Category Archives: Feature Friday

Feature Friday! Hana’s Cake Bar

Hana Bekele ’21, founder of Hana’s Cake Bar, displaying her logo proudly.

DC: What’s your name, major, and anticipated graduation year?
Bekele:
My name is Hana Bekele and I am a Community Health Major graduating this Spring 2021.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Bekele:
Hana’s Cake Bar is a bespoke bakery where I tailor every baked good for what the customer desires. I aim to provide high quality and unique flavors for every treat.

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Bekele:
My startup was actually created by accident. I created a cake design for a friend just to see how well I could do it and once I posted it a lot of people started inquiring about cakes so I thought I should start it up. 

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Bekele:
My friends are my biggest influences for my startup. Since the beginning they’ve encouraged me and have always helped me through everything for my business. 

DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed?
Bekele:
The virtual world definitely helps my ideas. Following new cake trends and ideas that are all over social media helps me keep up.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Bekele:
Well my company only started 6 months ago, but in 6 months I have been able to surpass my revenue goal which is a huge accomplishment for me.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Bekele:
If I could give advice to any inspiring entrepreneurs I would say to do it! You lose nothing from trying something out so I would definitely encourage them to follow what they want to do. 

FEATURE FRIDAY! Athenus Financial Group

Damian Shaw ’24 and Cameron Williams ’21 show off the Athenus mobile app.

DC: What are your names, majors, and graduation years?
Shaw: Cameron Williams, Mechanical Engineering, 2021 and Damian Shaw, Computer Science, 2024.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Williams: Athenus is an app that allows traders to participate in the foreign exchange market. The app is powered by Machine Learning AI that helps traders manage risk by knowing which trades to enter and how to manage their trades. With Athenus, it has never been easier for amateur investors to get started trading currencies. 

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Shaw: Having a startup has been our dream for a very long time. Maryland’s alumni have started large, successful companies like Google and Oculus, with one of the most recent being Squarespace, however we wouldn’t describe ourselves as people who would brainstorm ideas. We knew most of the best ideas stemmed from need or identifying a gap in the market. We had noticed that a lot of people really struggled with investing and Cameron has been investing for a very long time. We saw that there was a huge opportunity there and with the help of Dingman Fridays, we were able to consolidate our initial idea to what it is today. Once we identified that there was a gap in the market and that our solution seemed viable, we decided to just go for it. 

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Williams: Our customers who don’t know they are our customers yet. One thing that motivates us everyday is the amount of people looking for ways to get started in investing but they buy into a program that can “teach them how to get rich”. These programs are always a scam but so many people fall for them because they really want to learn and the people that run them know that they can’t provide any valuable knowledge. It is blatant exploitation and one of Athenus’ main goals is to provide a rewarding alternative so that people can truly build wealth for themselves.

DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed?
Shaw: Our idea has not changed but our market has gotten larger, which is evident from many other fintech companies and financial events. The recession has caused more people to want to earn money, people have had time to learn about investing and are more interested in it. Right now is the perfect time to get people started with investing, especially in a market that they may not be as familiar with.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Williams: We have raised over $11,000 through a crowdfunding campaign. The alpha of the app has been built and the beta is still being developed. We already have 100 pre-registered users eager to download the app as soon as it is available. 

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Shaw: Market opportunity is the single most important thing that determines whether or not your startup will be successful. The idea itself does not matter as much. Athenus has pivoted several times throughout our company’s short history. The idea you have now, most likely won’t be the idea you go to market with. Identifying gaps in the market, a need that is currently not being serviced effectively, and if you can fill that gap, will take you extremely far. 

Feature Friday! Fancy & Spicy

Brin Xu ’22 cooking up authentic Chinese food recipes for her online cooking platform.

DC: What’s your name, major, and graduation year?
Xu: Brin Xu, Sociology, 2022

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Xu: Fancy & Spicy is a popular food blog and cooking platform. It provides authentic Chinese food recipes, cookbooks, cooking events, and cooking consultation for anyone who has a home kitchen.

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Xu: Fall 2020

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Xu: While many people and companies have an influence on the startup, Airbnb has the biggest impact so far. Airbnb offers an online experience program since the quarantine. The program is timely but has only limited cooking events available. We figured out that an online platform dedicated to cooking would be intriguing and popular.

DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed?
Xu: Fancy & Spicy started with a food blog, but soon we realized that more interactive cooking experiences are needed, and began to offer online cooking classes since last winter. In the future, we plan to offer different kinds of classes by recruiting cooking ambassadors, improving the quality of my recipes, and making healthy cooking accessible to everyone.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Xu: This spring semester I was invited to be a formal instructor for the UMD Stamp Student Union. I offer a course called Essential Sichuan Cuisine. It has been so successful that we’re discussing a second contract with the Stamp.

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Xu: I think a startup is a process, so it is important to start doing things. Do not let perfectionism slow you down.

Feature Friday! Omega 3 LLC

Edwin Djampa ’22, founder of Omega 3 LLC.

DC: What’s your name(s), major(s), minor, and graduation year(s)?

Djampa: My name is Edwin Djampa (I also go by my middle name Bright). I am a Nutritional Food Science Major and I graduate in May 2022.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?

Djampa: Here at Omega 3 we make granola bars that are enriched in omega-3 fatty acids. We have chosen to focus on this nutrient because it’s essential to a person’s overall wellbeing; and it is lacking in many diets. More specifically, Just like you can go to the grocery store and see a section to help you if you want to lose weight, a section if you want to eat sugar free, a section that is more celiac disease consciences (aka gluten), and a section if you want to bulk up in the gym (keto-friendly and low carb), we believe that there should be a section that screams “Hey do you want to keep your brain balanced, healthy, and strong? Well, here are the food items you can eat to do so”. At Omega 3 we feel as though that aisle is so needed right now. 

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?

Djampa: I knew I wanted to create the startup in April of 2019 after attending a nutrition class lecture about how much the American Diet lacks omega-3 fatty acids.

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?

Djampa: The lack of attention nutrition was getting as a viable way for people to take care of their mental wellbeing was my biggest motivation to start this business.

DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed?

Djampa: This new virtual world (especially the isolation part of this new world) has reminded so many people that it is essential to proactively take care of one’s mental health.

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?

Djampa:  In the last 6 months we were able to get into 6 stores (1 of them being a small east coast chain store), making that 8 stores in total that we are in right now. 

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? 

Djampa:  Advice for Entrepreneurs: You have to see the vision of your company before anyone else can. What I mean by that is others might not see or understand your business and that’s okay because essentially that’s what innovation is – An individual sees something and brings it to fruition before anyone else can do the same. Remember if it was easy everyone would do it. Lastly, I’ll leave you with this quote: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  

Feature Friday! Aurora Tights

Parker, Rickerby and Snead from Terp Startup Accelerator in summer of 2018.

DC: What’s your name(s), major(s), minor, and graduation year(s)?

Parker: Sydney Parker, Communication and Public Relations major, Women’s Studies Certificate, Spring 2018; Imani Rickerby, Public Health Science major, Spring 2017; Jasmine Snead, Government and Politics, African American Studies Certificate, Spring 2018, MBA/MPP 2021.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?

Parker: Aurora Tights designs inclusive athletic apparel and hosiery for dancers and ice skaters of ALL skin tones and ALL sizes. We are fully black women owned and seek to increase the diversity of all performance sports through our products and philanthropic initiatives throughout the year.

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?

Parker: Growing up as a dancer I was rarely able or advised to wear tights and other apparel that matched my skin tone color. In 2018, my cofounders and former skating coaches noticed a similar phenomenon happening with their young skaters and we vowed to end this cycle of disempowerment. Therefore we created Aurora Tights to make sure ALL athletes could perform in color.

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?

Parker: The biggest influencers for our startup are the black and brown dancers and ice skaters who have paved the way for athletes like ourselves to fall in love with the sports we have dedicated most of our lives to. Athletes such as Misty Copeland, Surya Bonaly and many more were the inspiration for so many of our tight shades and we later named each of our shades after our former teammates and students who continue to inspire us to this day.

DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed?

Parker: We are dedicated to meeting our customers where they are at, which is mostly at home now, and keeping them motivated to still go after their athletic passions. At the end of last summer we partnered with five dance and ice skating non-profits who work to increase diversity and inclusion policies within these sports areas to raise money for their year-round initiatives. With the help and support of our community we were able to raise $13,000 for black and brown skaters and dancers to help them stay in the sports that they love!

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?

Parker: Over the last six months, we were able to raise $13,000 for black and brown dancers and ice skaters through the Perform In Color virtual showcase, move our items to a fulfillment center for faster shipping times, and get our story featured in Pop Sugar and Dance magazine!

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Parker: Just start and activate on whatever idea is in your soul to build. Also, lean into the resources that are right at your fingertips! Within our two years we were able to raise $25,000 in startup funding with the help of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and continue to lean into the mentorship community they have there as well. It all started with a Dingman Friday!

For more information about Sydney Parker’s company, Aurora Tights, please visit the website here.

Feature Friday! Gstyles

Goodness Ihekweme ’21 is all smiles modeling an outfit from the Gstyles collection.

DC: What’s your name, major, minor, and graduation year?

Ihekweme: My name is Goodness Ihekweme and I am majoring in Marketing and minoring in technology entrepreneurship. I graduate May 2021. 

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?

Ihekweme: Gstyles is a Women and Men fashion label that builds a gap within one’s self that feels lost. Gstyles creates one of a kind look that allows an individual to feel confident and unique. Gstyles is a place where everyone belongs even when you don’t feel like you do. 

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?

Ihekweme: Well it all started with my friend Mia. Mia always had a hard time finding clothes when we were little. Mia wasn’t the average woman size. She was a bit thicker in some areas and it was very hard for her to find clothes that were still stylish and unique in her size. I didn’t understand why it seemed like that for most brands and I didn’t like how it made my friend feel. I felt her pain and how much she didn’t feel included. At that moment, I wanted to create clothes for those who may feel excluded. Gstyles was put in place to build a person’s confidence in any shape, size, and form because they do belong. 

DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?

Ihekweme: My parents. They were hardworking. They taught me that anything you want in this life, you can achieve by continuously working hard and never giving up. They always told me daily that “you can do anything you put your mind to” and this is what stuck with me everyday. So when it comes to my brand, giving up was never an option and persistence was the key.

DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed?

Ihekweme: I started to now see the importance of comfy clothes. At first, when I started designing, I was only thinking of clothes that are meant to be worn outside for events or occasions. When the pandemic started, not a lot of people were going out anymore. That is when I noticed that people also shop for more relaxed and stay at home clothing. That is what inspired a bit  of my recent collection. I fell more in love with comfy apparel. 

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?

Ihekweme: I recently dropped my biggest  collection ever from my brand. This collection is called Genesis and you should all go check it out. It took about 7 ½  months in preparation which included designing the pieces, looking for fabric, curating a photoshoot, putting it on the site and creating my campaign. That was one of my biggest accomplishments in 2020 for my brand.  In addition, I was also blessed to have interns who willingly want to help the brand grow. In 2021 I finally have my dream team all thanks to God. 

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Ihekweme: The advice that I would give to any aspiring entrepreneurs would be the same advice my parents gave to me. They told me that whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve. Don’t give up, keep going! Failure is not a bad thing and if you fail one time, try again. When you fail you only get better because now you know what not to do and now you can try something else. Lastly, trust in yourself, always go back to why you started your brand and think about the end goal to stay motivated. You got it! I am rooting for you all. 

For more information about Goodness Ihekwemes company, Gstyles, please visit the website here.

Feature Friday! The Sustainable Socialite

Sarah Lader ’20 displaying a collection from The Sustainable Socialite at a pop-up event.

DC: What’s your name, major, and graduation year?

Lader: My name is Sarah Lader and I graduated in December of 2020 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Family Science.

DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?

Lader: The Sustainable Socialite curates bold, high quality, unique pre-loved pieces so that you can stand out from the crowd while standing up to fight against fast fashion. We focus on providing a cost-inclusive, size-inclusive collection to make ethically sourced vintage pieces available to anyone who is looking for a way to shop secondhand without sacrificing their love for expressing their individuality through fashion.

DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?

Lader: While living abroad, I walked into a tiny vintage shop. For the first time in my life, I was able to not only fit into stunning pieces dating back to the 1940’s, I was able to afford them. I spent hours in the store trying on one-of-a-kind pieces that made me feel as though my individuality was finally shining through my fashion choices. They offered me a job there and I quickly fell in love with the community that surrounded inclusive vintage fashion. I wanted to bring the feelings I had when I first walked into that shop home with me, and foster a loving community around ethical shopping through curated pieces and a love of unique fashion.

DC: What or who is the biggest influence for your startup?

Lader: I really don’t think there is one specific person or thing that has influenced my startup, but rather the general people I surround myself with that have encouraged me to pursue my dream. My parents called me a “people collector” once because of my passion for listening to people’s stories and using their passions as inspiration to grow and learn. I have picked up those who are kind and inclusive, who care about our world, and who have believed in me throughout this journey. I have listened to what people want out of the fashion industry and what trends they wish they had the confidence to pull off, and adapted through that. I continue to be influenced by those I choose to have in my life because of their positive energy, whether that be my mom and dad who encourage me to try new things every day, my friends and boyfriend who have helped me achieve my dreams through successes and failures without ever doubting my capabilities, or my customers who take the time to let me know that they believe in my mission and give me the motivation to wake up every day, excited to share more of what I love with the world. I am incredibly lucky to have these support systems. They are the reason I will always continue to fight for what I believe in, and one of the things I truly believe in is The Sustainable Socialite’s potential.

DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed?

Lader: I’m definitely someone who loves communicating with people in person and really getting to know my customers through face to face interactions, along with the opportunity to help style them in ways they may not have initially thought of. So in this new way of life, I have had to adapt to keep fostering those relationships. I write cards with every order, I have interactive stories asking for customer opinions and styling help, and I’ve been really focusing on ensuring I’m as active online as possible. I am also planning on launching an online personal stylist service to help people shop for different occasions, answer any questions they have, and assist them in planning bold outfits!

DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?

Lader: In the past 6 months we have been part of Terp Startup Fellows, which has given us the opportunity to not only pursue more in person (outdoor, socially distanced) pop-up events, where we generate the most revenue, but also to purchase a trailer which we are currently renovating in order to do more events. We have increased from posting once a week to posting up to 7 items per day on our website and instagram, and are currently revamping our internship program to teach people about content creation, ethical fashion, and give students the opportunities to work firsthand with our startup!

DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Lader: You know your business more than anyone else. If you believe wholeheartedly in your idea, if you trust your process and believe in yourself, you can achieve great things. Not everything is going to work, but you can learn from your failures and become stronger through them. This is your vision and you have the ability to make it happen. Not every day is going to be easy, but the experience is unparalleled and the end result is worth it.

For more information about Sarah Lader’s company, The Sustainable Socialite, please visit the website here.