Category Archives: EnTERPreneurs

That’s a Wrap! Fall 2021 at the Dingman Center

The Dingman Center team celebrated Venture Programs Intern Barathi Aravindan’s Fall 2021 graduation at Terpzone.

The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is wrapping up a semester of live, virtual and hybrid programming. We are pleased to report that our students are excited to engage with us in person while still having some virtual options. As finals week comes to an end and holiday break begins, we want to take the time to reflect on the Dingman Center’s successful programs, events and more. Join us in looking at our Fall 2021 semester recap!

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MPLEX: Where Are They Now?

Galen Stetsyuk (right) and Mike Sorokin (left) co-founded MPLEX in 2015.

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.

Curu and the Art of Credit Management

by: Megan McPherson

This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the eight student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received $3,500 stipends that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over six weeks in the summer.

Everyone knows good credit is highly important in life. Not everyone knows how to get it. While most college-bound young people are aware that they should establish good credit as soon as possible, there are surprisingly few resources to help them. Parental advice and uninformed Google searches can only go so far in providing college students with a nuanced understanding of how credit works and what steps they can take to improve their credit score. So how can they acquire that essential knowledge?

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CourseHunter: The Answer to Frustrating College Registration Systems

by: Megan McPherson

This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the eight student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received $3,500 stipends that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over six weeks in the summer.

Every college student is familiar with how maddening registering for classes can be, especially when you don’t have the luxury of first dibs. Freshmen in particular are assigned a lower priority, so if you can’t manage to get into a class you need—even if it’s for your intended major—you are faced with having to reexamine your entire four year plan. The co-founder of CourseHunter, Benjamin Khakshoor, encountered just this dilemma when he was turned away from an essential introductory Computer Science class in his first semester at University of Maryland. Instead of giving up on the class, Benjamin wrote a program that would analyze UMD’s registration system, Testudo, and notify him when the class had an empty seat. It worked. After he told friends what happened, he received a surge of requests for help getting into classes.CourseHunterLogo

Enter Benjamin’s roommate and fellow Computer Science major, Aaron Bloch. Seeing a business opportunity, Aaron created a Facebook page to monitor incoming requests to use the program. The program’s appeal to students is understandable, according to Aaron, “We’ve gotten people ahead of 150 person waitlists.” Through word of mouth alone, the demand quickly became overwhelming, so they decided to automate: they built their own website for the program, and thus CourseHunter 1.0 was born.

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Dingman EIR Disrupts the Real Estate Industry with Latest Venture, iUnit


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UPDATE – Recently, we caught up with Brice to get a few updates on iUnit. Within the next few weeks, iUnit will deliver to tenants the first project and MVP. This video gives the viewer a glimpse into the construction process and community amenities. In additional news, iUnit is expanding its partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), one of the world’s largest research centers focused on energy efficiency. The iUnit prototype will be housed in NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility where it will be used in testing everything from materials used to build the iUnit to energy efficient mechanical systems like iUnits battery and software systems.

It’s an exciting time for Brice and his team. To put a finer point on the company’s progress, Brice commented “iUnit is essentially the electric car of housing.”

February 4, 2015 – Envision the Prius of apartment buildings: wired with the latest “smart” technology, environmentally friendly, affordable, cool. That’s exactly what lifelong entrepreneur Brice Leconte delivers in his latest venture, iUnit.

Brice is one of the Dingman Center’s EIRs (Entrepreneurs-In-Residence), who help UMD students realize their entrepreneurial ideas during the Dingman Center’s weekly Dingman Fridays sessions. A long-time entrepreneur, Brice has a passion for disrupting industries and building socially active companies. He has started and invested in a wide range of businesses, from real estate development, to bricks and mortar, to e-commerce and tech startups. Today, he is focused on disrupting the real estate industry with his latest brand, iUnit.

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Celebrating the 2nd Annual Rudy Awards

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More than 100 entrepreneurs, advisers, investors, students and alumni gathered on May 5, 2016 for our second annual Rudy Awards ceremony. This year’s Awards were especially meaningful, as they marked the 30th anniversary of the Dingman Center and its community. Prime movers in the history of the Center were in attendance, including founding donor Michael Dingman and his family, along with first director Charlie Heller and former director Asher Epstein. Under their lasting influence, the Dingman Center network has grown many new branches. The Rudy Awards are not only a way to honor members of each branch, but to allow the entire Dingman center community to celebrate with each other, united in their passion for entrepreneurship. Congratulations to the following award winners.

2016 Rudy Awards Winners

Research Honors

Yang Pan PhD ’17 – Winner
Yuan Shi PhD ’18 – Winner

Faculty Award

David Kressler Winner
Joseph Bailey
Evan Starr

Mentor of the Year

Polly Vail – Winner
Drew Bewick ’88
Paul Capriolo ’06
Bob London ’83
Rashad Moore

Angel Investor of the Year

Bill Boyle ’81 – Winner
Hilton Augustine
Joshua Goldberg
Vadim Polikov

Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year

Ali von Paris ’12, Route One ApparelWinner
Eric Golman ’15, Javazen
Matt Furstenburg ’11, Grip Boost
Evan Lutz ’14, Hungry Harvest
Manpreet Singh ’03, TalkLocal

Social Entrepreneur of the Year

Alexis Carson ’16, Cocoa Queens Winner
Nadia Laniyan ’16, Cocoa Queens Winner
Robin Chiddo ’06, Love Blanket Project
Anastasiia Polyakov ’17, Annie’s Children
Oru Wonodi ’18, NOVA Prints and Apparel

Student Entrepreneur of the Year

Sam Feldman ’16, Cardbuddy Winner
Damar Bess ’18, Nonich
Taylor Johnson ’16, VentureStorm
Tommy Johnson ’16, VentureStorm
Ryan Pillai ’17, WeCook
Daniel Stern ’16, Route One Ventures

A Preview of the Cupid’s Cup Startup Showcase

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Cupid’s Cup is tomorrow, and we’re all excited to watch UMD and Terp Startup alum Javazen compete for the prize of $100,000. But before the main event starts at 4 p.m., there is a wonderful opportunity to see some rising stars of the UMD startup community at the Cupid’s Cup Showcase at 2 p.m. Who knows, one day they may be competing in Cupid’s Cup themselves. Here’s a sneak peek of the impressive startups and their founders you can expect to see there:

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Female Fearless Founders Featurette

In honor of Smith Women’s Week, we would like to highlight some recent past and present female participants of our Fearless Founders student accelerator program. We are immensely proud to have worked with these young women and to have been given the opportunity to help them grow their startups.


East Habesha – Saron Asfaw

Saron Asfaw ’18 started East Habesha in our Idea Shell stage, where she won a $500 MVP grant from Capital One to build her startup. She is currently working on further improving her business as a member of the Spring 2016 Hatch cohort. East Habesha is a website that sells custom Ethiopian dresses and food spices to customers in the DC metropolitan area. There is a large population of Ethiopians in the DC metropolitan area and there are many vendors that supply these necessities. What differentiates East Habesha from its competitors is that the prices are low but the quality is high. We look forward to seeing East Habesha grow as it continues to gain traction in the community.

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Featured EIR: Polly Vail

By: Justin Taubman ’16 IMG_1072MBA Candidate

This week, I am very happy to feature Polly Vail, one the Dingman Center’s biggest supporters and Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR). Her illustrious background as an intrapreneur and entrepreneur makes her a valuable asset to the University of Maryland community and the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. If you have never been to Dingman Fridays to discuss your business ideas with an EIR, maybe this feature about Polly will change your mind. Polly’s perspective and experience are valuable to students considering entrepreneurship.

Polly began her career before the days of Craigslist and Monster, when newspapers “owned” the classified advertising business. One of her first intrapreneurial experiences was launching the first online job search platform for The New York Times where she worked in marketing. It was disruptive and successful. But, ultimately it was shut down. At the time, The New York Times, and others in the industry, were afraid of the changes and retreated to their old ink and paper model. Polly experienced the limits of intrapreneurship and how tough it is for successful organizations to change from within. Polly was able to launch other successful new products for The New York Times including a College edition, a Spanish language edition, and what are now called “native advertising” sections. And, she became the first Managing Director for the paper’s Washington D.C. office focusing on advertising and revenue.

From there, Polly moved to the D.C. Women’s Business Center, where she coached women who were interested in entrepreneurship. The Women’s Business Center served a range of talented women from professionals to women on public assistance. Polly’s main focus was helping low income women move to financial independence through micro-enterprise training. She helped her clients start businesses in the fields of entertainment, childcare, food service, beauty and apparel. After some time at the Women’s Business Center, Polly decided to practice what she had been preaching and began her own independent consulting practice. She helps clients with branding, web site design, social media, and revenue generation. She has worked extensively with the Water Alliance and the International Lyme Disease Association. As an independent consultant, Polly used a crowdsourcing creative services firm called GeniusRocket. Her relationship with the firm led to her tenure as President of the company. As President of GeniusRocket, Polly grew the business and developed a strategic merger with a larger firm.

Polly is still an advisor to GeniusRocket and does consulting in the non-profit space. Having such an enthusiastic, successful, and empathetic EIR as Polly Vail is invaluable.

Polly explained to me that she loves working with student entrepreneurs at UMD because she believes that the Dingman Center does a fantastic job of preparing its pupils for the rigors of running a startup business. She continued by saying that the most important thing for an undergraduate student entrepreneur to develop is a multi-disciplined team so they can execute quickly and effectively and avoid blind spots. The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is very lucky to have the talented Polly Vail among its Entrepreneurs in Residence.

Stewart Fellow Interns at NYC Tech Incubator

At the Dingman Center, we work with many students who want to start their own business. We also work with students who don’t yet have an idea to pursue. For both groups, we encourage them to spend a summer interning in startup land. To jumpstart students’ startup careers, the Center offers two fellowship programs. Dingman Center Angel and Board of Advisors member, Kathryn Stewart, wanted more students to gain the valuable experience of working a venture capital firms and startups so she made a generous gift to form the Kathryn Stewart Fellowship Program. To be selected as a Stewart Fellow, students must secure a summer internship with a VC or angel-funded startup. Once selected, Stewart Fellows are granted a $5,000 stipend to supplement the summer salary offered through their internship.

When the program was launched last winter, student interest sky rocketed. However, many realized how hard it can be to find the right startup or VC to intern. This was not the case for Daniel Stern. Daniel has worked on a few business ideas as a Terp. He’s participated in the Center’s Fearless Founders accelerator program. This summer, he wanted the valuable experience of working at a tech incubator. Through an alumnus from his high school, Daniel learned about the Grand Central Tech Incubator. Pursuing the incubator’s summer internship program would allow Daniel to gain exposure to more than one startup and he jumped at the chance to apply to both Grand Central Tech Incubator and the Stewart Fellows.


Tell us about Grand Central Tech Incubator. What types of startups are there?

DS: Grand Central Tech is really unique in that they offer free rent and office space to startups without asking for equity.  They have startups apply to be in their program for a whole year, and after the year is up, most of the startups “graduate” to the upper floor of their building where they continue to operate and remain part of the GCT community.  The whole idea is to create the most vibrant tech and entrepreneurial hub in New York City.  There are startups working on all different challenges, from 3D printing and Bitcoin solutions to creating unique sports betting and online marketing platforms.

How many and which startups are you working with? 

DS: I’m splitting my time working for two startups currently: LiquidText and Barebands.  LiquidText helps users better understand, read and make connections with online content and analyzes how these people interact with this online content.  Barebands is a lightweight watch for fitness fanatics, looking to take their product into retail.  I will most likely spend end up all of my time working for LiquidText.

Take us through your day (or week) at your internship?  

DS: So far I’ve mostly been through orientation, which consisted of visiting the offices of Google, Microsoft, and General Assembly to learn about design thinking and the processes that go into building a startup.  Currently my day consists of figuring out the best route to get Barebands into retail, learning from people at other startups in the co-working space, and doing market and user research for LiquidText at night.

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What projects are you most looking forward to working on this summer? 

DS: I’m looking forward to building business partnerships and helping decide what features to launch with for LiquidText, and also helping Barebands get their foot in the door with retail stores.

Why did you want to intern at an incubator rather than a startup? 

DS: I wanted to intern at an incubator because I get to work with the best of the best entrepreneurs all under one roof while still getting the experience of working at one of their startups.  Being part of this incubator allows me to be part of a large entrepreneurial community while still getting experience at a startup.

What do you hope to gain from a summer spent in NYC? 

I hope to learn from experienced startup veterans how to start and grow a business and gain the skills necessary to do so myself.  I also hope to build relationships and meet some awesome people along the way.

Have you had any cool startup/networking experiences since you’ve been in NYC? 

DS: I haven’t had any crazy stories yet, but there are some impressive people working in GCT (the co-founder of Shapeways, the founder of Gilt, the founder of General Assembly, multiple ex Google executives) who I hope to get to meet and build relationships with as the summer goes on.

What else are you working on this summer?  

DS: On the side, I started my own Ecommerce website with a friend from UMD called East Coast Cornhole (  While it has yet to take off, running my own business is an awesome learning experience, and has forced me to learn extensively about internet and content marketing, as well as SEO and the patience it takes to grow a business from absolutely nothing.

Dan SternDaniel Stern is finance major and a junior at the University of Maryland. He’s from Cheshire, CT, and aspires to run his own startup in the near future. He’s passionate about tackling big problems and changing the way we view the world. During his time at UMD, Daniel has participated in the Dingman Center’s Fearless Founders accelerator and competed in a Pitch Dingman Competition with his startup idea, Globoclub Fitness. In July 2015, Dan and a fellow student launched the e-commerce site, East Coast Cornhole (, to sell high quality Cornhole Sets and Boards.

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