Tag Archives: China

Dog Days Are Over: Part 2

Always iterate. Pivot when needed. Listen to your customers. At the Dingman Center, we teach these principles every day to students. And, we practice what we preach. In Elana Fine’s latest blog post, she let you know that we spent the summer examining our signature programs to make sure we’re delivering the strongest portfolio of programs, services and products possible. Some programs got a name change, some a curriculum change but all were examined to make sure we’re delivering on our mission to build a remarkable community of entrepreneurs.

Innovation Fridays – For years, the Dingman Center has been dedicated to inspiring Fearless Ideas through our weekly Pitch Dingman sessions. Over the past year, we have been collaborating with several campus groups to transition Pitch Dingman to campus-wide Innovation Fridays sessions. Only the name has changed–the process remains the same. By joining our colleagues we are able to reach more students. Read here for all the details of this expanded commitment to student entrepreneurs. http://ter.ps/39w.

Fearless Founders – As we continue our movement to focus more on the people in our community we’re offering V 2.0 of our EnTERPreneur Academy. A cohort approach to guiding students from idea to launch that leverages tenets of the lean startup methodology, including customer discovery and developing an MVP. The new curriculum focuses more on equipping the founders and more closely resonates with the students we serve.

AdVENTURE Challenge: China – Amazing Race meets Shark Tank this May in Hong Kong and Beijing. A more immersive and impactful China Business Plan Competition where MBA students will earn points visiting startups, multinational corporations and cultural sites. The challenge will culminate with a final competition at Peking University. Students compete for cash prizes alongside peers from Smith, Peking, other Chinese business schools, and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. In an expanded effort to teach the students the complexities of global business, they will work on cross-cultural teams to compete in the competition.

Dingman Center Angels  – the region’s most active angel network does it again. This year we will set up shop at partner incubators and workspaces like Uber Office, 1776, Acceleprise, Bethesda Green and ETC to increase access for regional companies.

The Pitch – We have developed a new communications vehicle, The Pitch. This email digest is sent bi-weekly on Tuesdays to communicate to our audience the Dingman Center’s breadth of activities and leadership throughout the region.

While it may seem much has changed, our commitment to discovering, equipping, connecting and celebrating entrepreneurs remains the same. If you’re interested in joining our community or participating in any of these programs, send us an email at dingman@rhsmith.umd.edu. To stay connected with the Dingman Center follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page.

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Fine Observations: All Entrepreneurship is Global Entrepreneurship

Over the past few weeks the Smith School of Business and Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship have welcomed MBA students from Peking University, our partner school in China. Their enthusiasm for everything American – our universities, our financial markets, our TV shows, our music (apparently John Denver in particular) and especially our MALLS – further highlighted the disproportionate interest foreign individuals and firms have in the U.S. compared to our interest in them. This fervor is not unique to Chinese visitors as we host delegations from around the world that are anxious to learn anything they can about how we teach entrepreneurship and incubate startups. Yes, it is flattering that other countries want to learn from us– but are we doing enough of the same? Beyond outsourcing developers and finding low cost manufacturing, are our entrepreneurs doing enough to become global entrepreneurs?

I’m going to venture an educated guess and say “no, not really”. After speaking with hundreds of entrepreneurs in the past few years, there are only a handful that are tackling a problem also experienced in Brazil, leveraging technology developed in Israel or are targeting customers in China. One of those handful, Dingman portfolio company CirrusWorks, immediately peaked the interest of our investors by first targeting Asian markets. Although their unconventional approach to testing their product in a foreign market appeared naive to some, other investors welcomed the contrarian strategy since most startups begin locally and then diversify abroad as they grow. Since the U.S.’s growth rate ranks #127th , I’d argue that more startups need to take a “World is Flat” approach to launching their businesses. Given such feeble rates, startups may never experience the double-digit domestic growth rates that are typically viewed as milestones and therefore may never explore the global appeal of their product.

While exploring this issue with distinguished startup professors at the Smith School, I learned there are some exceptions. They pointed out that recent research has shown an uptick in transnational entrepreneurs, immigrants to the U.S. who leverage knowledge of the U.S. and their home country to start global, high tech startups. It makes sense that those knowledgeable and comfortable with multiple markets would be more likely to embark on a global venture. However, as a whole, U.S. entrepreneurs need to change their mindset to take advantage of international trends and opportunities:

Think global, start local. Startups need to understand and solve global problems. Uber launched in Paris in 2011, before many major U.S. cities, demonstrating the global pain point of inefficient taxi service.

Find comfort in what is uncomfortable. Talk and learn from people from different cultures. Travel to places with language barriers. Get lost on subways and experiment with food. The ability to partner with international companies and comfort travelling to meet a potential customer will give you a competitive advantage.

Understand Every Business is a Global Business. I repeat. Understand every business is global business and every entrepreneur is a global entrepreneur. For those of you who use the business model canvas as a planning tool – think of your canvas and look at which box represents a global opportunity. Is it a customer segment, a manufacturing partner or a distribution channel?

As entrepreneurs, advisors and investors, let’s learn from our zealous global peers. They are certainly learning from us.

Be fearless.


ElanaFineElana Fine (@elanafine) was appointed Managing Director of the Dingman Center in July 2012, after joining the team in 2010 as Director of Venture Investments. As Managing Director, Elana’s primary focus is leading the Dingman Center in support of its mission and strategic plan. Key responsibilities include oversight of our student venture incubator, Dingman Center Angels investor network, business competitions, and technology commercialization efforts. Elana also develops and maintains relationships with donors, board members, EIRs, the Smith School community and other campus and regional partners. She is also serving as co-chair of the Dean’s Task Force on Entrepreneurship and Innovation and will be working with our Academic Director to expand the Dingman Center’s research activities and curriculum development.

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Smith MBA Wins 8th Annual China Business Plan Competition!

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In January, 18 MBA students from the University of Maryland headed across the pacific to Beijing to compete in the 8th Annual China Business Plan Competition. This annual event, co-hosted by the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, brought together entrepreneurial students from the United States, China and Israel, to see who can deliver the best pitch for their innovative business idea that leverages Chinese resources.  The Smith teams made a strong showing, with three teams making it to the final round of competition, and one Smith team taking the grand prize! We caught up with Yuan He, apart-time MBA student and sole team member of the winning team, Honeymoon Honey, to get his thoughts on the competition and the trip:

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Yuan (pronounced “one”). I am currently pursuing both an MBA and an MS in Finance at the Smith School. At Smith, I serve on the boards for Net Impact and Finance Association as well as participate in the Global Equity Fund as a managing member.  I also hold a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Outside of school, I run my own company called HY Financial, LLC, as an independent registered investment advisor helping individuals reaching their financial goals. I also hold a position at the Defense Information Systems Agency, working in acquisition and system engineering.

Q. What was the business idea that you pitched and how did you come up with the idea?

The company that I pitched at the competition is called Honeymoon Honey. Basically, the honeybee population has plummeted since the 1950’s and it has become more and more challenging for farmers to pollinate their crops. In some countries, farmers have even resorted to pollinating their crops by hand. At Honeymoon Honey, we rent honeybee hives to these farmers to help them increase crop production while reducing the amount of manual labor needed. We then take the honey produced by the rented beehives and make them into high quality cosmetic products.

I got the idea from my friend Andy, who was also the very first friend I made in the U.S. some 20 years ago. His wife’s family had long been making honey based products as a hobby and would occasionally sell their products at the local farmer’s market. Andy saw the business potential in honey products and came to me in 2011 with the idea that eventually became Honeymoon Honey.  We have been working on the business ever since.

Q. How was your experience at the China Business Plan Competition?

It was an awesome experience! The advice and feedback from Prof. Bob Baum, John LaPides, and Elana Fine of the Dingman Center were invaluable, and the experience of learning how to put together a pitch was very rewarding. Both Bob and John would always be able to identify new areas for improvements at end of each advising session. I went in to every session wondering “what can they possibly say now?” The difference between my initial pitch and what I presented at the finals were definitely night and day.

Of course, it all pays off in the end when you’re standing before the judges and full audience at the final round. I am sure would not have been able to win the competition without everyone’s support, and I am thankful to the Dingman Center for that memorable moment.

Q. How was the rest of the trip?  Would you recommend it to other MBAs?

My trip was a little different than rest of the group since I used to live in Beijing, but I would highly recommend the trip and the competition to all other MBA students. There are a lot of opportunities in China, especially in this modern era, and I encourage other students to visit China and learn about what these opportunities can mean for them. Taking classes inside the walls of Van Munching Hall may be exciting enough, but it’s what you do outside those walls that will make your MBA a memorable experience.

Q. What are the next steps for Honeymoon Honey?

The future is very exciting for Honeymoon Honey. We are actually currently in negotiations with a few national retailers in the U.S. who are interested in working with us. In addition, I had several meetings with local VC firms in China after the competition that opened new doors for the business as well. Don’t be surprised if you see Honeymoon Honey in China in a few years.

Q. Any general advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

You’ve got to love your business and believe in it before you can make others believe in it as well. When you really believe in your idea, it makes more thoughtful about your business, hungrier for advice, and more passionate in your pitches.

Since 2006, more than $200,000 has been awarded to promising entrepreneurs in  the China Business Plan  Competition co-hosted by the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. The CBPC is held as part of a week-long global studies trip and satisfies 3 credits of the Smith Experience MBA curriculum. The competition and trip is open to all UMD students at any degree level. For more information please visit our website at: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/dingman/students/CBPC/

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EnTERPreneur Academy Profile – Comrade Brewing Company

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 Comrade Brewing Company, the dream company of EnTERPreneur Academy member, David Lin. David is a Full Time MBA student at the University of Maryland who can frequently be found in the halls of the Dingman Center volunteering with programs and absorbing everything he can about entrepreneurship. David’s company, Comrade Brewing, was an honorable mention at the 2012 China Business Plan Competition and also an audience choice award winner at Pitch Dingman.  Read the Q&A to find out more about David and his business, Comrade Brewing Company!

Q: Please describe your business.

A: Comrade Brewing Company will be a Denver, CO based business that will brew and serve hand crafted beer, free of corn syrup and chemically modified hop extract. Customers will be able to visit and drink beer by the glass on the brewery premises.  The brewery will follow a tasting room model, where no food and only beer is served.  I’m planning to head back to Denver after finishing up my MBA this semester and I hope to open sometime in 2013.

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

A: Ever since I started brewing professionally in 2005, I have known that I eventually wanted to work in the craft beer industry full time.  I saw the success of other breweries and thought to myself, hat a great way to make a living, doing what I love and what I would normally be doing anyways. After two years of brainstorming, the name of Comrade Brewing came to me one day while I was on vacation.  In the brewing industry, there is a lot of camaraderie between small breweries who often help each other out. I want to showcase this “brotherhood” as well as provide the foundation for some funny “tongue in cheek” beer names.  The idea for a tasting room model was something that always intrigued me as I visited breweries across the country.
Q: What phase is your venture in and what are your next steps?

A: We’re on our way to becoming operational.  I have already taken on a talented brewmaster as a partner, contracted my raw materials, talked with equipment manufacturers, met with cities, and looked at zoning.  I also have nearly all the funding I need as well as the domains, social media handles, and incorporation needed to start my business.  My next step is to sign a lease on a building, place the down payment on the brewhouse, apply for federal and state licensing and permits, and begin construction.

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

A: This is a brick-and-mortar business, and because my business is located in Denver, being 1,500 miles away makes it difficult for me to do things like overseeing construction.  There’s only so much I can do electronically or via paper.  While I’m enjoying my time as a student here at Smith, I am eager to head back to Denver once I graduate to oversee the remaining steps to opening the brewery.

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

A: The Entrepreneurs in Residence have been an incredible resource. Some of them have had relevant experience on starting a food service company and have advised me on the common pitfalls of the industry. Being part of the Dingman Center’s active entrepreneurial community has also given me the opportunity to listen to a variety of business ideas and taught me how to look at them from a more critical business standpoint giving me a framework that I would use while running the brewery.

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

A: Meeting all the other students who are as passionate and driven as I am. There are so many people out there that say that they have a passion for something, but in reality I believe they just like the idea of that something.  My fellow Academy members are people with the initiative to actually pursue their passions.  The networking with these passionate people, as well as sharing feedback on our ideas, has been incredibly helpful and rewarding.

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DCE: Land of Opportunities – A Guest Blog by Julie Mullins

When deciding on a business school, I knew I wanted one with an entrepreneurial spirit; a school that was active in not only teaching entrepreneurship, but living it. I chose the Smith School of Business because of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and sought out a student position there before even accepting my MBA offer. I felt the energy of innovation and execution and knew this Center could be a game changer in my life….and it has been!

My Advice: Get involved as early as possible. Students don’t realize what a valuable resource the Dingman Center can be for connections as well as insightful, fun, and practical experiences. Make time for it; trust me, it’s worth it!

The Dingman Center is filled with opportunities for student involvement, and of its many programs, I’ve been intimately involved with three: Dingman Center Angels, an angel investor network, China Business Plan Competition, and the Israel Global Technology Entrepreneurship Fellowship, an 8 week summer internship.

Dingman Center Angels
I sought out to be a part of the Dingman Center Angels for the interactions I’d have with both entrepreneurs and investors. I submerged myself in the process that the entrepreneurs take to mold their business plan and pitch, as well as the process the investors take to analyze the companies, provide feedback, and develop the terms of their investment. During my first year, I screened companies applying to the group. I attended Review Sessions and Investor Breakfasts where I was able to hear the investors provide questions and feedback to the entrepreneurs on their pitches and their businesses, guiding my thought processes in terms of analyzing entrepreneurial investments. During my second year as a GA, I learned to quickly assess a business, new product, pitch, etc. to identify the gaps in companies’ plans or strategies. This process helped me understand the entire startup Angel investment ecosystem and assess the investment potential of startups. The relationships I’ve made with the investors and entrepreneurs have also been a huge benefit for expanding my network and providing me access to some of the area’s most influential individuals in the entrepreneurship field.

China Business Plan Competition
The funny part about my participation in the China Business Plan Competition was that I accidentally joined the class. It was an early Friday morning when I was on my way to another Dingman event when someone pointed me in the direction of a nearby classroom. I realized I was in the wrong room, but was taken with the lecture on formulating business plans by a great professor named Dr. Bob Baum. I decided to immediately enroll in the class and what a GREAT decision it was! The China Business Plan is broken into two components: the class and competition/trip. The class gave me hands-on experience in creating a business plan, working with a cross-cultural team, and pitching a business idea to entrepreneurs and investors  for feedback. The execution of the entire trip by the Dingman Center was impeccable. We did a lot of sightseeing, but more importantly, we learned about the business environment. China is a high-growth market that is attractive to all international companies looking to expand; what everyone does not understand is the uniqueness of that market. This trip provided insights into the cultural norms, common practices, and challenges. I worked with classmates who quickly became some of my closest friends in the program, learned the ins and outs of writing a business plan and starting a business, worked on my public speaking skills by pitching in front of 100+ people, and had the perk of traveling to China while experiencing amazing food and tourist sites with fun people.

I quickly realized that every interaction I had with the Dingman Center was transformed to the words, “amazing experience”.

Israel Global Technology Entrepreneurship Fellowship
The Israel Fellowship was my next logical step, tying in my focus in entrepreneurship, products, marketing, and international interest. My time spent in Israel was definitely the best experience in my Smith career. Not only did I return to the U.S. with a desire to live in Israel, but I returned with new tools for my toolkit of starting a business and taking a new product to market. We learned the culture of Israel and why they’re #1 for startup creation. In partnership with the Technion (Israel’s MIT), we worked for 8 weeks on commercializing Technion-developed IP.  Our class was split into teams, made up of U.S. and Israeli MBAs, and we pitched our novel medical device technology to VCs and angel investors. We were critiqued on the aspects of the pitch and the business model components in order to continually improve. I learned about the intense market research and customer profiling behind commercializing an innovation and created a go-to-market strategy. As in China, we visited a wide variety of companies during our 8 weeks. The visits advanced our learning and understanding of local business practices while helping us make quality connections. There’s no lack of history in Israel and we got to sightsee in all the top locations including the Old City Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee.


All these experiences have equated to an enhancement in my entrepreneurial knowledge and connections. They are differentiators in my interviews and on my resume. The Israel Fellowship is highly memorable to recruiters and is an instant topic of conversation that sets me apart from the masses of students with more “traditional” internship experiences. The Dingman Center Angels has been a job experience that I flaunt on my resume. It is a GA like no other in the school since it provides a true work-like experience dealing with companies and investors in the community.

My experiences with the Dingman Center helped me learn how to think like an entrepreneur and an investor. They helped me shape my thought processes towards developing a strategy for a business or a product. They helped me learn from others’ mistakes and successes. My only regret is not having video-taped myself prior to being a part of The Dingman Center so that I could show those who hadn’t met me 2 years ago the transformation to what I’ve grown to be today.

Julie Mullins is an entrepreneur-at-heart, searching for the right idea. She spent five years in retail management prior to pursuing her MBA. She hopes to lead a career in marketing for consumer products after Smith. 

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An MBA Student’s Take on China

Everything in my Washington, D.C. apartment had been to China but me. The Rogue acoustic guitar I was learning to play Greenday songs on? Chinese. The University of Maryland sunglasses I’m packing for the trip? From China. Even the “Japanese” Toshiba laptop I typed this on was actually made in China. Once, I bought frozen organic broccoli at our local Whole Foods Market. I honestly assumed I was doing my part in reducing my carbon footprint, but printed in unmistakable 6-point font on the edge of the bag: Product of China.

This January, I joined forty of my classmates from the full-time, part-time and executive MBA programs at Smith, along with a couple masters and undergraduate students and two MBAs from the Technion in Israel in making the trip to China for the 2012 edition of the Dingman Center’s China Business Plan Competition trip. We were all super excited to see how entrepreneurs fit into China’s “harmonious society.” We toured factories, met with business owners and managers, and did a little sightseeing, too. Learning about doing business in China was nothing short of amazing.

We began our trip with a visit to the U.S. Embassy office. Kevin and Sally, two state department employees, gave a fascinating overview of the business climate in China. It’s a wondrous, fast changing place, they said. There is a lot of money to be made…

…as long as you are very, very careful.

IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) is a phantom! Enforcement of law is more political than judicial! This room you’re sitting in is bugged, and if you brought a computer on this trip, know that the government has already hacked into it! We heard stories of Chinese-U.S. business partnerships going sour for all sorts of reasons. “Do heavy due diligence on your Chinese partners before you make deals,” they told us. “You don’t want to hear the phone calls we get every day.” More than one head was spinning as we headed back to the bus.

A thought-provoking afternoon of speakers from the law firm Jones Day, Venture Capital group CVCA and accounting firm Bernstein Pinchuk lead us to a delicious banquet at Jin Xiang You. Chinese students competing in the next day’s competition met us for the dinner. Much of the conversation focused on the complicated rules of dining etiquette, though a few custom business pitches were passed around the tables as well.

The competition finals at Beida, the so-called “Harvard of China,” were electric. Teams had traveled from as far as 13 hours away by train, with diverse ideas from increasing rail efficiency in northern coal mining cities to teaching newborn babies to read. “Tenacity,” a team of Chinese undergraduate students from near Shanghai, took first place with their idea for an innovative new cane for the blind.  The students proposed a “smart walking stick” that used radars to precisely identify obstacles in the path of a blind person.

Grand Prize Winners from Zhejiang University

Second place went to Smith first-year MBA Marvin Yueh. Along with his partner, first-year MBA Angela Suthrave (not present on the China trip), Marvin has been working on Live-a-Betes, a program of lifestyle education for people who have diabetes.

Second Place Team, Live-a-betes, from the University of Maryland

Smith E-MBA team “Integrata” also placed, winning with their  comprehensive personal executive security system. Honorable mentions went to Smith teams Comrade Brewing, Avatravel and Spark Computing.

In two more days of company visits after the competition, we had our preconceptions challenged again and again. We took a bullet train to visit factories in Tianjin, a huge quickly-developing city closer to the coast. After passing hundreds of boring 30-story apartment buildings that seemed randomly sprinkled along the hour-long rail route, we went right into the boring one-story warehouse buildings where all those people work.

We talked with managers who run the composites factory that makes airplane components for Boeing; saw the manufacturing lines for 20,000 Otis Elevator parts, and even glimpsed the clean rooms where 36,000 bottles of Pepsi get filled every hour, 24/7/365 [read about us inadvertently shutting down the line on the trip blog here]. We met with TenCent, the enormous internet service provider responsible for QQ and several other popular Chinese social media apps. We heard about IPR struggles at Danfoss, as well as the major benefits of doing business in such a huge, dynamic market.

After a week of inside views and privileged conversations I was even more amazed and impressed by the Chinese business world.  What’s more, the Dingman Center’s China trip highlighted for me the beauty of the Smith MBA. We learn about business globalization in the classroom from top-rated faculty, then travel to business hotspots to test what we’ve learned. Whether with CIBER, Dingman or student-initiated trips, classrooms are only one part of our Smith education.

Frankie Abralind, MBA Candidate 2012

Frankie Abralind loves selling new ideas. Before pursuing his MBA, he operated what was once Maryland’s largest biodiesel plant, having designed the facility himself. In the years after finishing his undergraduate degree in Interior Architecture at Cornell University, Frankie also worked as a grassroots organizer fighting global warming, founded and published a real paper magazine with thousands of readers, and learned to love performing improv comedy. Frankie came to the Smith School of Business to learn how to start a profitable business that would make a difference. He’s now the president of the entrepreneurship club.


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