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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DC: What is your name, major, and anticipated graduation year? Rodriguez: Wendy Rodriguez — Finance, 2022
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup? Rodriguez: Wise Legacy Finance is a company that provides personal finance products and services to Gen-Zers and Millennials to take control of their money, make wise financial decisions and achieve their financial goals. We value effectiveness, innovation and variety when offering financial solutions because we believe that personal finance is not a one-size-fits-all. For this reason, our services and products range from private financial coaching sessions to mini-courses/workshops to budget planners to a budgeting app.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup? Rodriguez: I don’t think there was an exact moment, but I’ve been wanting to start my own business as long as I can remember. I love the business world, and throughout the years I have become very passionate about the finance field. With this being said, there have been moments in my life that have led me to create Wise Legacy Finance, such as helping family and friends with their personal finances by creating their monthly budgets or plan for them to save money or pay off debt. I learned how vital personal finance is and how many young people especially, struggle in this area because they don’t find the necessary tools or solutions that effectively cater to their needs.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup? Rodriguez: My biggest influence for my startup is witnessing the positive change people can make in their lives. Whether they are just tired of not being in control of their money, want to change their financial habits/situation or build a strong financial foundation for their future — knowing that I can be a possibility in their lives motivates me to keep going.
DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas? Rodriguez: The pandemic taught us that life can change at any moment and it’s imperative to be prepared, especially financially. I saw the effects of having to deal with unprecedented financial situations and individuals not having a clue of what their next step should be — the impact on mental, physical and emotional health is something that cannot be ignored. The pandemic truly emphasized the importance of being aware of where one stands financially and being prepared with an emergency fund, savings etc.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months? Rodriguez: Wise Legacy Finance is officially an LLC and as of August, we currently offer four services — private coaching sessions, group mini-course, budgeting 101 workshop and speaker events. In just a few weeks, we have received some inquiries and have already begun booking for this fall season. Our social media account on Instagram @wiselegacyfinance is growing every week which is incredible. In addition, we have started working on our budgeting app and budget planners and are eager to see where we will be in the next six months.
DC: What do you feel that you have achieved from participating in Terp Startup Accelerator this summer? Rodriguez: I can honestly say that Wise Legacy Finance wouldn’t be where it is right now if it wasn’t for Terp Startup Accelerator. I have achieved many things and have had significant accomplishments and for that I am extremely thankful. Week after week I learned from great speakers about important aspects of a business such as target market, financial modeling, scaling, branding, and so much more. In addition, I met incredible individuals from the Dingman Center and amazing fellow UMD entrepreneurs.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? Rodriguez: Do it even if you’re afraid. Do it even if you have no idea where to begin. Do it even if you fail. There is no “perfect moment” to go after your dreams. Make it happen and work hard! Don’t underestimate the power of self-discipline and determination because it will take you further than motivation ever will. You can do it!
DC: What is your name, major, and anticipated graduation year? Rosario: Ian Rosario- Architecture & Spanish double-major, Class of 2022
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup? Rosario: Tiny Theatre is a mission-driven venture that helps elementary kids build social skills, confidence, & reading fluency through FUN, interactive, theatre activities. Unlike traditional activities used to help students in speech language therapy, Tiny Theatre’s creates printable activities that allow students to grow comfortable in social environments in a fun way.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup? Rosario: I knew I’ve wanted to start my own business since high school. I love entrepreneurship because you can use creativity to solve a problem. During my freshman and sophomore year, I used to ideate startup ideas with my roommate in the dorm.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup? Rosario: I think the biggest influence for my startup is seeing its impact on students. I love to see how students grow out of their shell into their God-given gifts and personality. Empowering students influences me to continue working on this startup.
DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas? Rosario: The pandemic has made me think about the accessibility of my product. Since everyone has a different comfort and ability to interact with others, the pandemic has shifted my focus to really think about the end user’s situation.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months? Rosario: The last six months have resulted in a pivot of my company. I have spent a lot of time interviewing potential customers and understanding their specific needs and pain points. Based on these interviews, Tiny Theatre has pivoted from only focusing on literacy, to primarily helping solve the need to build social skills.
DC: What do you feel that you have achieved from participating in Terp Startup Accelerator this summer? Rosario: I feel like I have come to understand my “why” for this venture. I deeply enjoy helping people communicate and creating safe spaces for them to express themselves. Through Tiny Theatre, I think I am equipping kids to feel safe & comfortable in social situations.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? Rosario: There is so much learning, customer discovery, and customer acquisition that you can do without spending a dollar. I would recommend spending time in the pre-launch phase to deeply hear from your future customers & understand their needs (this also saves yourself some money).
For more information about Tiny Theatre, please visit the website here.
DC: What are your names, majors, and graduation years? Khan:Anaum Khan, Computer Science, 2024 Zack Khan, Computer Science, Spring 2019 Alice Shi, Computer Science, Fall 2019
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup? Khan: Stan is the creator loyalty platform where super fans (or stans as we like to call them) are able to sync their social media accounts to gain points and prizes for engaging with their favorite creators’ content, such as retweeting a tweet or watching a creators’ YouTube video.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup? Khan: When I went to hackathons (like Technica and Bitcamp at Maryland), I learned how much I loved building new things. That led me to discover startups and join programs like Startup Shell and Terp Startup that further fueled my interest in entrepreneurship.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup? Khan: My mom, who works super hard to raise a family, have a successful career, and serve others in her community through her non-profit work.
DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas? Khan: Live streaming blew up over the pandemic. Twitch’s hours watched grew 90% in 2020! This helped validate the need for Stan as more live-streamers joined Twitch to make money doing what they love.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months? Khan: We signed our first creator, Tuonto (who has an audience of over 1 million fans); created our website and application; and launched a beta.
DC: What do you feel that you have achieved from participating in Terp Startup Accelerator this summer? Khan: I learned a ton about all aspects of running a business that I didn’t have exposure to before, like market sizing, pricing, and more. I also got to meet an awesome community of fellow UMD entrepreneurs!
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? Khan: Become close with your customers. That has helped us iterate much faster.
DC: What are your names, majors, minors, and graduation years? Mascarenhas: My name is Bradley Mascarenhas and I completed my undergraduate degrees in Finance and Information Systems with a minor in Real Estate Development. I graduated this past Spring with the class of 2021, and I have enrolled into the Information Systems Master of Science program at the University of Maryland with an expected graduation date of May 2022. [UMD ‘21]
My co-founder’s name is Karsh Patel and he completed his undergraduate degree in Computer Science and double minored in Tech Entrepreneurship and Mathematics. [UMD ‘21]
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup? Mascarenhas: Our startup is the first co-living social network for professionals. Our platform helps professionals to relocate to new places by connecting them to others to build roommate groups and find housing all in one.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup? Mascarenhas: I always possessed business-minded qualities and frequently enjoyed team building towards a common goal. During my first year of high school, I felt like I did not have anything purposeful to do other than being a student. I eventually decided to start building my personal brand and take lead in my school’s Academy of Finance. I also got involved with several ventures from private loan financing to drone technology. However, these ventures did not organically originate from me, so I knew it would not be my true calling. By the time I finished high school, I was voted “Most Likely To Be a Millionaire” and I thought that was what was important to me, but that ended up being far from true. I later realized in college that my purpose was really to have an impact on my generation. Personally, building a better world is a compelling enough reason to take all the risk that comes with entrepreneurship. The efforts you put in can impact thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people. And this is what drives me now. Problems that I face now which are shared by many others.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup? Mascarenhas: The biggest influence for my startup is Justin Kan. He is the Founder of Twitch TV. He has a nice story of coming up with ideas and selling it to an investor he knew. He had a successful exit after a couple years and now Twitch is thriving even more and changed the gaming community forever. Additionally, he now has plenty of time to coach startups and teach the youth about best practices as an entrepreneur and professional. He also decided not to get back into startups so that he could work on himself and build stronger relationships with his family and friends and that’s a point in life that I aspire to reach. The other influence is Elon Musk who believes that time on Earth should be spent solving problems and doing things bigger than yourself.
DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas? Mascarenhas: The pandemic has pushed us to be resilient as a company by continuing to stay efficient and motivate our team even when we do not have the privilege of meeting in person frequently. We have adapted to online communication through Slack and Zoom and doing frequent team syncs to stay up to date. For our platform, it has not impacted us being a software service, but we have had to keep in mind people’s fear of COVID. As things return to a new normal, we are seeing people’s comfortability levels rising for renting which is a good timing for our platform’s entrance. We have been monitoring real estate market prices and activity, rent prices, renter activity, job markets, and more because those are all variables for the attractiveness of our platform.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months? Mascarenhas: I have a lot of great updates for the Dingman team and community. The big one for us is we’re ready to launch our MVP at the start of August, marking one full year since we’ve started working on this venture. This is our biggest milestone yet and we are very happy that we did it cost-effectively with less than $4k spent, including legal. We have also grown our team to include a part time graphic designer, a part time quality assurance analyst, and a programmer. We are currently looking to grow our team by one programmer and add a Director of Real Estate Partnerships for the upcoming semester. We have also narrowed down a good product roadmap for our business to follow in terms of feature releases to grow users and engagement on the platform. Lastly, we have identified a target niche for us to pursue initially which is small landlords ranging from 0-100 units.
DC: What do you feel that you have achieved from participating in Terp Startup Accelerator this summer? Mascarenhas: We accomplished a lot this Summer from the efforts of the Dingman team as they guided us through the accelerator and oversaw the step-by-step developments of our individual ventures. The big three items for us were the financial models, the pitch deck, and mentorship insight into business model and MVP launch approach. For financial models, we did not have a solid template to forecast everything prior to this program. After receiving it, we were able to get that done finally. It is 100% subject to change due to the fact we will be editing our pricing approach but it’s awesome that it won’t take much effort to change our models. For our pitch deck, we had one done but it has significantly improved in both design and content due to us preparing well in advance for accelerator presentations. Lastly, our mentor Zeki has been phenomenal in sharing his CTO best practices as well as his recommendations for launching our platform. He has also given us thoughts about potential roadmap ideas. Regarding our overarching view of the program, it has been amazing. The atmosphere is very productive and organized due to the quality of participants and Dingman staff. I would recommend this to any Terp looking to grow their venture at a pre-financing stage.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? Mascarenhas: I have a lot of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. The first is to set small goals. What we’re doing is large in nature and can feel overwhelming at times, however, when you set small goals and take it week-by-week you realize that it’s fun and it progresses rather quick. I also recommend seeking mentorship and a small circle of trustworthy friends to bounce ideas. It helps if those friends are end users because they can share perspectives of technical or business requirements needed for your product that you do not have. Lastly, keep participating in school programs to support your venture. Some areas of a program may not seem as attractive but even reiteration has great benefits for you. The support is almost always free with genuine co-participants and staff that want to see you succeed.
For more information about Prommuni, please visit the website here.
Galen Stetsyuk and Mike Sorokin met freshman year as undergraduate students at the University of Maryland, College Park, and soon after co-founded MPLEX in December 2015. Both avid gamers frustrated by the subpar options available within the Virtual Reality Industry, Stetsyuk intended to form “a virtual reality video game company creating a game worth getting a VR headset for.” MPLEX’s goal was to create a technology to tackle the current challenges associated with VR games and experiences, including but not limited to simulation sickness.
Stetsyuk and Sorokin were highly involved with the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship while they attended the University of Maryland. MPLEX evolved from its initial idea through various Dingman Center programs including Terp Startup Accelerator, Dingman Fridays, and Pitch Dingman Competition. Although the MPLEX team didn’t place at the 2017 competition they entered, they remain grateful for the support and connections made along the way, which helped contribute to the funding they received later on.
Stetsyuk and Sorokin now work full-time on building their company, along with 10 other people they have added to their team, almost all of whom are former UMD students. This growth has been made possible by the second funding round the company just closed, amounting to a total investment of $1.2 million to date. While the co-founders are no longer students themselves, the team hasn’t strayed far from the University of Maryland, as they currently operate out of an incubator space within Mtech. MPLEX also tries to get UMD students involved with their company whenever possible. The company is currently planning an in-person esports tournament to take place on October 16th at the Antonov Auditorium on the University of Maryland, College Park campus. The event will be free for all students to attend and will feature live gaming and other interactive experiences for students to trial.
MPLEX’s main focus lately has been on launching Core Disruption, the company’s debut VR game, which uses simulation sickness reduction technology. The game is a vehicular-based competitive multiplayer experience that has high-fidelity graphics and sound quality, deep player progression, customization, and offers a wide variety of options for different playstyles. Those anxious to purchase the game will have to be patient, as Stetsyuk estimates a rollout through digital distribution by the end of the year, or early 2022. In the meantime, interested students should mark their calendars now for MPLEX’s October 16th esports tournament for a sneak peak.