Category Archives: Startup Success

Catching up with Cupid’s Cup Champ, MyFridgeRental.com

This year Cupid’s Cup is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Kevin Plank is looking for the next entrepreneur who has what it takes to win the cup and more than $100,000 in cash prizes.

As we gear up for this year’s competition, we caught up with founders Adam and Eric VanWagner to see how things are going with MyFridgeRental.com, the 2011 Cupid’s Cup champion.

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Adam VanWagner ’11

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Eric VanWagner ’11

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Dingman enTERPreneur Launches Mega Kickstarter Campaign

Obidi Maryland in manhattan

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.

mega pyramid

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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Alumni Spotlight with KidFit Academy

Since 1986, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship has helped foster countless students and entrepreneurs. We are always excited to speak with alumni about their successes. Today, we caught up with Margaret Croushore (Maggie), a 2013 UMD graduate who launched her business, KidFit Academy, in Oakland, California.

Grant Lee (GL): Hi Maggie! Tell me about yourself?
Maggie Croushore (MC): I graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in May 2013, with a focus in education policy and nonprofit management and leadership. Prior to UMD, I taught middle school literacy in Washington, DC for four years. I became involved with the Dingman Center at the end of my first year at UMD, when I pitched an idea that would get students more active throughout the school day. The idea has evolved over time into what is now KidFit Academy. Continue reading

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Guest Blog From Former Cupid’s Cup Winner, Goozex

This year marks the 9th annual Cupid’s Cup business competition chaired by Founder & CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank. Plank partnered with the Dingman Center to find the most passionate student entrepreneurs running impactful businesses and in 2013 they took the competition national. Before this Cupid’s Cup was a University of Maryland-only competition and in 2007 the winner was Goozex.com.  Today’s guest blog is from Goozex.com co-founder, Valerio Zanini. Read about his journey with the Dingman Center and where Goozex.com is today. 

When Jon Dugan pitched Goozex.com at a Pitch Dingman event in 2005 he lost the competition. The idea was great, but his business plan needed further exploration and development. Just one year later, Goozex.com was open for business and in a few months had gained thousands of users and won the prestigious IMA Interactive Media Award for best website design. How Jon was able to create a viable business and launch it while still in college is a fascinating story that shows how the Dingman Center can have a huge impact in shaping entrepreneurship in the DC region. goozex-logo

In all senses, Goozex is a Dingman Center success story of teaching the right methodologies to start a company, providing the right support, and trusting entrepreneurs in their vision. Jon Dugan was a senior at the University of Maryland when he pitched the Goozex idea at the Dingman Center. One of the judges who voted against his business plan later invited him back to the Center and offered help in developing a better model for the company.  I was that judge, at the time a second year MBA student and Dingman Scholar helping local entrepreneurs start their businesses. I paired with Jon and together we brainstormed product ideation, refined the business model, and connected with key suppliers.

Within a few months we had a working model of Goozex and a team to launch the business. We partnered with a software development company in Italy to cut down on costs, and brought in another MBA classmate to lead the marketing strategy in preparation for the launch. Mark Nebesky joined the company eager to jump on an entrepreneurial opportunity and excited to be working in the video game industry.

I had come to the US from Italy to obtain an MBA degree at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. I had received offers from other MBA schools around the world but chose UMD for one key reason: the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Smith was the only business school with an in-house entrepreneurship center and a curriculum designed to foster entrepreneurship among the student body, and support new entrepreneurs in launching their ventures. To me, UMD was the best choice and I joined the 2006 MBA class with the clear intent of participating to the Dingman Center’s activities, and one day starting my own company.

The Dingman Center supported Goozex in so many ways. It provided the very first seed capital that was used to sign the contract with our first supplier and incorporate the company: we were in business. The Dingman Center gave the newly born startup its first office space: it was just a room shared with other businesses but it gave us a sense of stability and belonging. The then-Director of the Dingman Center connected us with the founder of another video game company: over the years this proved to be the most productive partnership for Goozex. The Entrepreneurs in Residence provided us with advice, support, and even participated in the seed stage round of financing. I am sure that Goozex would not have existed without the Dingman Center and its great people.

Over the years Goozex.com grew to become the #1 online platform for used video games in North America. We were consistently rated the best trading platform for several years in a row by third party websites. We created an engaged community of users many of whom are still with us years later. And we received multiple offers for acquisition, including one from one of the largest media conglomerate in the US (the owners have a castle in California!). We were excited by the opportunity, but even more excited by the growth prospects of our company and turned it down. We had recently launched our Facebook application (at a time when the Facebook App marketplace was considered the ultimate thing in business and everyone was striving to get there). And we had two big partnerships lined up and ready to close. It made sense to us, at the time.

But by 2009 things had started to get sour. The economy was in chaos. Entertainment spending declined, as did Gamestop’s used market for the first time in a decade. Prospective investors disappeared, followed by the two big partnerships. In just a few months we were back to the drawing board figuring out how to pivot and grow Goozex again.

We owned a solid and appreciated brand, a loyal user base, and played in a very large market that, despite the continuous challenges posed by digital games, showed little signs of shrinking. We knew Goozex could make it, and we decided that if we didn’t find the resources needed to grow the company, we wanted to find a new acquirer who had the possibility to scale it up. We rolled up our sleeves, cut down our costs, and doubled up our efforts.

Things really turned around when we finally found an interested buyer, a company who believed in the Goozex’s vision and wanted to restore its growth potential. We sold the company on November 15, 2012.

The Goozex story is one of endurance, passion, and ingenuity. It was a bumpy ride, but a fantastic ride nonetheless. It has shaped my life and that of all Goozex founders and associates. And I believe it’s a great Dingman Center success story. The resources, trust, and support offered by the Dingman Center were priceless. And it certainly proved that I made the right choice in attending the Robert H. Smith School of Business!

Valerio Zanini
Co-founder and CEO, Goozex.com
2005-2012

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Dingman Center Angels: A Year in Review

The Dingman Center Angels connects regional startup companies seeking seed and early-stage funding with angel investors. In this special edition of Worth Reading, we are featuring an info-graphic showing the metrics from this year’s investment season.

DCA Year Review (1)

Background on the companies Dingman Center Angel members invested in from September 2012 to August 2013.  

  • 6th Street Commerce: focuses on simplifying and streamlining the critical business processes associated with managing a successful E-commerce business.
  • Astrapi Corporation: Astrapi’s patented Compound Channel Coding™ (cCc™) allows for dramatic improvements in communication performance by smoothly integrating periodic and exponential signal parameters.
  • Brazen Careerist: a growing community of connectors, coaches, job-seekers, recruiters and entrepreneurs to help you find your next great opportunity.
  • Cirrus Works: a scalable integrated infrastructure solution that forms the basis of efficient technology management in commercial networking environments.
  • Distil Networks:  protects websites against web scraping, content theft and competitive data mining.
  • E-ISG Asset Intelligence LLC: delivers cost efficient solutions to help customers manage and track their assets so they can reduce costs and improve operation efficiency.
  • ExecOnline: provides every executive at the world’s great companies with access to superb training opportunities.
  • Foodem: an online trading, business intelligence, and process automation solution for the $670 Billion U.S. wholesale food distribution industry.
  • InGo: the revolutionary solution which brings data-driven value to face-to-face sales and marketing. InGo provides Social Event Marketing with Meeting Matching for show growth and guaranteed value for every user.
  • Mobile Systems 7: allows enterprises to securely deploy smartphones and tablets by monitoring deployed systems, securing sensitive data and enforce corporate policies without relying on software agents.
  • Naaya: a game-based social learning platform for Elementary Schools (K-5) focused on global and social studies and 21st Century Skills – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Character.
  • Nexercise: a free mobile application that rewards users with virtual medals, discounts and free merchandise for good health.
  • Plant Together: a platform to mobilize youth and families, in partnership with other agencies, to plant trees and promote reforestation in critical zones on the African Continent.
  • Riskive: provides enterprise grade security technology dedicated to identifying, monitoring and preventing risk across the socially connected enterprise.
  • Spinnakr: increases click-throughs and conversions by automatically displaying the right message to the right visitor.
  • Visisonics: brings to market state of the art products and solutions in 3D sound capture, analysis and reproduction.
  • YaSabe: connects businesses, Latino culture and community by allowing users to be “in the know” and confidently make choices about how and where to spend their time and money.
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Meet Live Unchained and Support their Indiegogo Campaign!

Meet Live Unchained, an EnTERPreneur Academy company in the Hatch stage that is in the midst of a major crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo.  We caught up with Kathryn Buford, the founder of Live Unchained, to chat about her organization and her latest efforts.

Tell us about yourself and your company.

A: I am Kathryn Buford, a PhD student in sociology at UMD, an artist, journalist and digital media consultant.

My organization is Live Unchained, an international arts media and events organization featuring works by female artists across the African diaspora. Our media offerings include a growing online magazine at www.liveunchained.com where we’ve interviewed over 100 female artists from over 16 countries. We also offer a variety of events such as art exhibits, festivals, film screenings, concerts and now, with the help of our Indiegogo supporters, we’d like to add an awards ceremony to our offerings as well.

How did you come up with the idea?

A: I started Live Unchained with my college roommate, Miriam Moore. She majored in Graphic Design and I studied Sociology and African American studies. A lot of our classes overlapped and led us to discuss topics like art, social justice and black identity. In our eyes we had pretty radical ideologies. Negative and limited representations of black women in popular culture really upset us and learning more about the history behind those images added fuel to the fire. When it comes to arts media and venues, women of African descent are still under-represented, with not enough done to reflect the diversity of our perspectives and experiences.

At the start, we wanted to create a cultural project that would critique the misrepresentation and under-representation of black women, by satirizing the absurdity of it all. But, as we grew – putting others first and developing a global conscience – the project changed. We didn’t want it to only be about what was wrong, but also celebrating what black female artists were creating. We grew to see it as a platform and community to unite black women across the diaspora.

How has the Dingman Center and the EnTERPreneur Academy helped you and your startup?

A: I am so grateful for all the wonderful entrepreneurs the EnTERPreneur Academy has allowed us to meet. It’s amazing to not only learn about business marketing and strategy from some of the leaders in the industry, but to also see their human side. These accomplished business executives have been so humble and down-to-earth; I really respect their approachability because they model for me the type of entrepreneurial leader I want to be. I also love seeing my colleagues in the program and learning about their businesses.

Tell us about your Indiegogo campaign.

A: The campaign is called “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful.” The name comes from a line from the poem, For Women Who Are Difficult to Love by London-based Somali poet, Warsan Shire: “You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, something, not everyone, knows how to love.”

After I heard these words I shared the poem with everyone I could. Later, I had a vision for an awards ceremony titled, “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful,” The goal of this ceremony would be to recognize the many amazing artists that we’ve interviewed during the last 4 years on Live Unchained for their layers, fire, and vulnerability, both as individual women, and as part of an international community.  The ultimate message being that, like in Warsan’s poem, these are qualities meant to be celebrated.

With Warsan’s blessing, we’re raising funds for an awards the ceremony to honor artists across the African diaspora. The funds will also cover the costs of Warsan’s travel and accommodations so she can attend the ceremony. In conjunction with the awards ceremony, Warsan will host a workshop on healing through narrative and participate on a panel on cultural activism.

Why did you decide to utilize crowdfunding and what have you learned about running a crowdfunding campaign so far?

A: Being very resourceful, we’ve been able to put on some really great Live Unchained events and share some great magazine features. However, to make “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” a reality, we need money.. For this campaign, I decided we’d raise our own funds instead of waiting on someone else’s grant or competition time-table.

I did a lot of research on crowdfunding platforms and learned some are better suited for different type of initiatives. We’re raising funds for an arts initiative and  want to avoid the risk losing all the funds if we don’t reach our goal soIndiegogo is the best choice for us. I’ve also learned the importance of having a strong start, affiliate networking plan and fundraising milestones. We kicked off “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” at our anniversary party and it brought a lot of awareness and positive energy to the campaign.

With an online campaign, social media has been important for spreading the word. We created a lot of visuals that people can share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For example, with the help of the Chair of the Graphic Design Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign we created a digital postcard campaign (http://www.liveunchained.com/inspired-by-the-poetry-of-warsan-shire-design-students-launch-terrifying-strange-beautiful-postcard-campaign/) .

What are your next steps with your business?

A: I’m really excited about adding people to our advisory board. We’re also adding a non-profit component to the business so we’ll by established as a hybrid for-profit/non-profit entity.

Additionally, we’ll share more regular video features and new content at www.liveunchained.com.

Do you have any advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneurs?

A: When it came to spreading the word about the “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” campaign, I had some reservations about asking people for money. One of my mentors told me, simply, if you want people to give you something, you have to ask for it directly. So, I’d say, once you are clear about what you want and why, there’s no need to be self-conscious about asking for the help you need in making it happen.. Make your requests professional, but also personal; whenever appropriate, include a visual component that humanizes your work.

And, most importantly, Live Unchained.

Watch the video below to find out more about Live Unchained’s Indiegogo campaign. Help support Live Unchained by contributing to their Indiegogo campaign at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/270627!

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EnTERPreneur Academy Profile – imagine(x)

To celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Dingman Center is featuring a series of blog posts about our EnTERPreneur Acadmey, a program to help guide student ventures from idea to launch. The Academy provides members with a variety of resources including startup fundamentals workshops, advising, office space, selling opportunities and seed funding. The Academy’s three stages Idea Shell, Hatch and Terp Startup provide students with specific resources and requirements that suit the level of progress for their ventures.

Today’s featured startup is imagine(x), the brainchild of EnTERPreneur Academy member, Eric Mintzer. Eric is also an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland who has been engaging frequently with the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Eric’s current startup, imagine(x), which was the runner-up at last month’s Pitch Dingman Competition, is an engineering firm poised to change the way we experience performance art.  Read the Q&A to find out more about Eric and his business, imagine(x)!

Q: Please describe your business.

A: imagine(x) is a creative engineering firm which bridges the gap between science and art.  We strive to develop the most innovative and awe-inspiring technologies of the future, today.  We specialize in augmented reality, pixel mapping, interactive installations, and real time visualizations.

Q: How did you get the idea for your business?

A: I had the idea to create imagine(x) after being blown away by incredible stage setups and immersive entertainment environments.  I wondered, “What can we come up with next?” and decided to become part of that ‘we’ by creating systems that allow concert-goers to naturally interact with these complex audio-visual systems.

Q: What phase is your venture in and what are your next steps?

A: imagine(x) is hatching.  My next step is to finish developing various projects I am working on, while servicing a handful of clients to enhance my portfolio and create revenue to reinvest.

Q: What drew you to become an extrepreneur?

A: I attribute three large areas of my life that contributed towards my entrepreneurial motivations: my parents, my education, and the internet.

My parents, from a very young age, prioritized the importance of being happy and doing what I wanted to do.  This was very different from what my outside environment suggested – financial success.  When financial success became less important, education towards an industrial job became boring and I started doing what any middle-school student would do for fun – independently studying computer programming.  This old drive to Create has gratefully stayed with me long enough to be amplified by the University of Maryland with their unparalleled support and initiatives.

Q: As a student startup, what are some of the challenges that you face?

A: Apart from my daily challenges of generating and debugging code, my greatest is managing my time efficiently.   I have various business oriented goals that involves marketing, branding, analyzing and more, but I am more interested in testing and bringing new technology to the market quickly.  This temporary solution is allowing me to super-accelerate my learning and development, but also has the potential to restrict the speed of business growth.

Q: How did the Dingman Center contribute to the development of your startup?

A: The Dingman Center has been a tremendous resource for my venture.  Faculty and staff have provided me with outstanding mentorship; entrepreneurs-in-residence and alumni have consistently offered guidance and experience; the supporting network and relationships connected me with industry leaders, potential clients and growth opportunities; and the workshops, speaker events and week-long summer entrepreneurship boot camp provided hands-on education, real life experiences, and startup funding.

While many classes at the University teach you to learn from the past using best practices and the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship expands on this by also encouraging and fostering innovation and leadership for an unpredictable future.

Q: What about being a part of the EnTERPreneur Academy excites you the most?

A: The enTERPreneur Academy is a large leap forward towards alternate opportunities and reform in education for students that strive on it,\ and I am excited to be in the inaugural EnTERPreneur Academy class!  I am anxious to watch the growth of this program and the successful stories that result from it.

Come back for tomorrow’s feature!  And don’t forget to “like” the Dingman Center’s Facebook Page tomorrow!  One lucky new fan will receive an awesome prize package from the Dingman Center for liking us tomorrow for our Facebook Challenge!

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EnTERPreneur Academy Profile – AquaSwitch

To celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Dingman Center is featuring a series of blog posts about our EnTERPreneur Acadmey, a program to help guide student ventures from idea to launch. The Academy provides members with a variety of resources including startup fundamentals workshops, advising, office space, selling opportunities and seed funding. The Academy’s three stages Idea Shell, Hatch and Terp Startup provide students with specific resources and requirements that suit the level of progress for their ventures.

Today’s feature is AquaSwitch, a product created by EnTERPreneur Academy member, Aashay Doshi. Aashay is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland who has taken advantage of several of programs offered by the Dingman Center, including an entrepreneurial class and JumpStart. Aashay’s current entrepreneurial venture is AquaSwitch, a bottle that allows a user to carry two different liquids at the same time. Read the Q&A to find out more about Aashay and his business, AquaSwitch!

Q: Please describe your business.

A: AquaSwitch is a unique dual compartment bottle that facilitates the portability and storage of two different liquids at the same time. Our intricate engineering and detailed design ensures no mixing of liquids and no change in temperature. Water and Gatorade, water and juice, water and protein shake–whatever the combination may be, AquaSwitch provides a convenient solution to do so. We aim to provide a convenient, cost effective and stylish solution to diverse hydration requirements.

Q: How did you get the idea for your business?

A: My business idea stemmed out of a class project at UMD. Our assignment was to think of business ideas and form teams to draft papers for the class. However, I decided to take this process to the next level and work on actually launching a product.

Q: In what phase is your venture and what are your next steps?

A: We are in the test marketing phase. We have our preliminary designs and we need to test a sample market to see if we need to make changes to the bottle. Our next step is to get a production run going so we have enough bottles to test with a representative sample.

Q: As a student start-up, what are some of the challenges you face?

A: The biggest challenge as a student entrepreneur is to gather funds. Because college students like us are poor, it is hard to get investments for our passions. In addition, the deteriorating economy pushes us to look for jobs thereby diverting our attention from our  passion. Money is by far the biggest problem.

Q: What part of being in the EnTERPreneur Academy excites you most?

A: The EnTERPreneur Academy provides an extremely exciting and conducive environment for budding entrepreneurs to connect and develop together. What excites me most is the networking and professional development potential the Academy provides. It is an absolute pleasure to brainstorm with fellow innovators.

Stay tuned for the next EA company!

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Startup Success: SpydrSafe

The Startup Success series features interviews with regional entrepreneurs who received funding from the Dingman Center Angels investor network. Click HERE to see a full list of companies that presented and received funding from the Dingman Center Angels during the 2011-2012 year.

SpydrSafe’s mobile security platform, SpydrSafe Mobile DLP™, prevents corporate data breaches from employee-owned devices (BYOD) by providing enterprise IT departments with the tools necessary to safeguard corporate data. SpydrSafe Mobile DLP™  delivers app-level protection for all data on Android smartphones or tablets. Keep reading for an interview with SpydrSafe CEO Michael Pratt.

How did you get the idea for your business?
Myself and my co-founder, Kevin Sapp, both worked in the mobile security/mobility space for 6 years or so before founding SpydrSafe. We kept abreast of how the market was developing and the needs that were unmet and SpydrSafe’s genesis came out of that process.

Why a startup?
Why not?  We’re addressing a “new market” with unmet needs – startups are a natural way to do this.

What phase is the company in?
We’re still early and pre-revenue, albeit we plan to “cure” that by releasing our first product in the market on October 1, 2012.

As a startup, what are some of the greatest challenges you face?
If you’ve been in the startup world as long as Kevin and I have been, the over-riding challenge is always funding. It’s a long, continuous process for a startup. The other challenge is “biting your tongue” when an energetic, but not-so-knowledgeable VC who doesn’t understand the space, or have portfolio companies in the space, and in many cases doesn’t do early stage deals (why are we having this meeting again?) spends most of their time telling me all the reasons why what I’m doing won’t work.

What was the Dingman Center Angels review process like?
To be brutally honest it was a bit tedious – and I still don’t understand why startup companies have to pay to present at these various venues. But at the end of the day, it’s just part of how the game is played. As someone once told me, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the prince.

What do you think about the current state of the entrepreneurial community in Washington DC and Baltimore?
As someone who has visited both coasts and spoken to VC’s in both locations, I’d say that DC/Baltimore is trying very hard to become known as “Silicon Valley East” but they have a very long way to go to get there. It’s more than just one or two “homeruns” that make a region (e.g., AOL – too many years ago now; and Living Social). It’s an attitude and an understanding that what’s important in an entrepreneurial endeavor is the idea (it has to be large enough to be interesting to them) and the team (seasoned, enthusiastic, focused).  What is NOT important is ARPU (average revenue per user), but it’s almost always the first question we hear. So, the “entrepreneurial community” in this region is really a “later stage” environment. I guess it’s less risky than startups/early stage companies but as long as the collective mindset in this region is “we like to see traction before we invest”, it will never be Silicon Valley East.

What advice would you give student entrepreneurs who want to start their own business?
Focus, focus, focus.

Michael Pratt has sixteen years of startup experience with six years in the mobility field. He has held C-level positions with companies including CardStar (acquired by Constant Contact in 2012), Trust Digital (acquired by McAfee in 2010) and Galt Associates (acquired by Cerner Corporation in 2006)

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Startup Success: Lemur Technologies

The Startup Success series features interviews with regional entrepreneurs who received funding from the Dingman Center Angels investor network. Click HERE to see a full list of companies that presented and received funding from the Dingman Center Angels during the 2011-2012 year.

Lemur Technologies collects market, retail, customer and community data to optimize the results per location. Using various methods of real-time communication, Lemur creates a sense of urgency and a call to action that leads to more sales. Lemur clients are provided with the best data analysis and individual algorithm results that maximize each store’s opportunities to move inventory. Keep reading for an interview with Lemur Technologies CEO, Will Fuentes.

How did you get the idea for your business?
I worked in the retail industry for about 9 years and identified a unique approach to solving the problem that slow moving inventory is a huge drain on resources.

Why a startup?
I really felt that I had a unique approach to solving a big problem. After spending some time with mentors they told me that I should go pursue building a company. I thought I had the right idea and the right market. Also, I like the freedom of being my own boss.

What phase is the company in?
We are currently in the “ramp up” phase. We are launching with a national client and looking to finish negotiations with another client.

As a startup, what are some of the greatest challenges you face?
Our greatest challenges are maintaining culture and finding the right employees!

What piece of advice/information have you received that has added the most value to your business?
If you have to ask if it’s a good idea, then you shouldn’t start your own business. You have to know it is good idea and go after it.

What was the Dingman Center Angels review process like?
The staff and Elana have been very generous with their time and advice. I have gained a lot from being able to present; not just money but other things as well.  

What can be difficult working with Angel Investors?
The process can be complicated. Angels are usually less invested in a company than VC’s because they prefer simple deals and invest in smaller amounts. To secure a second meeting they need to be convinced of your company from the start.

What advice would you give student entrepreneurs who want to start their own business?
Go for it! And most importantly, pay it forward. When you meet someone that could possibly help your business make sure you see what you can do for them before asking for anything.

What piece of advice/information have you received that has added the most value to your business?
The biggest piece of advice has been to believe in my ability and my product but not so much that you lose focus or the ability to take feedback and criticism.

Will Fuentes founded Lemur Technologies, Inc in 2011. In his role as CEO, he is in charge of all aspects of vision, strategy and execution for Lemur IMS. Will brings 7 years of field and corporate experience to Lemur. This experience has allowed him, and the Lemur team, to create software that is easy to implement and impactful to the bottom line. After graduating from The George Washington University Law School in 2001, Will worked for two years in the legal field before pursuing a career in retail management. 

Connect with Will Fuentes on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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