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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 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


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!


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, 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.

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.


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.

Social Entrepreneurship Joins the Dingman Center


The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is kicking off 2016 with a new strategic initiative. Historically, the Center has focused primarily on traditional entrepreneurship but recently has recognized the desire among its student populations to pursue social ventures. To execute social entrepreneurship programming, the Center has welcomed Sara Herald as Associate Director for Social Entrepreneurship.  Previously, Herald and social entrepreneurship programs resided in the Smith School’s Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC).  To streamline entrepreneurship offerings at the Smith School, Herald and her portfolio have moved under the Dingman Center umbrella.  CSVC will continue to focus primarily on developing research and curriculum around triple bottom line business principles.

 “Since social entrepreneurship often attracts a broader range of students beyond business and engineering, we anticipate this will be an area of growth for the Dingman Center,” said Elana Fine, Dingman Center Managing Director.  “Recognizing that all entrepreneurs require similar resources, we have reorganized the assets of the Smith School around one hub of entrepreneurship.  We believe this new structure will better serve of all our students and alumni interested in launching social ventures.”

Social entrepreneurship is often described as venture creation for the purpose of solving a social problem.  Social enterprises are not charitable organizations: they are businesses with both social missions and earned revenue models.  Organizations such as Honest Tea, Warby Parker, and Smith’s own Hungry Harvest are social enterprises, as well as thriving companies.  Social entrepreneurs face many of the same challenges as traditional entrepreneurs, in addition to unique obstacles related to their social missions.

“I am excited to bring social entrepreneurship into the Dingman Center portfolio to expose more students to the opportunities in triple-bottom-line businesses,” said Herald. “Millennials increasingly choose to work at and purchase from organizations that have an explicit social mission, and this integration keeps the Dingman Center at the forefront of entrepreneurship trends.”

Herald will lead two signature student programs: the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC) and the Do Good Challenge. MSEC is a dynamic international internship program for undergraduate students to combat poverty in Latin America by supporting small community-based businesses. This unique study and internship program teaches the basic principles of social entrepreneurship through courses, case studies, discussions, and hands-on, practical experience. The Do Good Challenge, a partnership with the School of Public Policy, is an innovative competition that inspires Terps to make the greatest social impact they can for their favorite cause. Students team up to volunteer, fundraise, promote awareness, or advance their own social enterprise during an eight-week period.

“Bringing social entrepreneurship into the Dingman portfolio is a great thing for all aspiring entrepreneurs at UMD,” said Herald. “Students who want to solve a social problem can now come to one place to access resources like Fearless Founders, MSEC and the Do Good Challenge Accelerator, and aspiring traditional entrepreneurs can learn how triple-bottom-line business models can help their businesses stand out to customers.”

For more information on the Dingman Center, visit our web site:

Five Finalists Named in Pitch Dingman Competition

Last week, 10 founders took the stage to pitch their startups in the Pitch Dingman Semifinal Competition. At the end of the competition, only five were selected to move onto the final round in February where $30,000 in cash prizes will be awarded. The semifinalists included a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who are spending much of their college experience building a business. Startups ranged from a virtual reality classroom and a bitters company to a web platform connecting artists and a personal chef service. Each semifinalist provided a lightning fast 3-minute pitch followed a grueling 3-minute Q&A from judges. Before the finalists were announced, the audince choice voted for their top startup. The award went to Uboard founded by undergraduate student Natalie Urban.

Register to attend the competition and watch the following startup founders compete:


Founder: Russell Garing

Embitterment is a DC-based cocktail bitters company that produces high-quality, handcrafted aromatic products designed for both serious mixologists and casual, at-home bartenders.


Founder: Jonathan Kau

ICOW is democratizing higher education applications for international students. Our first product is a TurboTax-like web application that guides Chinese students through the process of writing resumes, researching universities, and writing essays.


Founder: Natalie Urban

You’re a college student doing big things on little sleep. At uBoard, we are working to make your night more comfortable so that your day is more productive.


Co-Founders: Tyler Denk ’16; Taylor Johnson ’16; and Tommy Johnson ‘16

Have you ever had a great idea for a website or mobile application, but lacked the technical skills to bring it to life? VentureStorm connects aspiring student entrepreneurs to talented student developers locally on their campus.


Founder: Ryan Pillai

WeCook enables anyone to have a personal chef to do their everyday cooking and grocery shopping anytime, cost effectively.

The other five semifinalists did not leave empty handed. All 10 semifinalists were awarded a $250 grant to continue work on their business. The final round of competition is set for Tuesday, February 16 at 6 p.m. in Colony Ballroom, Stamp Student Union. Each founder will provide a 6-minute venture pitch including a product/service demo. Attendees will have an opportunity to text-to-vote for their favorite startup. Judges will be announced in January. Check out the Pitch Dingman Competition web site for more information.

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