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A Remembrance: Thomas (Tom) Savransky, Founder of Enly

This week our team received the tragic news that one of our Fearless Founders, Thomas (Tom) Savransky, died in a car crash at age 23. Tom was the founder of Enly, a sustainability conscientious fashion-tech startup that develops virtual fitting technologies. As a student, Tom participated in many of our Dingman Center programs while developing Enly from an idea to a business. In 2019, Tom’s hustle and commitment to taking Enly to market secured him a spot in our inaugural cohort of Terp Startup Fellows. Tom had the entrepreneurial spirit that we love to see in our student entrepreneurs and he will be terribly missed. The loss of Tom’s potential is heartbreaking. 

The below comment from Tom’s co-founder, Jonathan (Jonny) Schneider, memorializes his entrepreneurial drive best: 

“Tom’s spirit was one of an entrepreneur who was willing to do anything to make his business work. In his words, he was willing to sacrifice it all: health, friends, family, simple pleasures. In many ways, Tom embodied the story of the true entrepreneur, one who undergoes extreme sacrifice with little recognition. The mortal, real, industrious entrepreneur, rather than the glorified fantasy of the entrepreneur.”

Jonny shared with us that Tom’s favorite poem was “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. We have included that poem below. 

In February 2020, The Diamondback, an independent student newspaper associated with the University of Maryland, published this story on Tom’s journey building Enly.

Our thoughts are with Tom’s family, friends and loved ones as they grieve this incredible loss. 

–Statement from Holly DeArmond, Managing Director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship on behalf of the Dingman Center team. 

Nothing Gold Can Stay

BY ROBERT FROST

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Tom pitching in the Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals in 2019. 

Enly team: Jonathan (Jonny) Schneider (left) and Tom Savransky (right) 

Jonny (left) and Tom (right) during an Enly business trip to Los Angeles, California

Fall 2020 Semester In Review

by Anisah Ingram

It seems like the time flew by, but here we are concluding the fall semester of 2020! As we close out this semester and students head out for winter break, let’s take a look back at all we did these past couple of months. 

Every Friday of the semester, we held virtual sessions of Dingman Fridays, where students were able to meet with guest advisors, subject matter experts and Dingman staff to listen to their business ideas and offer feedback. Through this program we engaged 32 unique advisors and were able to host more than 100 student sessions.

On October 22, we held a Ladies First Alumni Panel: Adapting During Times of Uncertainty. Three alumni of the Ladies First Founders cohort reflected on their experiences in the course and talked about the progress they have made on their business ideas. The panel was moderated by Barathi Aravindan, the Dingman Center’s own Venture Intern who is also an alumnae of Ladies First Founders. You can watch the session here.

November brought exciting rankings news. For the sixth straight year, the University of Maryland is ranked in the top ten for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education, coming in at No. 6 for undergraduate entrepreneurship education, according to Entrepreneur magazine and The Princeton Review’s annual survey. Read more in Maryland Today here

In an ever-changing virtual world, things looked a bit different this year but we still celebrated a virtual Global Entrepreneurship Week in November. We hosted our signature program Terp Marketplace, in collaboration with Startup Shell Expo, and welcomed two alumni entrepreneurs to speak on our Ladies First Founders Panel. The panel featured alumni female founders Ngozi Azubike, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of OBAN Corporation, and Lauren Foundos, Founder and CEO of FORTË. 

Throughout the academic year, the Dingman Center provides ad-hoc seed funding for University of Maryland startups, called the E-Fund. Recently, we announced the E-Fund Winners of Fall 2020. In total, we were able to provide funding to seven startups and gave out nearly $5,000. The funding ranged from $250-$1,000 and will go towards the type of costs that can be barriers to getting an idea to market. 

While the annual Pitch Dingman Competition applications do not launch until January, this fall we introduced new programming through the Pitch Dingman Competition Prep Series. These workshop-type events help prepare students for the Pitch Dingman Competition application process. The series included guest appearances from past winners Hydraze and Aurora Tights; an introduction to understanding and identifying your target market with Maurice Boissiere; and a talk on building a profitable and impactful company with Martin Mayorga, founder and CEO of Mayorga Organics

Our Founders Forum also continued to meet monthly this semester via the virtual platform, Spacial Chat. Founders who attended these sessions discussed a variety of topics related to running a business. The Dingman Center Angels met virtually in September, October and November with three new investment opportunities resulting for Nest Collaborative, Wellfound Foods and N5 Sensors. We are excited to watch these startups grow next year with their newfound funding! 

In addition to the many programs and events held this semester, Business Insider published “The top 10 metro areas where Black and Latinx founders are securing the most funding to build their companies.” The Washington D.C. metro area was listed at number 7 noting investments from the Dingman Center and TEDCO. 

As you can see, we had an amazing and busy fall, despite this being a new learning environment for everyone. We hope everyone stays safe and we want to thank our entire community for contributing to such a successful semester!

Ladies First Founders Panel Guides Aspiring Female Entrepreneurs with Timely Advice

by Anisah Ingram

Ladies First at Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is committed to increasing the number of women involved in entrepreneurship at UMD and addresses the barriers that prevent female and non-binary students from pursuing entrepreneuship.

Last week, students had the opportunity to participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week by attending a virtual panel discussion with alumni female founders, Ngozi Azubike, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of OBAN Corporation and Lauren Foundos, Founder and CEO of FORTË. Azubike’s company provides practical strategic and tactical management solutions to public and private sector clients. Foundos’ company focuses on building software for gyms to broadcast their classes. Participants had the pleasure of hearing about their different journeys in entrepreneurship and fueled an insightful discussion on being a woman in the world of business.

Azubike started off the event by describing her journey. She didn’t always want to be an entrepreneur, which she joked “I didn’t even know how to spell the word.” Originally, she saw herself as a researcher. Foundos had the same response, where she explained that she wanted to work on Wall Street before going into the field she’s in now. The first step that Azubike took to go from an idea to a company was doing her homework. It involved creating a business plan, putting together marketing collateral, and pitching herself.

Foundos explains her journey as ongoing by continuously setting goals for herself and her company to achieve. It’s the state of looking back at where she started and seeing how far she’s come, especially because very few female founded companies get funded. COVID-19 has impacted a lot of business, but FORTË has been thriving because of it. The demand due to gyms being shut down has increased tremendously.

Azubike sees our current times as an opportunity for people to reinvent themselves and pivot into something new, specifically women looking to build businesses. Women that she coaches and mentors are taking their hobbies and turning them into businesses now. Research has shown that young women are less likely to report an idea they have for a new venture. Foundos agreed with this and explained that the reason she was able to start her company was because she found a group of women that enabled and supported her to ask questions.

In the end of the event, they left us with great advice on what keeps them going in their field. Foundos explained how it’s going into any new venture or situation with conviction, even if you don’t have it all together. “Go for what you want and don’t worry about making mistakes”, she said, “It’s important to get out there and just do it”. Azubike explained how you learn from the lessons in your experience, but you can’t get stuck on them. She’s learned that in the end, you have to keep stepping onwards.

Interested in learning more about the Dingman Center’s Ladies First Initiative? Visit go.umd.edu/ladiesfirst for ways to get involved and details on BMGT 369D: Ladies First Founders, our one-credit Spring 2021 course that is now open for registration!

An Interview with Pitch Dingman Competition Finalist: Hydraze

In anticipation of the final round of the 2020 Pitch Dingman Competition, the Dingman Center is interviewing each of the five startup finalists about their progress and upcoming challenges as they prepare to compete for the $15,000 Grand Prize on March 10th in the Grand Ballroom of Stamp Student Union. Learn more and register to attend the competition here.

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Dean Robert Orr presenting the Hult@UMD award to Hydraze co-founders Charles Grody, Tuvia Rappaport and Jack Sturtevant

Hydraze

Charles Grody ’20, Mechanical Engineering
Jack Sturtevant ’20, Computer Engineering
Tuvia Rappaport ’20, Aerospace Engineering

hydraze_high_resDC: Tell us about your startup.

Hydraze: Hydraze is a water conservation focused startup that delivers high performance automatic toilet flushing technology for commercial buildings. Our stall-latch activated flushing product can save hundreds of dollars per toilet by reducing the number of times it flushes compared to competitor products.  We have also developed a proprietary flush tracking and optimization platform that can drastically improve a facility manager’s ability to maintain their bathroom. Hydraze drives water conservation by improving bathroom performance and generating savings.

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Get to Know the Dingman Center: Sara Herald

This summer we will be featuring our current Dingman Center staff in a special blog series. Read along and get to know a little more about each member of our team!

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Sara Herald, Associate Director for Social Entrepreneurship

Sara Herald came to the Dingman Center from the Center for Social Value Creation in January 2016, bringing social entrepreneurship along with her. Since her arrival, the Dingman Center has sought to create a welcome space for students interested in leveraging venture creation for social impact. She has challenged us to reframe our concept of “entrepreneurship” to be inclusive of students who don’t self-label as “entrepreneur”, and might prefer the term “changemaker” or “problem-solver” instead. Through her landmark Ladies First initiative, we are seeing more female students than ever exploring entrepreneurial pathways at University of Maryland. Sara’s progressive attitude toward entrepreneurship and its role in building a better world are inspiring to both staff and students.

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Featured EIR: Polly Vail

By: Justin Taubman ’16 IMG_1072MBA Candidate

This week, I am very happy to feature Polly Vail, one the Dingman Center’s biggest supporters and Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR). Her illustrious background as an intrapreneur and entrepreneur makes her a valuable asset to the University of Maryland community and the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. If you have never been to Dingman Fridays to discuss your business ideas with an EIR, maybe this feature about Polly will change your mind. Polly’s perspective and experience are valuable to students considering entrepreneurship.

Polly began her career before the days of Craigslist and Monster, when newspapers “owned” the classified advertising business. One of her first intrapreneurial experiences was launching the first online job search platform for The New York Times where she worked in marketing. It was disruptive and successful. But, ultimately it was shut down. At the time, The New York Times, and others in the industry, were afraid of the changes and retreated to their old ink and paper model. Polly experienced the limits of intrapreneurship and how tough it is for successful organizations to change from within. Polly was able to launch other successful new products for The New York Times including a College edition, a Spanish language edition, and what are now called “native advertising” sections. And, she became the first Managing Director for the paper’s Washington D.C. office focusing on advertising and revenue.

From there, Polly moved to the D.C. Women’s Business Center, where she coached women who were interested in entrepreneurship. The Women’s Business Center served a range of talented women from professionals to women on public assistance. Polly’s main focus was helping low income women move to financial independence through micro-enterprise training. She helped her clients start businesses in the fields of entertainment, childcare, food service, beauty and apparel. After some time at the Women’s Business Center, Polly decided to practice what she had been preaching and began her own independent consulting practice. She helps clients with branding, web site design, social media, and revenue generation. She has worked extensively with the Water Alliance and the International Lyme Disease Association. As an independent consultant, Polly used a crowdsourcing creative services firm called GeniusRocket. Her relationship with the firm led to her tenure as President of the company. As President of GeniusRocket, Polly grew the business and developed a strategic merger with a larger firm.

Polly is still an advisor to GeniusRocket and does consulting in the non-profit space. Having such an enthusiastic, successful, and empathetic EIR as Polly Vail is invaluable.

Polly explained to me that she loves working with student entrepreneurs at UMD because she believes that the Dingman Center does a fantastic job of preparing its pupils for the rigors of running a startup business. She continued by saying that the most important thing for an undergraduate student entrepreneur to develop is a multi-disciplined team so they can execute quickly and effectively and avoid blind spots. The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is very lucky to have the talented Polly Vail among its Entrepreneurs in Residence.

Startup Profile: Uboard

By: Justin Taubman ’16 MBA Candidate

The next startup competing in the Final Round of the Pitch Dingman Competition on February 16 is Uboard. I had the opportunity to speak with Natalie Urban, the creator and founder of Uboard, a custom dorm bed headboard manufacturer. This creative startup started in the same place Facebook started, a Freshman dorm room. Although Uboard may not be a social network, the startup has an innovative product nonetheless.uboard1

When Natalie moved into her freshman dorm room she recognized that dorm rooms were very bland. In an effort to spruce up her room, Natalie created what would become the first Uboard prototype. The Uboard Natalie made for her room created a lot of buzz on her floor. The idea to develop a business behind her custom Uboard came after she attended a retreat sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers. At the retreat, Natalie’s team used the headboard as a solution to the following prompt: solve a day-to-day college problem. Her team won the retreat competition and validated her business idea.

Natalie employed the help of her friends and began selling the boards via social media during her sophomore year. Uboard now has its own e-commerce website, www.uboard.biz. The business is being marketed by commission based brand ambassadors and through social media. The biggest issue Uboard has faced is realizing the seasonality of their product. They have plans to try and overcome this problem by introducing new features and add-ons to the headboard such as USB ports, speakers and changeable headboard covers.

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Natalie reminded me that she and her colleagues are still in college. They are balancing the complications of running a business and fulfilling orders, while completing their classwork, and trying to have a fun experience. All of the finalists are struggling to figure out this balance and I believe they all should be congratulated on their success and discipline. Make sure to come and see Uboard and the other finalists at the Pitch Dingman Competition on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Colony Ballroom, Stamp Student Union. 

Startup Profile: ICOW

By: Justin Taubman ‘16 MBA Candidate

The next company we would like to feature that will be competing in the Finals of the Pitch Dingman Competition is ICOW. Jonathan Kau launched ICOW with his co-founder and CEOicow Haiwen Ding in November to help international students through the college application process. I had the opportunity to chat with Jonathan about his success so far and plans for expansion. Make sure to come and check out his pitch next Tuesday at 6:00pm in the Colony Ballroom at Stamp.

When Jonathan’s co-founder went through the process of applying to college in the United States from China she witnessed the need for this type of service. The United States’ college application process is very different from that of China so students are forced to hire agencies to help them navigate the process. These agencies can be extremely expensive and also quite shady, by writing the application essays for their clients. ICOW addresses this need by providing a web based solution that operates similar to how TurboTax helps individuals navigate the complexity of their taxes.

Since November, ICOW has generated $20,000 in revenue with over 120 customers. The greatest marketing achievement to date has been implementing a referral program, which has driven 35% of their customers. Jonathan uses three types of marketing to promote the product. First, they have recruited campus ambassadors by providing them with their service for free to promote ICOW at their schools. Next, they create a ton of online content through webinars, blogs, etc. to help drive inbound leads. Finally, their product is spread very organically by word-of-mouth as their customers continue to share their happiness with the product to their friends and family.

icow1I asked Jonathan what hurdles he has faced in creating this business and not surprisingly he immediately explained how difficult it was working through all of the internet restrictions in China. He told me that they are looking at incorporating their business in China to try and mitigate some of the limitations they have faced as a result of China’s “Great Firewall”.

ICOW is projecting some exponential growth in 2016 as students begin ramping up the application process and they port to additional languages. We wish them good luck in the final competition.

 

Startup Profile: WeCook

By: Justin Taubman ’16 MBA Candidate

wecokAs we prepare for the Pitch Dingman Competition Finals on Tuesday, February 16 at 6 p.m. in Stamp’s Colony Ballroom, I will introduce the competitors who have not yet been featured in the blog this year. Today I will introduce you to WeCook.

When I asked Ryan Pillai, Founder of WeCook, to describe to me in a nutshell what service their company provided, he explained “We send a professional chef once a week to bulk cook meals for your week.” He went on to describe how it works. A chef arrives with all of the required groceries and cooking utensils to your home. The chef then prepares up to a week’s worth of food in a short appointment and packages the meals in individual containers for future consumption.

A while back when Ryan got off  the University of Maryland’s student dining plan, he found it very difficult to eat healthy all week, so he began preparing all of his meals at the beginning of each week. Some of Ryan’s friends started following suit and eventually they decided to turn their habit into a business. They eventually realized they could hire professional chefs to deliver this service to individual’s homes.

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Home cooked meals by WeCook

Today, WeCook is operating in DC, MD, and VA and their chefs are cooking 220 meals per week. Their growth was achieved through several marketing strategies. Through online marketing, the startup targeted their primary customers, working mothers. The team at WeCook have also been very active by attending conferences and networking events, engaging in as many opportunities to speak about their product as possible. Ryan told me that they have also begun performing demonstrations in organic grocery stores and farmer’s markets, which should help them with their word-of-mouth campaign strategy.

I found it very interesting to hear what Ryan thought his biggest hurdle has been. “In the sales process, it can be very difficult to convince someone that they need a personal chef,” said Ryan. “It is going to require people’s behaviors to change. But I always make sure to use the line that our service is as low as $7.99 per meal, which is less than a Chipotle burrito.” I am sure Uber’s customers felt the same way about having a private driver until they realized the convenience and ease of the service. Hopefully WeCook will be able to capitalize on the behavior transformation that Uber and other services have initiated.

Check out WeCook’s Facebook page and make sure to come out and watch them pitch next Tuesday for a shot at the $15,000 Grand Prize.

Dingman Center Angel Investments: Fall Recap

By: Justin Taubman MBA Candidate ‘16 

Welcome back to snowy College Park. I hope that everyone had a safe return. The Dingman Center is happy to announce a successful fall of 2015 for the Dingman Center Angels (DCA). Several of the Angel group’s members were involved in seven investments during the fall semester (June – January).

For those not familiar with the Dingman Center Angels, it is a group of angel investors who provide funding to early-stage companies from around the area. The group looks to invest $100,000 to $1,000,000 in seed/early stage companies, and often syndicates with other angel groups and venture capital funds (VCs) for deals up to $2 million. DCA is not a fund and does not invest as a group. The fund’s members collaborate on due diligence but make individual investment decisions. Each member makes their own thorough review of all information, including speaking with representatives of the company.

Here is a quick run-down of the companies that our Angels invested in over the past semester:

The hardware/software company NetBeez raised its first round with help from a member of DCA in June. NetBeez enables companies with a large network infrastructure to quickly troubleshoot and repair network problems, cutting costs and reducing network downtime. They use hardware and software monitoring agents to immediately detect which enterprise locations are affected by network outages or performance issues.

In August, several DCA members participated in a follow-on investment round in the software company, SalesWarp. SalesWarp focuses on simplifying and streamlining the critical business processes associated with managing a successful E-commerce business. The company provides retailers of all sizes and business needs with tools to deliver an omnichannel experience across all channels, ensuring customers receive the experience they expect, shopping the way they want.card_isle

The consumer kiosk company CardIsle raised its first round of angel funding from DCA in
September. The company produces consumer facing kiosks that as the name suggests can replace the greeting card isle in a single box, offering meaningful, customized greeting cards. This company adds value to any retail store that sells greeting cards by transforming the “atoms” of the greeting card isle to “bits” in a digital kiosk, thus greatly reducing the required real estate.

The software company Delight Me received a portion of its initial investment in November from a member of DCA. Delight Me is an integrated life management, coaching, client relationship, and digital marketing solution for individuals and enterprises to set goals, track progress, and receive feedback from trusted advisors. Delight Me seamlessly integrates people, data, and goals using a unique closed-loop framework. By making it easy to provide and receive encouragement, course corrections, and advice, subscribers achieve better results in less time. Professional service providers, such as advisors, consultants, trainers, teachers, and coaches use Delight Me’s data collection, graphing, and messaging platform to attract, engage, and Delight clients on a sustained basis.  Professionals use Delight Me to reach their target customers with timely information, advice, and products needed to achieve their goals.

November also included participation by several DCA members in the initial round of investment in the biyet_analyticsg data analytics company, Yet Analytics. Yet Analytics uses big data to improve the decision making process of human capital professionals by making the data of the connected world more visible, accessible, and actionable.

In December, GoldLasso raised money from DCA. This advertising and marketing tech company provides marketers truly native email monetization to deliver a better advertising experience to subscribers.

The most recent investment in January with the company, Eventuosity. This company has streamlined comprehensive event management through their simple software solution.

We are looking forward to another busy semester of investment activity. Make sure to read our biweekly newsletter, The Pitch for more information about our portfolio companies.