By: Matthew A. Talley ’21, Dingman Center Marketing Intern
On Tuesday, February 19th, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship hosted the fifth event in our Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series, a Founders Panel which featured three successful entrepreneurs who started their businesses as students. In a panel moderated by Robert Hisaoka ’79, Paul Capriolo ’06, Kristen McClellan, and Jeff Grass shared some of the insights they learned along with the challenges they’ve faced turning their ideas into incredibly successful and thriving companies.
Paul Capriolo ’06 – Social Growth Technologies
Paul noticed the explosive growth in the social gaming industry and the lack of a monetization method to capitalize on its user base, so in 2009 he started Social Growth Technologies, a flexible platform that allows companies to monetize the social gaming market through in-game advertising. In 2010, Paul and Social Growth Technologies won first place in the Cupid’s Cup business competition. After seven years of growth and expansion, Paul recently secured an acquisition of Social Growth Technologies by Kiswe Mobile in 2016. He now works as Director of Growth at Zentail.
While Paul and his team faced countless challenges, one of the biggest ones Paul faced building his business was hiring new team members. Always looking at the best in people, Paul often found himself hiring people to solve the problems he was facing then and there, but not what the company would need in 2-3 years.
Key Quote & Advice:
“If you’re passionate about your ideas, you need to share it and share your ideas with others who are as passionate as you are” – Paul Capriolo ’06
From the dorm room to the conference room, Paul has come to realize the role that your network and mentors can play in your success. Whether it’s the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, build technical expertise, or bounce ideas off them—Paul highlighted how his mentors helped him shape and build his business, and how he’s now proud to have the opportunity to give back to the next generation of entrepreneurs. When asked what to look for in a mentor, Paul recommended trying to find “someone who really cares about you on a personal level and can share your vision for the business.”
Kristen McClellan – SnappyScreen
Kristen is the Founder & CEO of SnappyScreen, the world’s first touchless sunscreen application system, whose proprietary sunscreen, SunStyles, is one of the only formulas that is oxybenzone-free, paraben-free, reef-safe and does not stain clothing.
SnappyScreen was born on a family vacation after Kristen watched her sister apply sunscreen for 20 minutes and still end up with a splotchy tan. After researching sunscreen, Kristen realized more people have skin cancer than all other cancers combined yet sunscreen sales continue to soar. While people are purchasing sunscreen, only 1/3 apply correctly. Kristen then dedicated her undergraduate career at Cornell to finding a solution. While at school, she built 3 prototypes and beta tested the machine at two Caribbean hotels. In 2015, Kristen competed in the 10th annual Cupid’s Cup business competition and won third place and $5,000.
During the panel, Kristen noted that as both a non-technical founder, as well as a female entrepreneur, all eyes have been on Kristen since day one. She was challenged to find her own style, and learn how “to set the tone that people aren’t talking around you, but talking to you.”
Key Quote & Advice:
“Don’t ask people to do something that you haven’t done yourself” – Kristen McClellan
From SnappyScreen’s first craigslist spray-tan booth, to the sleek and modern design we see today, Kristen knew it was vital for her to not only understand her business model, but her product, and the perspectives and challenges her team would face as her company grew. Looking back at her experience, she said “it’s been a long time, but it was really me learning how to be an engineer.”
Jeff Grass – HUNGRY
In 1998 while pursuing his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Jeff Grass co-founded PayMyBills.com, which he led until its eventual sale for $67 million in 2001. Since then, Jeff has emerged as a serial entrepreneur and proven leader with a track record of building great teams and successful businesses, including: LiveSafe, Inc., buySAFE, Inc., and HUNGRY.
One of the biggest challenges Jeff had to overcome was realizing the entrepreneurial journey isn’t a 9-5 job, and that it’s not only a lifestyle, but can be an emotional rollercoaster. While he was able to rely on his company’s mission, and his personal vision for the company to guide him in the right direction, he also spoke about how the challenge of being an entrepreneur is not only learning how to run a business, but to empower and motivate those around you.
Key Quote & Advice:
“If your primary motivation is just to make money, entrepreneurship probably isn’t the best fit for you, as that won’t keep you going through all the long hours.” – Jeff Grass
When asked why he felt it was vital to have a mission-driven business, Jeff stated that “not only does it help motivate people, but it challenges us to produce something much more meaningful.” His focus on his company’s mission has helped Jeff persevere through all the struggles and failures that come with entrepreneurship, and have helped guide him and his businesses to where they are today.
The Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series was created through a generous three-year gift from Robert G. Hisaoka MBA ’79, who aims to bring business leaders and startup founders to the University of Maryland that will inspire students to explore entrepreneurship by providing real-world context for business and venture creation. Learn more about the series and see upcoming events on our website.