by: Megan McPherson, Events & Marketing Coordinator
Now in its third year, spark: Where Fearless Ideas Start is an event hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and Startup Shell to give students at University of Maryland who are interested in entrepreneurship but don’t have a venture a platform to brainstorm business ideas with their peers. The first two iterations of spark were hosted in Van Munching Hall over a two-day period, but with Robert H. Smith School of Business clinical professor Oliver Schlake running the programming, this year’s spark on September 29, 2018 ran in just one day, starting with breakfast and check-in at 9 a.m. and ending before 5 p.m. The event also relocated to the beautiful and innovation-friendly Edward St. John Learning & Teaching Center.
After fueling up with some bagels and coffee, attendees kicked off the day with an interactive card game designed to help generate business ideas. The cards were divided by color into four categories: Target Customer, with cards such as millennials or baby boomers; Product/Service, such as a subscription box or mobile app; Business Model, such as Uber, or Tinder; and Value to Customer, such as getting rich or reducing their carbon footprint. Teams of six sitting at the tables would then use a mad-libs style elevator pitch sentence to formulate different business ideas, swapping cards in and out to appeal to different customers, change features or alter the value proposition.
Students played three rounds of the card game, each time moving to a new table to interact with more of their peers and generate new ideas. At the end of the rounds, 22 students pitched their ideas and then sat at one of 22 tables. Team formation happened like a game of musical chairs, with students joining teams to work on an idea so long as there were still seats left at a table. Some students who pitched elected to combine their ideas or join other teams, leaving ultimately 18 teams to work on their ideas after lunch.
Post-pizza, Professor Schlake delivered a lively presentation breaking down different styles of entrepreneurial pitches: the elevator pitch, the venture pitch and the sales pitch. Professor Schlake then told the students they would be delivering a 60-second sales pitch in an infomercial style, with inspirations like Billy Mays for OxyClean to drive the creativity and energy behind their approach. The use of Powerpoint was expressly forbidden, so students would have to think outside of the box and utilize the skills of their team members in order to successfully communicate their pitch.
In order to help students refine their pitches, Dingman Center venture mentor and board member Polly Vail circulated the tables to provide feedback to each team. The executive team of Startup Shell, including Harrison Linowes ’19, Alex Onufrak ’20, Travis Ho ’20 and Kyle Liu ’20, also lent their expertise as founders, along with recent Terp Startup graduates Audrey Awasom ’18 and Tommy Piantone ’18.
The ideas pitched at this year’s spark were some of the most creative and viable we have seen in our three years of running the event. We are enthusiastic about working with these students to turn these ideas into ventures.
Outbox – Audience Choice – A monthly subscription box service that you can send your clutter to, where it would then be sorted and redistributed to charities.
Invertible – Most Creative – A device that you can connect to your car’s battery that would turn it into an affordable back-up generator in case of emergencies.
Park Me – Most Likely to Get an Investor to Call You Back – An Uber-like app that would allow users to rent or reserve private parking spaces. Users can rent out their own driveway if they live near a concert venue, for example.
Baltimore Works – Changemaker Award – A venture with a mission to provide jobs in Baltimore by leasing low income housing to developers who would then provide apprenticeships to the unemployed.
Finder – Best Team Spirit – A Tinder for food that would allow you to swipe right or left on food options, and then compile those choices into a customized meal plan, making it easy to try new food and diversify your diet.
spark gun – Coolest Name – A wireless taser gun that focuses on power over range, releasing just one charge that would provide a PR-friendly, more accurate and less lethal option for police to use than traditional firearms.
Photography by Tommy Piantone