears and started doubling down on e-commerce. A majority of our sales are now coming from our website which has been awesome to see. It’s also given us enough time to think long term and plan for the future. We’ve got exciting projects ahead that’ll hopefully push us to our next milestone.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Su: In the past 6 months we’ve actually gotten the chance to sell at our first farmers market up in Rockville—Derwood Farmers Market. It was amazing to get back to our roots and do in-person sales again. On top of that, we had the opportunity to partner up with a few of the local neighborhood outdoor pools which not only drove more sales but also let us get our name out there to new customers. Overall, we’ve seen high recurring customer rates and overall really positive feedback from the community. We’ve also been doing a lot of R&D recently that’ll hopefully help drive more sales coming up. There may be a shift in our current product line but more time is needed. Moving forward we want to start investing heavily in media marketing since that has been one of the key areas we’ve been lacking for some time now.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Su: Be prepared to work really hard. It requires a lot of sacrifice. There’ll be a ton of distractions and things that won’t work in your favor; if you’re not willing or dedicated enough it’ll make you want to quit at every step. So ensure you’re having fun putting work into your venture and don’t gloss over even the smallest victories.

To learn more about ModBars, please visit the website here.

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Dugal Impact Fellowship 2021: A Day in the Life Interning at Nest Collaborative

By Madison Mazer

DC: What is your name, major, minor, and anticipated graduation year?
Anderson: Alanna Anderson. Major: Linguistics. Minor: Second Language Education. Graduation Year: December 2021

DC: In a couple of sentences, how would you describe your time in the Dugal Impact Fellowship Program?
Anderson: My time in the Fellowship Program was informational and engaging. Interning with Nest Collaborative gave me a lot of insight into a start-up that I didn’t have before. It was also amazing to be financially compensated since that’s not a reality for many available internships. I appreciate the Robert H. Smith Business School and its donors for making this opportunity possible and encouraging students to engage with companies who want to make a positive social impact.

DC: Tell us about Nest Collaborative. What is the company’s mission and core competencies? 
Anderson: Nest Collaborative is a telehealth lactation company. They have a team of International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants who educate and assist parents on their breastfeeding journey. Whether it’s your first time breastfeeding or your fourth, they’ll advocate for you and provide you with the information you need to achieve your breastfeeding goals. Their mission is to assist parents with breastfeeding in an educational, equitable, and inclusive way. They also work very hard to forge relationships with more insurance companies so that appointments are covered with no copay and no deductible.

DC: Why did you want an internship with Nest Collaborative? 
Anderson: I wanted to intern with a company that noticeably improved the lives of mothers, parents, and families. It’s clear that Nest Collaborative has since it was voted Best Overall Online Lactation Consult by Verywell Family. I was also impressed by the mission of the CCO, Amanda Gorman. As a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and mother, she has seen and experienced the difficulty of breastfeeding and created Nest Collaborative to confront those difficulties.  

DC: What were some of your responsibilities while interning with Nest Collaborative? 
Anderson: Two interesting small projects: I fixed the company’s podcast transcriptions on Otter to assist the VP of marketing with SEO and visibility. I had to interview 4 IBCLCs to get their opinion on how the company can make their job easier and improve patient care.

My largest project involved me pretending to be multiple patients so that I could go through the booking process and try multiple things such as booking on the same day, canceling an appointment, missing an appointment, etc. I then had to present my findings to the employees so that they could improve the flow of booking and improve customer experience.

DC: What were your favorite aspects of interning for Nest Collaborative?
Anderson: I felt like I was part of the team. During my first monthly company meeting, I was introduced and invited to share some information about myself. The company even sent me a branded journal and pen. I also felt like my opinion was valued by the members of the company. If I had a suggestion, question, or concern, I was always listened to and assured that it would be taken into consideration. I also felt like I had the chance to make an impact. During my first company meeting, the CCO read positive feedback that the IBCLCs had received from customers and presented figures that showed that the breastfeeding retention rate for Nest Collaborative customers was higher than the national average. I kept this in mind while working because I hoped to be a part of that positive change.

DC: What did you gain from your experience as a Dugal Impact Fellow?
Anderson: I gained insight into the daily duties of a start-up. The employees must take care of so many moving parts and responsibilities, but the changes were exciting and made me eager to do my job. I also have greater insight into what I would like my future jobs to be like. I feel like I’ve helped make a difference at Nest Collaborative, and I want to feel the same way with any job I have in the future.

DC: Have you had any cool startup/networking experiences since you’ve been at Nest Collaboration? 
Anderson: Getting to sit in on the company meetings has been really valuable. The directors and managers are very clear about the steps they are taking to improve the company and address the concerns of the IBCLCs. For example, one manager completely redid the intake process for patients to address the IBCLCs’ concerns. It was interesting to see how a start-up balances growth with employee satisfaction.

DC: What was the biggest adjustment?
Anderson: I had to adjust to not having a set of instructions to follow. My supervisors would present a task to me and explain it, but it was up to me to get it done in a way that was efficient and practical.

For more information about Nest Collaborative, please visit the website here. For more information about the Dugal Impact Fellowship Program, please visit the website here.

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Feature Friday! Vitalize

Vitalize is a digital wellness platform tailored to healthcare providers.

DC: What’s your names, majors, minors, and graduation years?
Andhavarapu: My name is Sanketh Andhavarapu (May 2023) and I’m majoring in Health Decision Sciences and Neurobiology with a minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Shah: My name is Veeraj Shah (May 2021) and I graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in Health Policy & Technology and Neurobiology. I’m now pursuing a PhD in Public Health at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

Sanketh Andhavarapu ’23

DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Andhavarapu: With Vitalize, we completed the Terp Startup Accelerator in 2020. We also frequently participate in Dingman Fridays to receive coaching. I also participated in the Pitch Dingman Competition earlier this year with my nonprofit STEPS, where we were awarded 2nd place in the Main Street Track.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Shah: Vitalize is a digital wellness platform tailored to healthcare providers to improve their well-being and reduce burnout. We offer clinician-focused cognitive behavioral therapy through a mobile app, and robust analytics and actionable insights on staff well-being trends and app engagement for hospital leadership.

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Andhavarapu: In high school, I had the opportunity to be the Chief Human Resources Officer of a nonprofit organization. I learned that I really enjoyed leading and inspiring teams to collectively achieve social impact. This experience directly motivated me to found STEPS, a revenue-generating education nonprofit. In this role, I realized how important it was for me to take on an irreplaceable role in anything that I put time and effort into. I liked knowing that as a founder, there is no one more knowledgeable about your idea and innovation than yourself, and that you’re leaving a unique footprint on the world. I didn’t find this same sense of personal fulfillment when looking at the different clubs I could join when I first came to UMD. This is why, when I had the idea for Vitalize, I knew I had to take action and it was a no-brainer that I wanted to invest my time and effort into making it successful.

Veeraj Shah ‘21

Shah: Early in my time at UMD, I dove into the field of public health. My sophomore year, I worked with the Chief Administrator of Health & Human Services for Prince George’s County as a health policy intern, and began to see the world of local public health in action. But what I saw was a landscape full of opportunities for innovation, and how policy alone would not be able to tackle some of the most pressing health disparities and equity gaps present right in my backyard. That summer, I worked as a business analyst intern at IBM Watson Health, spearheading health technology efforts that would improve the state-level innovation capacity of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I quickly saw how simply innovations had the opportunity to improve the quality of healthcare delivery and prevent the burden of disease. 

From that summer on, I knew that my interests lied as a health technology entrepreneur, where I was able to connect my interests in technology to solve critical problems in healthcare and public health. As a founder, I also soon realized how exciting it was to begin building a team and to truly become a subject matter expert on a topic you care about. Vitalize directly reflects these passions – leveraging technology to improve the wellbeing of healthcare providers, and building an incredible team of students committed to this mission.

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Andhavarapu: Both of us have had mentors and family members suffer from burnout as healthcare providers. We saw how people who committed their professional life to helping others were constantly emotionally exhausted, had poor wellbeing, and in some cases wanted to leave healthcare completely. As aspiring healthcare providers and entrepreneurs, we wanted to ensure that healthcare providers had all the resources necessary to achieve the best wellbeing. We see Vitalize as the first step towards creating lasting cultural transformation surrounding wellness and stigma in healthcare.

DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas?
Shah: The idea for Vitalize was actually born prior to the pandemic. Burnout among healthcare providers is a decades-long issue. The onset of the pandemic exacerbated the problem and also highlighted the dire need for new solutions, motivating us to pursue Vitalize as a company. The added free time that came with online classes and being in quarantine also allowed us to put more time into Vitalize.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Andhavarapu: The last 6 months have been very exciting for Vitalize. We are just about finished the development of our product, which we will be launching through a public beta with over 100 clinicians in the next couple weeks. We also secured a hospital pilot with Midland Memorial Hospital in Texas, which we will be conducting as a research study in November to evaluate the efficacy of our product and collect data. Finally, we’ve also garnered interest from two hospital interests in larger scale pilots (1000+ providers), which we’re hoping to execute in early 2022.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Shah: Don’t underestimate the importance of customer discovery. If you have an idea that you are looking to pursue, it is important to conduct several unbiased interviews with all the potential stakeholders (customers, payers, partners, etc). Customer discovery is a great way to validate assumptions and de-risk your startup before investing too much money and time into a potentially flawed concept. It’s also important that you build a strong team with diverse skill sets who are all passionate about the problem being solved and are willing to commit long hours to see the company come to fruition.

For more information about Vitalize, please visit the website here.