Category Archives: EnTERPreneurs

Part-time MBA Launches Grey Matter, A Terp Startup that Protects First Responders

WebImagine a technology that could protect first responders and law enforcement agents from dangerous chemicals.

Not only would the technology protect agents from such chemicals, it would actually block the chemicals from clothing, turn them into water and cause the toxic chemicals to evaporate before even having a chance to touch agents’ skin. That is what the technology behind DC-area startup, Grey Matter, claims to deliver.

The venture, co-founded by part-time Smith MBA student Tommy Luginbill, recently secured $75,000 in federal grant funding to bring this potentially lifesaving, self-decontaminating clothing technology to agents in the field.

How did Grey Matter get its start?

Tommy Luginbill, Grey Matter

Tommy Luginbill, Grey Matter

Tommy Luginbill is no stranger to entrepreneurship. A part-time MBA student, Tommy comes from a line of entrepreneurs and even helped to start a family-run solar contracting business before business school. Given his strong interest in startups, Tommy started hanging out at the Dingman Center (one of the resources that drew him to UMD) and even pitched an idea to an EIR for an energy software venture.

Dr. Brandy Johnson, Ph.D.

Dr. Brandy Johnson, Ph.D.

As Terps are known to do, Tommy worked tirelessly and fearlessly dove into the courses available around the Smith School, including the Fearless Founders program. He learned of a new pilot program at the time on campus called iCorps, which matched business students with lab innovations to identify viable commercialization paths. It was here that Tommy met inventor Dr. Brandy Johnson, a Ph.D. working in the Naval Research Lab.

Dr. Johnson was developing smart anti-decontaminating materials made from chitosan, a biopolymer made by treating recycled crab shells. Tommy knew about the lean startup methodology, how to create a business plan, and how to conduct customer discover and identify markets.

And Grey Matter was born.

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That’s a Wrap! Looking back at the Fall Semester

It’s hard to believe it’s already December. Final exams are coming to an end and soon students will be off for the winter break. Those who engage with the Dingman Center, know our mission is to build a community that discovers, equips, connects and celebrates entrepreneurship. This semester was no exception. We hit the ground running in August, bringing back our signature programs, such as Pitch Dingman Fridays, the Pitch Dingman Competition during Global Entrepreneurship Week, and Terp Marketplace.

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Brent Goldfarb Appointed Academic Director of the Dingman Center

We are excited to announce that Brent Goldfarb, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship, has been appointed the Academic Director of the Dingman Center, where he will will direct research and education programs for the center.

“Brent is ideal for this role,” said Smith School Dean Alex Triantis. “He pushes his students out of their comfort zones. His #RealEntrepreneurship, for example, has challenged them to conceive, launch and operate actual companies.”

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Goldfarb’s entrepreneurship courses are some of Dingman’s most popular at the Smith School of Business. His capstone courses include #RealEntrepreneurship and AdVENTURE Challenge: China, which was recently featured in BizEd magazine.

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In his new role, Goldfarb will continue to develop courses similar to AdVENTURE Challenge: China, a program described as “Amazing Race meets venture creation.” Competing students spend a week in China learning critical thinking skills through the practice of customer discovery.

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In addition to developing cutting edge curriculum, Goldfarb focuses his research on technology applications and strategies for driving startups and the economy.

“Brent’s expertise has been invaluable to the Dingman Center and our students,” said Dingman Center Managing Director Elana Fine. “His increased role will strengthen our ties to faculty and further integrate Dingman Center programs into the Smith School curriculum.  Our combined vision is to create a broader portfolio of courses and experiences to attract and equip students interested in entrepreneurship.”

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Terp Entrepreneur Launches Locks of Curls

Fredrica Antwi, Founder, Locks of Curls

Fredrica Antwi, Founder, Locks of Curls

Fredrica Antwi, a senior studying Accounting and Finance at the University of Maryland, was tired of spending a ton of money purchasing hair products to tame her naturally curly hair. After countless trips to the beauty supply store left her broke and unhappy, she decided to do something about it.

“I would spend so much money purchasing products but at the end of the day, they would end up in a cabinet somewhere unfinished,” said Fredrica.

So, she came up with Locks of Curls, an exciting way for people with naturally curly hair to experiment with products without a huge commitment or breaking the bank.

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Dingman enTERPreneur Launches Mega Kickstarter Campaign

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Obidi Orakwusi, Founder of Gym Supreme

We’ve all heard stories of entrepreneurs whose businesses began on the backs of napkins. But how about the back of a job application?

For one Dingman enTERPreneur, what began as a sketch for an at-home, all-in-one fitness device on the back of a gym job application, has turned into a fully operational business. Today, Gym Supreme’s founder and Dingman enTERPreneur Academy graduate, Obidi Orakwusi, has a patented at-home gym device, Mega Bar, and is launching the company’s first kickstarter campaign.

In 2013, the Dingman Center blog caught up with Obidi. To learn about the genesis of his idea, check out that post here.

Since we’ve been uber-focused on the lean launchpad methodology and customer discovery around the Dingman Center lately, we asked Obidi to share some of those insights from his startup journey.

When Obidi initially gained the idea for Mega Bar, he was confident that it would sell. Mega Bar was not the first at-home gym on the market, but Obidi noticed that what was available at an affordable price point was not the best quality.  This validated his hypothesis and he saw an opportunity.

What was your path like toward customer discovery?

I did things a bit backwards. I did much of my customer discovery after the prototype had been developed. I walked around campus and stood outside of Eppley Recreation Center with a clipboard to take notes from discussions with potential customers, who were undergrad students ages 18-22. Through those interviews I found that although my product was an improvement from a quality and design standpoint — think the Nokia compared to an iPhone — it was too expensive for the demographic on campus. The needs matched but the price didn’t. From there, I segmented the target market and shifted focus to a more of a working class, young professional crowd that had money but limited time. Within this space I found my target customer and learned what I was really solving for them: saving people time. This customer spends a majority of his/her time at work, leaving minimal time — sometimes just a few hours at home or outside of the office. With that limited time, people may not always feel like working out, but Mega Bar can help.

What was the biggest challenge in developing and commercializing a new product?

From my experience, the biggest challenges in creating a new product and commercializing it, are marketing and pricing. Pricing will narrow your target market and really affects revenues. For example, if you try to force the price to fit a cheaper audience, you might be faced with a situation where your margins are just too low to keep the company growing. Once you have a set price, the hardest thing is figuring out how to reach the market with the highest willingness to pay when you have no budget for marketing, because marketing has to be continuous for it to be effective.

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How did you navigate the patent approval process?

Getting a patent so early on was a great boost of confidence, and the fact that it arrived at the door on my birthday last year was unbelievable. I knew how important it was to have a patent in the pipeline, but I didn’t have the resources to pay excessive legal fees, so I had to learn it all. I read all the rules very carefully, read articles, and called the USPTO anytime I had a question. With all the knowledge I gained, I was able to submit the patent application and receive the approval to grant the patent within nine months of applying, which is extremely rare. I applied for my second patent last summer.

Have you tried any unique marketing campaigns?

I’ve tested three different marketing strategies. The first two were great strategies, but they wouldn’t work with the minimal resources the company had to work with.

The first was a social media campaign. The second involved attempts to have influencers in the fitness industry promote the company, and then the 3rd strategy was to get a booth at a fitness convention. The social media strategy was put on hold because it felt like the posts were getting nowhere without paying for ads; it was taking too long. The fitness influencers marketing strategy didn’t work because we couldn’t afford to send in free gear so early on or pay them to promote to their fan base. I also tried to get the Mega Bar featured in major fitness publications, but the cold emails felt like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean of emails that those publications received everyday.

The entire time, I was trying to figure out a way to reach an audience that would also see the value in the product, but I realized that I had been searching for the marketing middleman that would help us reach the potential consumer, when I should have actually been the one reaching directly to the early adopters because middlemen are always more costly. I had to find a way to reach directly to consumers that would understand the value of the product just by seeing a 30 second video of what the product can do without further explanation, so I decided to get the company’s first booth at a personal training convention to gain exposure for the Mega Bar. That turned out to be the most effective strategy based on time and the little resources the company had.

What resources have you found to be most valuable to you as an entrepreneur?

The most valuable resources found throughout my journey, thanks to the Dingman Center, are the entrepreneurship classes. It started with the Entrepreneur Academy that eventually evolved to Fearless Founders. From that class, I learned so much about how to understand your target customer. Everything about the Dingman Center has been a great resource for me along the journey. From winning the first funding ever for the company, which went toward the issue fee for the first patent, to being able to talk to other successful entrepreneurs to get feedback. It’s all been a source of encouragement to keep progressing.

At the Dingman Center, I attended Pitch Dingman on Fridays where I could talk about creative ideas and strategies freely without being looked at like a crazy person because I was so young. You run into a lot of doubters when you first start your idea because no one believes you, but at Dingman, they believe you and are always there to help you succeed even if you are trying to turn water into wine. I had the chance to go on a trip to New York this past spring to show off the cool ideas that are coming out of UMD to Terps who now live in Manhattan. That would have never happened if the Dingman Center didn’t hook us up with a booth at Cupid’s Cup earlier this year where I connected with the UMD Alumni Association.

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University of Maryland President Wallace Loh with the Mega Bar

What advice do you have for student entrepreneurs? 

The biggest advice I would have for student entrepreneurs is to be confident, but don’t think you already know everything about your idea on day one. Be confident about your idea, but don’t be arrogant because it is just an idea until you can start selling it or acquiring users. You will need help to keep your idea progressing, but watch out for anyone who starts wasting your time because you can not replace time. Learn from the good things that happen along the journey, and also learn from the bad. Every experience will help you understand what to do the next time.

What’s one of the biggest lessons learned in starting Gym Supreme?

I’ve learned so much through building a product and launching a brand to push the product, but the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that you should always test out your theories, never rush into decisions. Starting a company with no money after product development will force you to find new solutions to overcome marketing barriers.

You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign. What do you hope to achieve through Kickstarter?

My main goal with the Kickstarter campaign is to launch the first sales of the Mega Bar and to introduce Gym Supreme’s story to the world. The goal is to raise $12,000 through sales so that the company can finally generate revenue.

Do you have any bootstrapping tips for our readers?

Start saving your money now! Before senior year, I had a work-study job on campus and saved every paycheck. By the time graduation rolled around, I had enough money to develop a prototype.

Never jump into decisions without thinking twice about it. When you receive that first offer, don’t just take it. Be cautious of investors who are just opportunistic and don’t genuinely believe in your product.

Also, be resourceful. For example, I taught myself to code, which saved a lot of expense and was something I could figure out through studying.

What’s your long-term vision for Gym Supreme?

The long term goal for Gym Supreme is to become a fitness lifestyle brand that creates excellent products, which help us all stay consistent with our health goals. I want this company to help anyone that has a desire to Lift Good, Live good, and Look Good®.  Gym Supreme Logo

To learn more about Gym Supreme and to place your order for the Mega Bar, visit their Kickstarter Page to support the $12,000 goal.

And, be sure to connect with Gym Supreme on social media:

https://www.facebook.com/GymSupreme
https://www.youtube.com/GymSupreme
https://twitter.com/GymSupreme
http://instagram.com/gymsupreme

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10th Annual Cupid’s Cup Business Competition Now Open

cupidscup

Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Cupid’s Cup Business Competition, presented by Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank ’96 and the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. In the 10th annual competition, the top student entrepreneurs from across the country and around the world can compete for $115,000 in total cash prizes.

The application deadline is Jan. 5, 2015. The final competition is set for Wednesday, April 22, 2015, at UMD’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

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Announcing the Fall 2014 Idea Shell Cohort!

fearless founders stamp

The Dingman Center is excited to announced our Fall 2014 Idea Shell cohort. Idea Shell is the first stage in Dingman’s Fearless Founders accelerator program, which guides student venturesfrom idea to launch.

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It’s True: College Students Are Taking Risks and Starting Companies

I first met student entrepreneur Brooks Gabel in 2012 when he began coming to the Dingman Center to get feedback on what seemed like a brazen business idea for such a young man. Brooks was taking a big risk and I wondered how he’d accomplish such a mission and bring it to fruition. I know now–through two long years of customer discovery, pivoting, research, passion and just plain hard work. Now a senior at the University of Maryland (UMD), Brooks is the founder of justlikeyou.org, a non-profit organization providing a free and anonymous social network for people 13 years and older going through the coming out process. Through developing online and mobile technology, coordinating LBGTQ competency/suicide prevention training and connecting users from the network to their local communities, justlikeyou.org is working to eliminate the burden of coming out. I recently sat down with Brooks to talk about the history of his company and his plans for the future.

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Danielle Bennings (DB): Tell me how and why you started your company?
Brooks Gabel (BG): The company started after my decision to leave UMD’s Division 1 swim team. It was my personal perception that the college community was not accepting of an openly gay athlete. That was the time when I swore to myself that I would do something to create inclusive environments in our schools, on our teams, and in our communities.

DB: How did you first get involved with the Dingman Center?
BG: I started coming to Innovation Fridays to talk to the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. The idea started as a question of whether the personal narrative could guide a discourse around the coming out process. The feedback I got was to test it, so I started the Just Brooks blog and began writing about my personal story. Eventually I invited some of my friends to write about their stories. After a month, emails began flooding in from UMD all the way to Australia from people who could relate to my story. It was at this time that I realized my idea could have huge impact on a global scale.

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Members of the justlikeyou.org team

DB: What happened next?
BG: In January 2012, my parents helped me fund the site and we hired a web development company based in Washington D.C. to develop the social network. In the beginning it was just me facing plenty of people that told me no. Since then we’ve developed a custom social network that connects free users with other people going through the coming out process and volunteers who have been through it before. The Just Like You team has gone from being a team of solely myself to a team of 21 people; 16 from the U.S. and five who are international. We all collaborate through Skype and conference calls to deliver on our mission.

DB: Have you made any connections on campus?
BG: We recently brought on a UMD student that you connected me with. He is another entrepreneur working in the Startup Shell who will film a campaign video that addresses our story, the problem we’re solving, the solution we’ve created, the team creating it, and where your donations will go for our Indiegogo campaign.

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Brooks Gabel, Founder, justlikeyou.org

DB: I know you’re embarking on a crowdfunding effort. Tell me more about your Indiegogo campaign.
BG: Our Indiegogo campaign is a $50K online fundraising campaign to generate awareness about the network and to raise funds to develop technology, coordinate LBGT competence and suicide prevention trainings, and connect users from the network to their local communities. It will launch on February 1, 2013 (my birthday) and will continue until the site launch on April 13, 2014.

DB: That’s great–I’ll check it out. What do you plan to do next?
BG: Unlike my peers, I haven’t gone on a single interview. This will be my job after college. This is what I want to do. I understand that I’m not going into investment banking, but at the same time this is the resource I never had.

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Brooks Gabel, Founder, justlikeyou.org

DB: What is your ultimate goal for what justlikeyou.org will become?
BG: We see this as being an international operation. We designed it so that the resources aren’t bound by language or location. Everyone’s story is unique so there is a seemingly infinite amount of people who can engage in the discussion and ultimately we would love for people who have come out, for people who have an LGBT sibling or friend or parent, to join the conversation. The social change will happen when we recognize that the story of the ally is just as important as the person who is going through the process.

DB: Brooks, thanks for answering my questions. I hope we’ll continuing seeing you in the spring.
BG: I will continue spending a lot of time here — the Dingman Center bullpen has become my office. I still meet with Dingman Center staff and EIR Harry Geller to field new ideas and update them on my progress.

To connect with Brooks, email him at brooks.gabel@justlikeyou.org. Connect with justlikeyou.org on Facebook and Twitter. Follow the Dingman Center blog for updates on the justlikeyou.org Indiegogo campaign and to read about other student entrepreneurs.

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Young Entrepreneur Creates a New Way to Smell Good

Get to know Allan Nichols and his startup, Sweet Buds. As a member of the EnTERPreneur Academy, Allan won a $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center earlier this year. This EnTERPreneur Academy company is redefining the way women wear perfume with an innovative earring backing that releases small amounts of perfume throughout the day. We caught up with Allan to check in on the progress Sweet Buds has been making since we last saw him at the beginning of the summer.

Tell us a little bit about your business. How did you come up with the idea?
We are Sweet Buds; a fragrance company developing earring backings that release perfume throughout the day. The idea came about in a study abroad class in China through the QUEST program this past winter break. My team members and I were very excited about the project and we decided to pursue it outside of the classroom and make an actual company around the idea.

How have you been working with the Dingman Center?
We applied for the EnTERPreneur academy the first time we heard about the incubator program. Being first time entrepreneurs, we really had no idea where to go from the initial idea. The Entrepreneurs-in-Residence have been very helpful guiding us along the way, giving us advice on how to brand ourselves, perfect our pitch, and providing resources and contacts we otherwise wouldn’t have access to. We have also used the Center’s Test the Market Kiosk to conduct preliminary market research.

Sweet Buds team using the Test the Market Kiosk in Van Munching Hall

Sweet Buds team using the Test the Market Kiosk in Van Munching Hall

How will you use the $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center?
So far we have used some of the grant money to pay for patent attorney fees and file for a provisional patent for our idea. I have also been collaborating with a freelance engineer to help us finalize the actual design of the product.

What has been the most challenging aspect of starting a business?
Right now our biggest challenge is the actual design of the earring backing and getting it to dissipate perfume the way we want it to. I have an initial prototype already 3D printed, but there are some revisions that need to be made. Trying to get the perfume to release correctly when punctured by the earring itself is difficult.

Who are your competitors?
One of our major competitors in this space is actually Dustin Hoffman’s wife, Lisa Hoffman. She runs a company called Lisa Hoffman beauty which has a wide range of fragrance jewelry. The main differentiator is that her jewelry utilizes fragrance beads while ours will use regular liquid perfume. The beads make the jewelry reusable but also more expensive. We plan on being daily disposables providing our customers a cheaper option to use when they want.

What entrepreneur or business person would you love to connect with?
I would love to connect with David Kelley and the rest of the IDEO team. I am really interested in design and what they have been able to create through their design processes is nothing short of incredible. We have a lot to learn in regards to design and he could definitely teach us a lot.

Have you had to change your business model since you started?
We are still in our infancy stages so we haven’t made many changes yet but we did spend a lot of time thinking about whether we wanted to license our designs out to larger retailers in a B2B model or directly sell our product to the consumers. For now we are sticking with selling to consumers but that could change down the line.

What kinds of resources will you need next?
As we keep designing and editing the prototype will require more capital to fund. So far we haven’t had to bootstrap this project but that might be a possibility to solve this problem. We are also seeking fragrance manufacturers to partner with and to put their perfume into our product. Contacts in the fragrance and jewelry industry would be very helpful.

AllanAllan Nicholas is a junior Mechanical Engineering and Operations Management double major. He is involved in QUEST, EIP, and Hinman CEO’s and is an aspiring entrepreneur.

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Student Entrepreneur Pursues a Mega Idea for Staying in Shape

Over the last few years, the Dingman Center has been working with Obidi Orakwusi to launch his company, Gym Supreme and its first product the Mega Bar. The Mega Bar is an innovative and versatile piece of exercise equipment priced lower than its competitors. A member of the EnTERPreneur Academy, Orakwusi won a $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center earlier this year. We caught up with the student entrepreneur to get an update on his business.

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How did you come up with the idea?

The idea came to me in May 2011. School was out for the summer, I had no plans, and I realized I probably was not going to have a job. So I thought to myself, “why note create a job?” I got motivated and began sketching the concept of the Mega Bar on the back of a job application.

I designed the Mega Bar with a friend in mind. My friend had no gym membership, so every time he went back to school he had to settle for resistance bands, which are incapable of working the entire body. With that in mind, my goal was to create a product that would provide an effective workout at home. Unknowingly, my friend was my first target customer. Once I had a reasonable sketch, I made my first prototype with plastic straws, toothpicks, and paper clips to test out the simple physics. Then, I built a full scale plastic prototype. It took me some time to order a production prototype because I was constantly making measurement adjustments. I’m a bit of a perfectionist sometimes.

Tell us about your team.

During the process of developing my startup, I learned not to rush into decisions. I don’t have a full team yet, but I do have friends with skills and connections like my corporate lawyer, web site programmer, investment banking buddy and a colleague of mine with connections to QVC and sporting good chains.

How have you been working with the Dingman Center?

The Dingman Center has been an amazing resource for me. I get to meet and connect with fun business-minded colleagues that give me advice and feedback. Dingman Center Angels Review Days, workshops, and everything Dingman offers gives me different perspectives on what I knew and what I need to do. It always feels good when I say Gym Supreme is a member of the Dingman Center EnTERPreneur Academy at the Smith School.

How are you using the $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center?

The grant was an amazing cushion that opened up cap space for legal fees associated with the utility patent, trademark and the purchase of social media advertising. Although the grant will be split across several expenses, I know it would not have been possible to get all the legal work finished this summer without the grant.

What has been the most challenging aspect of starting a business?

For me it has been a mixture of funding and tedious patent work. The lack of funding prevented me from rushing into decisions because when you have plans that cost more money than you have, there is usually a wait period between milestones. The wait allowed me to analyze needs and create a hierarchy of tasks.

What goals have you set for the upcoming year?

One of my patents arrived on my birthday–that was a nice gift. The main goals remaining for 2013 are the Pitch Dingman Competition and a Kickstarter pre-order. The Kickstarter campaign is time dependent on the number of potential consumers I attract using various social media campaigns. When I feel there is enough interest from a significant number of followers that will likely purchase the MegaBar, I will launch the pre-order. With good revenue from that, Gym Supreme will become eligible and will apply for Cupid’s Cup in 2014, beginning the search for capital.

Have you had to change your business model since you started?

Oh yes. Initially, I was focused on a model that cuts out the middleman in order to maximize profit from sales and avoid margin reductions from wholesale. I soon learned that avoiding the big retail orders might not be effective because I would give up visibility on very popular retail platforms and have to rely solely on my own marketing to make sales. This would result in an increase in consumer acquisition costs and a decrease profit. That strategy is possible, but requires too much capital infused into marketing. The model is evolving to include a platform that will provide recurring revenue if properly executed.

How do you stay motivated to work on your business when success doesn’t come as quickly as you hoped?

I believe there is a reward associated with the risk I am taking and the reward is success. When I imagine the success of Gym Supreme I stay focused, get excited, and keep going because I am determined to reach that goal. If I give up before anything significant happens, I have defeated myself.

GDP_9540 (1)Obidi Orakwusi is the Founder of Gym Supreme and a member of the Dingman Center’s EnTERPreneur Academy. Stay connected with Gym Supreme on Facebook and Youtube or visit http://www.gymsupreme.com.

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