Welcome back to campus, entrepreneurs! The Dingman Center programs are well underway for the semester. Currently, we’re holding info sessions for Idea Shell, the first step of the Fearless Founders evidence-based accelerator program taught by successful entrepreneurs. The next info session is set for Monday, September 21 from 3 to 4 p.m. The deadline to sign-up for Fearless Founders: Idea Shell, Fall 2015 Cohort is rapidly approaching. The tentative schedule includes nine workshops/sessions on Monday’s, 2-4 pm, beginning Monday, September 28 and concluding Monday, November 16.
Upon your successful completion of Idea Shell, you are eligible for Hatch, a for-credit course (BMGT468 or ENES498) in Spring 2016. Here are the Top Ten reasons to join Idea Shell from some of the alumni of Fearless Founders:
10. Join a cohort of passionate entrepreneurs
9. Validate your problem/customer/solution fit
8. Practice customer discovery and “Talking to Humans”
7. Use feedback, iterate and pivot on your idea
6. Develop your plan for your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
5. Network with the vast Dingman Center community
4. Prepare yourself for the “Hatch”, Fearless Founders Stage
3. Present your idea for $500 in seed funds
2. Participate in the “Speed Pitch” elevator pitch event
1. Receive the exclusive title of being a “Fearless Founder”
Don’t keep talking to your family and friends about your great ideas. Turn your ideas into a business by joining Fearless Founders: Idea Shell!
I am home in Washington, D.C. and I am sifting through hundreds of photos and reflecting on tons of experiences as I prepare to move to Boston for my internship. I think it would be useful to list my five favorite parts of the program now that it is over.
Customer Discovery in China
Each of us had been working on our business plans since the course began in April. We had been asking Chinese students at Maryland about our concepts, and while it was useful, nothing was as helpful as talking to our target customers when we were actually in China. We learned so much about customer pain points and the nuances about doing business in China compared to other Western countries. This was invaluable for launching our business in China.
Several us arrived to Shanghai a few days before the program began, so that we could get to see some more of the city. We decided to venture into a very local part of town for lunch to get the famous Yang’s Dumplings. I had never tried these types of dumplings before. They were different from the dumplings that I had before because they were filled with a slightly sweet tasting hot soup. So you took a little nibble out of the side of the dumpling and sucked the soup out and then ate the rest of the dumpling. They were DELICIOUS! They have ruined dumplings in the States for me.
Traditional Chinese Banquet Style Dinner
Our group experienced its first traditional banquet style dinner in Bengbu, where we dined with city officials, local businessmen, and students from the local university. We were considered guests in this dinner and therefore we were toasted many times by our hosts. The toasts would consist of a short speech and then the word, “ganbei” (literally meaning “dry glasses”). Our hosts usually toasted with a rice wine alcohol, such as maotai in a small glass. The toasts were repeated at least a dozen times throughout the meal and everyone got pretty “loose” as a result. Lets just say I mustered up enough courage to try snapping turtle after a few toasts.
Lisa: Our Beijing Tour Guide
The tour guides we had in each city were fantastic, but our guide in Beijing was outstanding. Lisa was extremely knowledgeable about the city that she grew up in and about the history of her country and culture. Among many sites, Lisa brought us to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City where she taught us about the lives of the many emperors that resided in the ancient city. Lisa also arranged a rickshaw tour of where the “common people” resided during ancient times. The Forbidden City was forbidden to these “common people”, so it was very cool to get the perspective of how the two sides lived. As an example of how Lisa went above and beyond the scope of her job, she arranged for many of us to get professional massages in our rooms after long days of touring. We will all miss Lisa!
Learning to Make Dumplings
After a long day of climbing the Great Wall and touring the common people’s neighborhood, our final meal kicked off on a beautiful rooftop where we were taught how to make steamed dumplings. We surprised ourselves at how well they turned out. Chinese people make dumplings from scratch for special occasions, like the Chinese New Year. This seemed like a fun tradition and it was a ton of fun to learn. It was a wonderful final meal with the group.
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.
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.
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®.
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:
The Dingman Center has many entrepreneurship programs available to University of Maryland (UMD) students currently on campus. However, lately we noticed that the resources available to Terp alumni were a bit lacking. UMD has some of the most entrepreneurial alumni out there and the Dingman Center is poised to provide these alumni with the same venture creation methodologies we teach current students. This winter, the Center will launch Dingman Jumpstart, a startup boot camp designed exclusively for UMD alumni. The program will allow alumni to test their early stage venture’s hypotheses and conduct meaningful customer discovery in a short period of time. At the end of the program, which includes a boot camp weekend in January then two follow up meetings in February and March, each venture within the program should have a clear “go” or “no-go” decision.
Each year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) invests billions of dollars into the R&D of innovative technologies. With the help of a national program called I-Corps, and through national and regional partnerships with top business schools across the country, these and other federally-funded research projects are given the entrepreneurial tools needed to succeed in the market. I-Corps participants go through a rigorous startup curriculum, developed in collaboration with lean launchpad pioneer Steve Blank, who was instrumental in coining the customer discovery methodology that played a huge part in launching the lean startup movement.
NSF selected a consortium including UMD, George Washington University and Virginia Tech to create the regional DC I-Corps program. Educators and local thought leaders in entrepreneurship make up the teaching faculty for the program. Last winter, Dingman Center Managing Director Elana Fine was recruited to join the teaching faculty and spent months teaching and advising I-Corps ventures.
With the I-Corps curriculum now in Dingman’s toolkit, we considered how we could bring these skills to the Terp community, and the idea for Dingman Jumpstart was hatched.
“Jumpstart is really exciting for both Maryland alumni and the Dingman Center. For alumni, it’s an opportunity to access all of the resources available at the Dingman Center, which they may not have known about or accessed while in school,” said Fine. “This program is also a way for us to continue to provide value and support to our entrepreneurial alumni well-beyond graduation.”
In addition to Fine, who has been named one of DC’s “Power Women in Tech,” the Dingman Jumpstart faculty includes fellow DC I-Corps faculty member, Dean Chang.
Applications for Dingman Jumpstart are open now through December 12, 2014.Click here for more information and to apply.