North Star Creations is a startup founded by Maryland Smith graduate student Mat Parsons, MBA ’22, and his wife Elaine Parsons. North Star Creations creates products for parents to teach their children how to recognize and understand emotions. These tools will equip their children with self awareness and relationship skills to navigate through life. North Star Creations was a part of Terp Startup Accelerator in summer 2021, won the Grand Prize for the Fearless Ideas Track at Pitch Dingman Competition 2021, and won third place in the Main Street Track at Pitch Dingman Competition 2022. Upon his 2022 MBA graduation, Parsons became a member of the Dingman Center’s Young Alumni Founders Council.
North Star Creations has been chosen as the recipient for the 2022 Jason ’96 & Jamie Cohen Entrepreneurship Fund Award. Parsons will receive $1,000 to further accelerate his startup, selected due to the perseverance, level of engagement, and growth potential he has shown over the course of the year. According to Parsons, the funding will be put towards developing a toy face that children can use to express how they are feeling in a fun way.
Congratulations to Mat and Elaine Parsons of North Star Creations!
The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is wrapping up a busy semester of events and programs. We are pleased to report that our students are excited to engage with us in person while we are continuing to offer some virtual options. We are proud to see our enTERPreneurs continuing to thrive, and look forward to the exciting work that will come out of the Terp Startup Accelerator cohort this summer.
Join us in looking back over our spring 2022 semester…
Signature Events & Programs
This semester, we continued using a hybrid model to deliver Dingman Fridays where the first Friday of each month was held in person at Van Munching Hall and following Fridays were held virtually over Zoom. Each week the Dingman Center hosted a series of experienced entrepreneurs as well as a legal advisor who gave students, alumni, staff and faculty practical and actionable feedback on business ideas. If you’re interested in participating, sign up for the Dingman Fridays newsletter to be notified when we bring back Dingman Fridays in the fall.
Feb. 23 – Being Black in Entrepreneurship Event
To celebrate Black History Month, The Dingman Center partnered with Southern Management Leadership Program to organize our third annual Being Black in Entrepreneurship event via Zoom. Panelists Audrey Awasom ‘18, Founder & CEO at Noble Uprising and André Blackman ‘05, Founder and CEO of Onboard Health, were joined by moderator Sydney Parker ’18, CMO of Aurora Tights as they discussed their contributions and experiences as Black entrepreneurs.
Mar. 15 – Terp Marketplace
This semester, 37 students startups got to test the market by setting up tables in Van Munching Hall and selling their products and services for Terp Marketplace. The turn out was huge as vendors sold an array of products and services like sustainable clothing, delicious treats, custom candles, and more.
Apr. 26 – Pitch Dingman Competition
After two years of being virtual, the Dingman Center held Pitch Dingman Competition 2022 Finals in person at Stamp Grand Ballroom. The event was bigger and better than ever with over 300 in-person and over 500 virtual attendees watching the six student start up finalists pitch to judges Shark Tank style. While all of the finalists did an outstanding job presenting their business and ideas, this year, Edwin Djampa ’22, founder of Omega 3, won the grand prize for the Main Street Track and Sanketh Andhavarapu ’23, founder of Vitalize, won the grand prize for the Quattrone Venture Track.
Terp Ladies First Founders Class
Ladies First Founders is the Dingman Center’s signature course for female and non-binary students interested in entrepreneurship. This semester, 13 students worked to build soft skills for overcoming gender biases in entrepreneurship. Unlike previous years, students did not need to have launched a venture, as the focus of the course was on demystifying entrepreneurship.
To learn more about the course and why these students took it read here.
Fearless Founders: New Venture Practicum
New Venture Practicum is another one of the Dingman Center’s signature courses where students experiment with business models, revenue streams and go-to-market strategies. After developing their business throughout the semester, students end the course by pitching for seed funding.
This semester’s cohort included:
Build Bigger – Jonathan MacGregor ’22
Easy Park – Sarthak Patel ’25
Em G Art Design Studio – Emily Garcia ’24 (Studio Art and Art Education)
Heart2Starr – Ileana Lozano ’22
Odin Electric – Paul Mouring ’22 (Mechanical Engineering)
Sequester Carbon Certified – Nathan McMullen ’23
Shai Consulting – Shiv Agarwal ’23
Stockadoo – Hrithik Bansal ’22 (Computer Science) and Justin Fenn ’22 (Computer Science)
Sparza – Ryan Myer ’22 (Finance and Innovation and Entrepreneurship)
Undefined Dreamerz – Takiyah Roberts ’25 (Material Science Engineering)
Venture – Isaac Lefkovitz’24 Samai Patel’24
To learn more about the course and the businesses involved read here.
Not only will events like the Pitch Dingman Competition–among other Dingman Center programs–benefit your business, but they will provide you with a community of supportive like-minded individuals. Once a month, both current and alumni members of Terp Startup, Pitch Dingman Finalists and Startup Shell participate in Founders Forum. This forum is an opportunity for participants to hone entrepreneurial skills, learn from peers, and catch up with one another. During these meetings, we dive into a new topic related to running a businesses in a roundtable-style, while also making time to socialize.
Terp Startup Accelerator
This is now the program’s eighth consecutive year, and the first time the program will be held live again after two virtual years. Aside from the program’s workshops and roundtable discussions held throughout the summer, each team in the cohort will receive a stipend of up to $5,000 and a dedicated advisor to help them grow their businesses.
EMPIRE 242 – Kang Ewimbi ’23 (Entertainment Industry)
JuJu Food Delivery– Weixiang Wang ’22 (Computer Science), Nanxin Luo ’25 (Finance and Information Systems), Zeyang Liu ’22 (Economics), Keying Sun ’23 (Statistics), Liqianrui Yang ’22 (Economics and Management), Zirui Zhou
The Dingman Center has stayed #trending this semester with our TikTok account! We have posted four videos advertising Giving Day, Terp Marketplace and Pitch Dingman Competition 2022–with more videos to come in the summer and fall. So far, our videos have almost 3,300 views combined. Be sure to check out our account and give us a follow to get exclusive Dingman Center content.
We hope everyone in the Dingman Center community has a restful and relaxing summer. We can’t wait for all the remarkable entrepreneurship to come in the upcoming school year.
Pitch Dingman Competition 2022 received over 60 student applications, all vying for a piece of over $75,000 in prize money. Our panel of judges were able to narrow down our wide range of applicants to reveal our quarterfinalists and semifinalists for the Main Street Track and Quattrone Venture Track for the 2022 competition, as well as our advancing finalists for the Fearless Ideas Track. 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 8 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., our 12 Semifinalists will pitch their businesses to an expert panel of judges at the Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals in Van Munching Hall. We’re excited to see who wins the opportunity to pitch at the Finals event on April 26, 2022 for a shot at our grand prize of $30,000!
Read on to learn more about the ventures that will be advancing in our competition:
Main Street Track Semifinalists:
Crys & Co Cosmetics – Crystal Pinckney ’22 Crys & Co is a marketplace for women to enhance their natural beauty with eyelash extensions. Crys & Co provides a directory of qualified lash technicians and accessories.
Fusion100 – Ilan Orgel ’22 Fusion100 is a clothing company shipping orders across the globe with unique designs that catch the attention of consumers.
MatMate – James Dawson ’24 The MatMate is a novel, patent pending protective device that stops the driver’s heel from wearing through their car’s floor mat. It attaches with carpet safe adhesive, making it a risk-free, totally unobtrusive solution to this issue.
North Star Creations – Mat Parsons, MBA ’22, Elaine Parsons North Star Creations creates products for parents to teach their children how to recognize and understand emotions. These tools will equip their children with self awareness and relationship skills to navigate through life.
Omega 3 LLC – Edwin Djampa ’22, Virgil Sermon ’22 Omega 3 is the nutritional food brand pioneering the use of brain-boosting, organic ingredients without compromising quality, taste, or sustainability.
SIERRASINVOGUE – Sierra Sesay ’24 “SIERRASINVOGUE” or shortly known as “SIV” is a slow fashion clothing brand that custom creates clothing pieces such as crewnecks, pants, and shorts made from woven blanket material.
Quattrone Venture Track Semifinalists:
Athenus Financial Group, LLC – Cameron Williams ’21, Damian Shaw ’24 Athenus is the first fintech app focused on amateur foreign exchange traders. Athenus simplifies the market in a way that is more digestible and by using machine learning AI to analyze the market so that users can make informed decisions.
Chat Health – Aishwarya Tare ’22, Veeraj Shah ‘21, Shobha Dasari, Neil Mehta Chat Health is a digital health assistant that closes gaps in the healthcare-seeking process for university students and helps users access those resources through an empathetic design.
Gelectric Medical INC – Leah Borden ’22, Matthew Dowling, James Borden, Wilson Sonsini Gelectric Medical INC produces a surgical adhesive patch that will function as an alternative to existing sutures or surgical glues. The product has advantages for use in cases that existing surgical techniques fail and is a class 3 medical device.
Quandry – Bryan Houlton ’23, Ryan Downing, Peter Geertsema Quandry gives small-cap retail traders tools for researching, developing, and deploying automated trading strategies.
Vitalize – Sanketh Andhavarapu ’23, Veeraj Shah ’21 Vitalize improves well-being and reduces burnout among healthcare providers. We offer a clinician-centric cognitive behavioral therapy mobile app and web-based dashboard with robust analytics and actionable insights for hospital leadership.
WISE Cities, LLC – Marie Brodsky ’24, Katherine-Aria Close, Victoria Chai, Sonia Warrior WISE Cities designs accessible technology to address social isolation among the elderly. Our first app allows seniors to form local groups, and gives community centers and local businesses the opportunity to connect with this hard-to-reach audience.
Main Street Track Quarterfinalists:
Game Changers New York – Sara Blau ’24 Game Changers New York is a 501(c)3 non-profit organizations that collects and distributes sports equipment for kids in need globally.
Priority Resell – Adwin Paul ’23 Priority Resell is a shoe consignment shop based out of College Park/Germantown, Maryland. Priority Resell provides customers around the nation with the ability to buy, sell, and trade shoes that are scarce on the market.
SOAL Sound– Giles Oji ’23 SOAL Sound is an independent record label that currently offers management services to two independent artists.
Quattrone Venture Track Quarterfinalists:
Memento Digital Labs – Brian Paul ’22, Ian Costello, Ben DiMarco Memento Digital Labs is democratizing art by making NFTs more accessible and affordable to buy from professional artists. Our platform uses a checkout with a credit card for artists to sell their digital goods more conveniently.
Pet Passport – Dorian Stephens MBA ’22, Alex Sonnie, Anthony Small, Ogugua Obii-Obioha, Shahriar Jahanbani, Dorian Stephens, Musangu Tanguy Bukasa Pet Passport is an online network that allows vets, kennels, and pet owners to seamlessly connect and transfer animal records, behavioral data, and owner information on one platform.
Repurpose Farm Plastic LLC. – Krisztina Christmon ’22, Benjamin Rickles PhD ’23 Repurpose Farm Plastic LLC. is designing a small-scale cleaning technology specific for plastics used in Agriculture.
Shellter Co.– Daniel Park ’24, Zach Zhao Shellter is a mobile platform that allows college students to find and join course group chats simply by entering their course schedule.
Soshi – Jason Steinberg ’24, Yuvan Sundrani, Sid Jagtap Soshi is a platform that enables users and businesses to share all of their social media and contact information in one place with one tap. Our mission at Soshi is to help people turn new friends into long-lasting connections.
Tyme– Joe Kattan ’22 Tyme is a marketplace connecting salespeople & decision-makers. We’re making B2B outbound sales cheaper & faster, all while delivering a better experience for prospects.
Fearless Ideas Track Finalists:
Mysillybum – Diana Velasquez-kolnik MBA ’22, Perri Moeller, Spencer Pretecrum, Bishoy Guid, Kushal Reddy Mysillybum provides biodegradable diapers for eco-conscious parents without the additional level of effort required.
Presence Learning Management System – Jason Alexander Fotso-Puepi ’23 Presence is a virtual reality learning management system that aims to increase student engagement and retention through the use of immersive technologies while giving instructors the tools they need to track and personalize the students experience.
ReGlass – Bennett Greenspun ’24 ReGlass is a company who makes glasses with interchangeable lenses. It’s made for people who want a cheaper frame alternative and people who want greater customization in fashion eyewear.
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!
DC: What’s your names, majors, minors, and graduation years? Andhavarapu: My name is Sanketh Andhavarapu (May 2023) and I’m majoring in Health Decision Sciences and Neurobiology with a minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Shah: My name is Veeraj Shah (May 2021) and I graduated from the University of Maryland with degrees in Health Policy & Technology and Neurobiology. I’m now pursuing a PhD in Public Health at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with? Andhavarapu: With Vitalize, we completed the Terp Startup Accelerator in 2020. We also frequently participate in Dingman Fridays to receive coaching. I also participated in the Pitch Dingman Competition earlier this year with my nonprofit STEPS, where we were awarded 2nd place in the Main Street Track.
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup? Shah: Vitalize is a digital wellness platform tailored to healthcare providers to improve their well-being and reduce burnout. We offer clinician-focused cognitive behavioral therapy through a mobile app, and robust analytics and actionable insights on staff well-being trends and app engagement for hospital leadership.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup? Andhavarapu: In high school, I had the opportunity to be the Chief Human Resources Officer of a nonprofit organization. I learned that I really enjoyed leading and inspiring teams to collectively achieve social impact. This experience directly motivated me to found STEPS, a revenue-generating education nonprofit. In this role, I realized how important it was for me to take on an irreplaceable role in anything that I put time and effort into. I liked knowing that as a founder, there is no one more knowledgeable about your idea and innovation than yourself, and that you’re leaving a unique footprint on the world. I didn’t find this same sense of personal fulfillment when looking at the different clubs I could join when I first came to UMD. This is why, when I had the idea for Vitalize, I knew I had to take action and it was a no-brainer that I wanted to invest my time and effort into making it successful.
Shah: Early in my time at UMD, I dove into the field of public health. My sophomore year, I worked with the Chief Administrator of Health & Human Services for Prince George’s County as a health policy intern, and began to see the world of local public health in action. But what I saw was a landscape full of opportunities for innovation, and how policy alone would not be able to tackle some of the most pressing health disparities and equity gaps present right in my backyard. That summer, I worked as a business analyst intern at IBM Watson Health, spearheading health technology efforts that would improve the state-level innovation capacity of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I quickly saw how simply innovations had the opportunity to improve the quality of healthcare delivery and prevent the burden of disease.
From that summer on, I knew that my interests lied as a health technology entrepreneur, where I was able to connect my interests in technology to solve critical problems in healthcare and public health. As a founder, I also soon realized how exciting it was to begin building a team and to truly become a subject matter expert on a topic you care about. Vitalize directly reflects these passions – leveraging technology to improve the wellbeing of healthcare providers, and building an incredible team of students committed to this mission.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup? Andhavarapu: Both of us have had mentors and family members suffer from burnout as healthcare providers. We saw how people who committed their professional life to helping others were constantly emotionally exhausted, had poor wellbeing, and in some cases wanted to leave healthcare completely. As aspiring healthcare providers and entrepreneurs, we wanted to ensure that healthcare providers had all the resources necessary to achieve the best wellbeing. We see Vitalize as the first step towards creating lasting cultural transformation surrounding wellness and stigma in healthcare.
DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas? Shah: The idea for Vitalize was actually born prior to the pandemic. Burnout among healthcare providers is a decades-long issue. The onset of the pandemic exacerbated the problem and also highlighted the dire need for new solutions, motivating us to pursue Vitalize as a company. The added free time that came with online classes and being in quarantine also allowed us to put more time into Vitalize.
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months? Andhavarapu: The last 6 months have been very exciting for Vitalize. We are just about finished the development of our product, which we will be launching through a public beta with over 100 clinicians in the next couple weeks. We also secured a hospital pilot with Midland Memorial Hospital in Texas, which we will be conducting as a research study in November to evaluate the efficacy of our product and collect data. Finally, we’ve also garnered interest from two hospital interests in larger scale pilots (1000+ providers), which we’re hoping to execute in early 2022.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be? Shah: Don’t underestimate the importance of customer discovery. If you have an idea that you are looking to pursue, it is important to conduct several unbiased interviews with all the potential stakeholders (customers, payers, partners, etc). Customer discovery is a great way to validate assumptions and de-risk your startup before investing too much money and time into a potentially flawed concept. It’s also important that you build a strong team with diverse skill sets who are all passionate about the problem being solved and are willing to commit long hours to see the company come to fruition.
For more information about Vitalize, please visit the website here.
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.