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.
DC: What are your names, majors, minors, and anticipated graduation years? Yaculak and Melnyk: Spencer Yaculak, Mechanical Engineering, Spring 2023 and Camilo Melnyk, Aerospace Engineering, Spring 2021.
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup? Yaculak and Melnyk: Blimp Logistics is building a decentralized drone delivery network to provide last mile delivery services in rural and suburban markets. Using autonomous drones and automated hubs, we’ll be able to deliver orders from local grocery and convenience stores weighing up to 30 lbs.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup? Yaculak: For me, my first bit of startup experience was an internship at ARMR Systems Inc. a couple years ago. They were developing cutting edge hemorrhage control systems for battlefield injuries. I loved the start-up culture, the excitement, and the stakes. I knew I wanted to do something like that. When Camilo started talking to me about the tech that would become the backbone of Blimp, I was sold immediately! Melnyk: I knew for a very long time that I didn’t want to work a traditional desk job. I didn’t really know what form my career would take, at one point I was planning on going to film school! After high school I found myself at UMD where I watched some of my friends start their own ventures, and from that moment I knew that was the path I wanted to take, it just took me a couple of years to come up with a venture idea that I was really excited for.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup? Yaculak: I love to help people. Blimp has given me the opportunity to connect an economically divided nation. Melnyk: My biggest influence has been my fellow student entrepreneurs at UMD. Seeing my peers work their hardest at entrepreneurship motivates me, and it’s always inspiring to work alongside them.
DC: In the new virtual world, how has your focus or ideas changed? Yaculak and Melnyk: The new virtual world has only sharpened our focus on our original idea. Customers and businesses are participating in e-commerce now more than ever, but the approach to last mile delivery hasn’t really evolved. Last mile delivery is the final link in the whole e-commerce chain, and when it’s slow, expensive, or the experience sucks it negatively affects the whole chain. We’re laser focused on fixing last mile delivery. This isn’t a problem that’s going away, our new virtual world has only caused it to get bigger, faster.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months? Yaculak and Melnyk: In the past six months we’ve made a significant number of steps forward. Our top three would probably be:
Participating in the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program, where we conducted interviews with business customers about their logistics processes and what they were looking for in a last mile delivery service.
Completing designs of some very exciting prototype hardware to handle packages onboard our drones.
And last but certainly not least, taking home the grand prize of $30,000 of seed money as the first place team in the Quattrone Venture Track at the 2021 Pitch Dingman Competition.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? Yaculak: Talk to other entrepreneurs, ask them questions, heed their advice, and take advantage of their networking circles to expand your own. People are everything! Melnyk: Find people that can help push your idea forward, and that are just as excited about it as you are. Blimp wouldn’t have come as far as it has in the past year without my amazing co-founder Spencer and the incredible people at the Dingman Center. Fully utilize your network and the resources you have access to, and you’ll get much farther much quicker. Working with the right people will make you more productive, successful, and you’ll have much more fun!
For more information about Blimp Logistics, please visit the website here.
Athenus Financial Group is a startup founded by University of Maryland students Damian Shaw ’24 and Cameron Williams ’21. Athenus is a fintech application that allows its users to easily trade foreign exchange. It is powered by Machine Learning AI, which allows users to analyze price data in seconds, where users can then place successful trades without having to learn the market themselves. Williams participated in New Venture Practicum during the Spring ’21 semester and the team also competed in Pitch Dingman Competition 2021 Semifinals.
Athenus Financial Group has been chosen as the recipient for the 2021 Jason ’96 & Jamie Cohen Entrepreneurship Fund Award. They will receive $1,000 to further accelerate their startup, selected due to the perseverance, level of engagement, and growth potential they have shown over the course of the year. According to Williams, the funding will be put towards backend costs, such as servers and connecting to the brokers network.
Congratulations to Shaw and Williams of Athenus Financial Group!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Pitch Dingman Competition 2021 received over 50 student applications, all vying for a slice of the increased prize money this year. Our panel of judges were able to narrow down our wide range of applicants to reveal our quarterfinalists and semifinalists for the 2021 competition. The founders of the semifinalists teams will each receive a $500 prize, participate in workshops and meet with advisors in the coming weeks to help them further accelerate their businesses and make them more competitive for the upcoming Semifinalist round. On Friday, April 16 from 12-4 p.m., our 12 remaining startups will pitch their businesses virtually to an expert panel of judges at the Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals. We’re excited to see who wins the opportunity to pitch at the Finals on May 4, 2021 for a shot at the grand prize of $30,000!
Read on to learn more about our quarterfinalists and semifinalists:
Main Street Track Semifinalists:
Camp Segal LLC– Max Segal ’21, Jacob Nelson ’21 Camp Segal provides the support and infrastructure for college-aged individuals to open up small summer camps. We look to establish a series of camp locations in a time where parents look for camps to focus on safety, proximity, and flexibility. Fancy & Spicy– Brin Xu ’22 Fancy & Spicy started from a popular Chinese Sichuan food blog, providing authentic Chinese food recipes, cookbooks, cooking events, and cooking consultation. In the longer term, we aim to become an online cooking platform where anyone with cooking. Hana’s Cake Bar –Hana Bekele ’21 Hana’s Cake Bar is a bespoke bakery that tailors to every customers need for baked goods. JMakes3D –Jacob Garnett ’21, John Fitzell ’20 JMakes3D is a startup design firm which does 3D design, 3D printing and physical product development. We focus on helping inventors and entrepreneurs, especially those in the College Park and D.C. area, go from ideation to functional prototype. Omega 3 LLC – Edwin Djampa ’22, Virgil Ulric Sermon ’22 Omega 3 LLC is a food company producing granola bars that improve and maintain mental health. STEPS Inc. – Sanketh Andhavarapu ’23, Uzair Chaudhary ’23 STEPS connects volunteers with paying K-12 families seeking personalized, 1 on 1, and long-term tutoring. Volunteers are compensated with service hours, and profits are invested into the STEPS grant foundation to address education disparities.
Quattrone Venture Track Semifinalists:
Athenus Financial Group – Cameron Williams ’21, Damian Shaw ’24 Athenus enables young, amateur investors to engage with and trade foreign exchange. Features such as algorithms and a built in social media community helps new traders navigate the market and manage risk without needing to learn the market. Blimp Logistics – Camilo Melnyk ’21, Spencer Yaculak ’23 Blimp Logistics is developing a drone delivery system that will provide last mile delivery services to businesses shipping packages under 30 lbs in both suburban and rural areas. Ionic ST/Ion Global Industries, Inc. – Kyle Fruth ’21, James Bates ’20, Anne Laurence-Nemorin ’20, Brandon Chatmon ’16 Ionic ST is a sports technology company focused on merging A.I, robotics, and analytics together to not only improve the way athletes and coaches train, but also how they track and analyze practice or game data. MARS Technology LLC – Xiaohui Li ’21, Dongxia Liu MARS Technology LLC is commercializing a novel gas-to-liquid technology that can convert low-value, greenhouse gas methane into high-value specialty chemical feedstock. The technology is valuable to biomethane generators as well as hydroprocessing operators. NuroSTREAM/Memley– Steven Jettoo’21, Kirsten (Sage) Newman NuroSTREAM/Memley is a SaaS company, offering digital learning services for disadvantaged students struggling with building successful learning habits in conventional and digital school environments. Technica– Hugo Burbelo ’22, Utsa Santhosh ’22 Technica sells an innovative online event platform that is custom-built for hackathons to other technology events and corporate partners in order to improve the experience and engagement of their attendees in a virtual format.
Main Street Track Quarterfinalists:
Crys&Co Beauty – Crystal Pinckney ’22 Crys&Co Beauty is a cosmetic line that provides beauty accessories and supplies to a wide range of individuals.Just recently with our 2020 launch, we have expanded our brand to providing lash technician services. Diaspora Foods – Nathaniel Fikru ’21 The goal of Diaspora Food it to provide people/the African Diaspora with the raw ingredients and knowledge to prepare and consume traditional African cuisine at home. We aim to pass our tradition down from one generation to the next. First Serve Tennis– Aaron Reznik ’21 First Serve Tennis aims to boost the Northern New Jersey tennis community through offering private lessons, clinics and tournaments to players of all ages and levels. Gstyles– Goodness Ihekweme ’21 Gstyles is a clothing company that specializes in women and men clothing. We make sure that we make people feel confident and beautiful in their own bodies. ModBars, LLC – Joseph Oleynik ’23, Nate Stevens, Max Levine, Wyatt Talcott, Jeff Su ModBars, LLC provides nutritious, affordable, filling snack bars that cater to people with dietary restrictions. Rendered – Saba Tshibaka ’21 Rendered is a social impact business that works to sell second-hand unique apparel in an effort to raise awareness about the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
Quattrone Venture Track Quarterfinalists:
Corona Connects – Elana Sichel’21, Joe Kattan, Hadassah Raskas Corona Connects is a company that connects college students with meaningful, impactful volunteer opportunities that fit their needs, interests and availabilities, empowering them to make a difference. Friendly Neighbor Services LLC – Colin Hartlieb ’22 Friendly Neighbor Services is the on-demand service providing mobile app that gives everyone the opportunity to become a provider, or request services from providers. Maryland Tutoring Services – Kidus Adugna ’21 Maryland Tutoring Services provides tutoring services for K-12 and College in partnership with Maryland Community Connections and Social Services. Recondite – Vibhor Goel ’21 Recondite is an AI-powered B2B buy-now engine for business consumers to buy products at low costs internationally. Vitalize App, LLC – Veeraj Shah ’21, Vi Tran, Sanketh Andhavarapu Vitalize is a mobile app that delivers short, personalized, and evidence-based wellness modules that are tailored to the unique stressors of healthcare to boost the wellness, professional satisfaction, and resilience of healthcare providers.
Spring 2020 will be remembered forever as the season that brought COVID-19 to our lives. This has been a tumultuous time for everyone, and no less for the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship community. We would like to take a moment to look back on our successes this spring, both in-person and virtual, and to thank the students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners for their perseverance in a pandemic and their dedication to showcasing the best in entrepreneurship at University of Maryland. We are proud to see our founders continuing to thrive, and look forward to the opportunities of creating a virtual Terp Startup accelerator cohort this summer.
In fall 2018, the Dingman Center met part-time MBA student Myisha Gatson, MBA ’20, who applied to Pitch Dingman Competition for her company, Pearl Long Term Care Solutions, LLC, a double-sided marketplace for long term care solutions to help people find safe and affordable care for their loved ones. Myisha pitched in the Semifinals, and though she did not move on to the Finals that year, she remained engaged with the Center. In the summer of 2019, she took on an intern through our Kathryn Stewart Fellowship Program, which provides a $5,000 stipend for students working at early-stage startups that may not otherwise have the resources to pay for an intern. Since her pitch at the fall 2018 Semifinals, she has continued to work on her business full-time, and has met many additional milestones: