Tag Archives: EnTERPreneur Academy

Young Entrepreneur Creates a New Way to Smell Good

Get to know Allan Nichols and his startup, Sweet Buds. As a member of the EnTERPreneur Academy, Allan won a $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center earlier this year. This EnTERPreneur Academy company is redefining the way women wear perfume with an innovative earring backing that releases small amounts of perfume throughout the day. We caught up with Allan to check in on the progress Sweet Buds has been making since we last saw him at the beginning of the summer.

Tell us a little bit about your business. How did you come up with the idea?
We are Sweet Buds; a fragrance company developing earring backings that release perfume throughout the day. The idea came about in a study abroad class in China through the QUEST program this past winter break. My team members and I were very excited about the project and we decided to pursue it outside of the classroom and make an actual company around the idea.

How have you been working with the Dingman Center?
We applied for the EnTERPreneur academy the first time we heard about the incubator program. Being first time entrepreneurs, we really had no idea where to go from the initial idea. The Entrepreneurs-in-Residence have been very helpful guiding us along the way, giving us advice on how to brand ourselves, perfect our pitch, and providing resources and contacts we otherwise wouldn’t have access to. We have also used the Center’s Test the Market Kiosk to conduct preliminary market research.

Sweet Buds team using the Test the Market Kiosk in Van Munching Hall

Sweet Buds team using the Test the Market Kiosk in Van Munching Hall

How will you use the $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center?
So far we have used some of the grant money to pay for patent attorney fees and file for a provisional patent for our idea. I have also been collaborating with a freelance engineer to help us finalize the actual design of the product.

What has been the most challenging aspect of starting a business?
Right now our biggest challenge is the actual design of the earring backing and getting it to dissipate perfume the way we want it to. I have an initial prototype already 3D printed, but there are some revisions that need to be made. Trying to get the perfume to release correctly when punctured by the earring itself is difficult.

Who are your competitors?
One of our major competitors in this space is actually Dustin Hoffman’s wife, Lisa Hoffman. She runs a company called Lisa Hoffman beauty which has a wide range of fragrance jewelry. The main differentiator is that her jewelry utilizes fragrance beads while ours will use regular liquid perfume. The beads make the jewelry reusable but also more expensive. We plan on being daily disposables providing our customers a cheaper option to use when they want.

What entrepreneur or business person would you love to connect with?
I would love to connect with David Kelley and the rest of the IDEO team. I am really interested in design and what they have been able to create through their design processes is nothing short of incredible. We have a lot to learn in regards to design and he could definitely teach us a lot.

Have you had to change your business model since you started?
We are still in our infancy stages so we haven’t made many changes yet but we did spend a lot of time thinking about whether we wanted to license our designs out to larger retailers in a B2B model or directly sell our product to the consumers. For now we are sticking with selling to consumers but that could change down the line.

What kinds of resources will you need next?
As we keep designing and editing the prototype will require more capital to fund. So far we haven’t had to bootstrap this project but that might be a possibility to solve this problem. We are also seeking fragrance manufacturers to partner with and to put their perfume into our product. Contacts in the fragrance and jewelry industry would be very helpful.

AllanAllan Nicholas is a junior Mechanical Engineering and Operations Management double major. He is involved in QUEST, EIP, and Hinman CEO’s and is an aspiring entrepreneur.

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Student Entrepreneur Pursues a Mega Idea for Staying in Shape

Over the last few years, the Dingman Center has been working with Obidi Orakwusi to launch his company, Gym Supreme and its first product the Mega Bar. The Mega Bar is an innovative and versatile piece of exercise equipment priced lower than its competitors. A member of the EnTERPreneur Academy, Orakwusi won a $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center earlier this year. We caught up with the student entrepreneur to get an update on his business.

 GS logo

How did you come up with the idea?

The idea came to me in May 2011. School was out for the summer, I had no plans, and I realized I probably was not going to have a job. So I thought to myself, “why note create a job?” I got motivated and began sketching the concept of the Mega Bar on the back of a job application.

I designed the Mega Bar with a friend in mind. My friend had no gym membership, so every time he went back to school he had to settle for resistance bands, which are incapable of working the entire body. With that in mind, my goal was to create a product that would provide an effective workout at home. Unknowingly, my friend was my first target customer. Once I had a reasonable sketch, I made my first prototype with plastic straws, toothpicks, and paper clips to test out the simple physics. Then, I built a full scale plastic prototype. It took me some time to order a production prototype because I was constantly making measurement adjustments. I’m a bit of a perfectionist sometimes.

Tell us about your team.

During the process of developing my startup, I learned not to rush into decisions. I don’t have a full team yet, but I do have friends with skills and connections like my corporate lawyer, web site programmer, investment banking buddy and a colleague of mine with connections to QVC and sporting good chains.

How have you been working with the Dingman Center?

The Dingman Center has been an amazing resource for me. I get to meet and connect with fun business-minded colleagues that give me advice and feedback. Dingman Center Angels Review Days, workshops, and everything Dingman offers gives me different perspectives on what I knew and what I need to do. It always feels good when I say Gym Supreme is a member of the Dingman Center EnTERPreneur Academy at the Smith School.

How are you using the $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center?

The grant was an amazing cushion that opened up cap space for legal fees associated with the utility patent, trademark and the purchase of social media advertising. Although the grant will be split across several expenses, I know it would not have been possible to get all the legal work finished this summer without the grant.

What has been the most challenging aspect of starting a business?

For me it has been a mixture of funding and tedious patent work. The lack of funding prevented me from rushing into decisions because when you have plans that cost more money than you have, there is usually a wait period between milestones. The wait allowed me to analyze needs and create a hierarchy of tasks.

What goals have you set for the upcoming year?

One of my patents arrived on my birthday–that was a nice gift. The main goals remaining for 2013 are the Pitch Dingman Competition and a Kickstarter pre-order. The Kickstarter campaign is time dependent on the number of potential consumers I attract using various social media campaigns. When I feel there is enough interest from a significant number of followers that will likely purchase the MegaBar, I will launch the pre-order. With good revenue from that, Gym Supreme will become eligible and will apply for Cupid’s Cup in 2014, beginning the search for capital.

Have you had to change your business model since you started?

Oh yes. Initially, I was focused on a model that cuts out the middleman in order to maximize profit from sales and avoid margin reductions from wholesale. I soon learned that avoiding the big retail orders might not be effective because I would give up visibility on very popular retail platforms and have to rely solely on my own marketing to make sales. This would result in an increase in consumer acquisition costs and a decrease profit. That strategy is possible, but requires too much capital infused into marketing. The model is evolving to include a platform that will provide recurring revenue if properly executed.

How do you stay motivated to work on your business when success doesn’t come as quickly as you hoped?

I believe there is a reward associated with the risk I am taking and the reward is success. When I imagine the success of Gym Supreme I stay focused, get excited, and keep going because I am determined to reach that goal. If I give up before anything significant happens, I have defeated myself.

GDP_9540 (1)Obidi Orakwusi is the Founder of Gym Supreme and a member of the Dingman Center’s EnTERPreneur Academy. Stay connected with Gym Supreme on Facebook and Youtube or visit http://www.gymsupreme.com.

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Student EnTERPreneur Develops a Better Way to Trade Fashions

This post is for all the gals out there looking for stylish clothes at a reasonable price. EnTERPreneur Academy member, Ayana Cotton, is building a fashion community that allows members to purchase clothing submitted by other users. Cotton takes a unique approach to her online shopping platform, Evlove, by not only focusing on fashion but building a system that delivers social impact. When a member of the community gives clothes to Evlove and no one acquires the clothes, those items are donated to a partner shelter for women.

This summer Cotton was one of seven EnTERPreneur Academy members to receive a $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center to evolve her startup. We recently interviewed Cotton about her progress. Take a look at where she is and where she’s going.


DCE:       Where did you get the idea for Evlove?

Cotton: Almost every morning I would wake up to get dressed and get confronted with the pain of having a closet full of clothes yet feeling like I had nothing to wear.  I had no time to deal with the pains of eBay or Etsy, or the disappointment associated with consignment shops and Goodwill.  I knew I couldn’t be the only girl that felt this way so I decided to address what was a daily annoyance to me and probably many other habitual shoppers.

DCE:       How did you come up with the name?

Cotton: Funny thing is, Evlove actually started out as a social activism blog I created as a Fashion Merchandising freshman gallivanting around New York City and resisting materialism; the irony.  Evlove is evolve spelled backwards and it’s inspired by the idea of looking back and learning from our past mistakes to build for a better future.  The name originally fit the mission of the blog, and it still fits the mission of our business model today only this time we’re focusing on coming up with more sustainable solutions for shopping habits.

DCE:       How do you plan to use the $1,000 grant from the Dingman Center?

Cotton: The $1,000 grant from Dingman was a serious game changer for us. We were able to hire a programmer to enable us to add user’s points directly to their accounts, and he added “Buy with $” and “Use with Points” buttons.  The grant enhanced our user interface and overall website usability, the site is less confusing, we were also able to stock up on necessary shipping supplies, and make smart logistical investments.

DCE:       What have you been working on this summer to further your business?

Cotton: The first order of business was to improve the website’s usability, now our main focus is on user experience.  We’re investing in branding efforts, anything that will add visible value for the customer, and I have access to a lot of local and NYC fashion influencers who we’re getting to try Evlove for free so they can share their experience with their followers.

DCE:       Do you have any goals for Evlove that you hope to complete by the end of 2013?

Cotton: My biggest goal is to raise $10,000 before the year ends.  I’ve realized our customer really needs to see the value of using our service before they jump in, and with that comes a photography budget, videographer budget, a contracted graphic designer, custom branded Evlove bags and stationary, supplies, someone to help with content and turnaround time for product listing and point rewarding, marketing budget, etc.

DCE:       What has been most challenging for you?

Cotton: Financially bootstrapping this thing and convincing customers we’re not some obscure college girls trying to steal your clothes.  Since the idea is so different we have a lot of people who still aren’t so sure yet.

DCE:       Do you have any competitors? How do you differentiate?

Cotton: I would say our two biggest competitors are Nasty Gal and 99dresses.  While Nasty Gal is simply a regular e-commerce site, they have done such an unbelievably excellent job at winning the hearts of our target consumers that they don’t mind paying their prices.  But our obvious advantage is we’re way more cost efficient and we have a mission to promote social responsibility.  99dresses is pretty similar to us, only they use “buttons” instead of “points” and they are pretty similar to sites like eBay and Etsy because they make you photograph, post, and ship your items individually…our customer doesn’t want to have to deal with that.

DCE:       What kinds of resources will you need next?

Cotton: Money, an Evlove generalist, money, and a mentor.

Find out more about Evlove: http://www.shopevlove.com

Instagram and Twitter: @shopevlove


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Dingman Center Summer Preview

The Dingman Center is gearing up for a productive yet fun summer. While many students in our community will be away at exciting internships and visits home, the Dingman Center will offer a range of activities for those still in the area. Entrepreneurs-in-Residence will be here to advise students on their business ideas. A group of Chinese MBA students will visit to experience how we practice entrepreneurship. Finally, we’ll host Jumpstart, a bootcamp where budding entrepreneurs will learn and apply the principles of the lean startup methodology. Take a deeper look into our summer plans.


Pitch Dingman doesn’t stop for the summer. While sessions will not be held every Friday as they are during the academic year there are still opportunities to receive feedback and advising from Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Go to ter.ps/EIR2013 to view available appointment times and sign-up.

Jumpstart-24Aug12-1In July, the Dingman Center along with the Office of Global Programs will host a group of MBA students from Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management with an interest in entrepreneurship. This visit reflects the ongoing relationship between the Dingman Center and Peking University, located in Beijing, China, as they host the Center’s annual China Business Plan Competition. The visit includes lectures from distinguished faculty and workshops focused on venture creation. The group will spend time off campus visiting local startups and institutions such as the World Bank, George Washington University and the Maryland Capital State House.

dingmanjumpstartAs is our tradition, we will close the summer with Dingman Jumpstart, an intensive five-day boot camp where University of Maryland students and alumni can learn to build and refine their own businesses. Jumpstart will take place August 19-23 at Van Munching Hall, home of the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Here’s a preview of what to expect at Jumpstart!

554602_10151141596321692_1878693767_nLearn from the best through hands-on workshops and interactive advising sessions led by successful entrepreneurs, business executives, and investors.

523084_10151120817821692_1570764542_nMeet like-minded entrepreneurs in your own community and start building your network of mentors and peers.

Jumpstart-24Aug12-8End the week by pitching your business idea to a panel of expert entrepreneurs. Following program completion, apply to the Dingman Center’s EnTERPreneur Academy where you can have access to a wide variety of workshops and the option to compete in Pitch Dingman Competitions held throughout the school year.

So what are you waiting for? End your summer by starting your business at Dingman Jumpstart!  Details and registration information can be found at ter.ps/jumpstart

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Worth Reading 5/10/13

Things are quietly winding down here at Van Munching Hall as the students prepare for their last finals of the year.  The Dingman Center has also been quietly rumbling along, preparing for our last batch of Pitch Dingman Sessions and our upcoming summer programs. How’re you all preparing for the summer?  Whether it’s taking a vacation, or finally putting together that business you’ve been meaning to start, the Dingman Center will be here to support you.

So let’s move on to what’s worth reading.

Let’s start by taking a look at the Dingman Center’s week in the news.  In case you missed it, this week’s Business RX column in the Washington Post featured Elana Fine giving advice to TouchdownSpace, a startup looking to enter the virtual office industry.  In addition, Terpiture, one the finalists from last Friday’s Pitch Dingman Competition was featured on the University of Maryland school newspapaer, the Diamondback.

Often times, entrepreneurs have brainstorms for a business, but can’t articulate the actual business problem that their business idea will solve.  Well never fear, this inc.com piece gives you 4 steps to approach understanding your business problem.

Many of you may know that Israel is also known as start-up nation. In fact the center has been building a relationship with the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) for years now, even sending MBA students to Technion over the summer for an immersive entrepreneurial fellowship.  This latest inc.com article articulates just some of the lessons we can learn from the entrepreneurial culture in Israel.

As we’ve often seen, many of the technological innovations in the past few decades have come from military and government research, but did you also know that a lot of what we see as everyday items now actually originated from space?  Tested.com takes a look at a few surprising inventions that were actually developed by NASA for use in space!

And finally, in the debate for the importance of higher education in entrepreneurship and career success, the side of education finds a champion in a local VC. In this Huffington Post editorial, Jonathan Aberman, venture capitalist and lecturer at the Smith School of Business, gives his impassioned take on the importance of education to entrepreneurship and our society as a whole.

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Meet the 5 Startups Competing in Friday’s Pitch Dingman Competition

The last Pitch Dingman Competition of the school year will take place this Friday, May 3 at 11 a.m. in Tyser Auditorium, Van Munching Hall.  Five ambitious student startups from the University of Maryland will compete for the chance to win $2,500 in startup funding. After the pitches, attendees will vote to award their favorite startup $500 for the Audience Choice Award. After the competition, students can stay for an entrepreneurial mixer where we will celebrate another successful year of Pitch Dingman. Lunch will be provided!  You can RSVP to attend Pitch Dingman here.

To get you ready for Friday, here’s a little preview of our finalists:

Cart Noodlescart noodles logoTeam: Hon laam Fung

Our mission is to provide affordable and authentic Hong Kong styled cuisine served in a fast and convenient manner tailored towards college students. With all ingredients ready and cooked, customers only need to specify what they want in their order, and the time they spend waiting is however long it takes to move through line. In less than three minutes, the transaction is complete and the consumers enjoy gourmet soup noodles with a price lower than anywhere on campus.

Sweet Buds

Team: David Kravitz, Ningwei Li, Allan Nicholas, Peter Weng and Erica Yingling

Imagine a future where all you have to do to smell great is put on your earrings. Sweet Buds allows for a functional and worry free way to smell great throughout the day. Our innovative idea revolutionizes the way you wear perfume by conveniently placing it in your earring backing. The perfume releases when our customer puts on the earring and punctures the plastic backing. The perfume then diffuses slowly from the opening allowing the user to smell great all day. This will change the way people wear perfume.

Ethan Grundleger, Mohammad Zia, Hafie Yillah and Saheed Badmus

BOVER is an E-commerce platform that connects small-scale farmers with large scale retailers. Our system uses SMS technology paired with a web-based marketplace to enable small scale and low yielding farmers to aggregate their yields, and sell at a fair market price to small and large buyers. The mobile application and website will work in tandem to streamline agricultural value chains around the world. The project’s innovation lies in its ability to move the agriculture value chain towards the 21st Century by increasing transparency and promoting modernization


Team: Mark Olcott, Kalpesh Raval, Aman Sharma, Greg Rea and Kristina Bailey

As a practicing veterinarian, I can say with complete confidence that the way we share medical information in the pet industry is broken and outdated. At Vitus, we will use modern IT to create innovative, web-based personal health records for pets that will help veterinarians grow their practice, improve hospital efficiency, and save lives.


Terpeture logo NEWTeam:
Johnny Dubbaneh, Ronnie Dubbaneh, Danny Dubbaneh, Alacendro Paratore and Shahzad

Terpiture is a furniture rental business created to help make the move-in and move-out process smooth for both students and their parents. Having Terpiture on campus will be an asset exclusive to the Maryland community, making students’ time here more enjoyable.The great thing about Terpiture is that it’s very simple and easily accessible. It will be available via social networking, texting, and email, which will make the students’ experience even more personal than having to deal with a large corporation.

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Worth Reading 4/26/2013

Welcome back! It’s hard to believe that there’s only a few weeks left in the school year, soon the halls in front of the Dingman Center will be a lot quieter.  But before the school year ends, there’s still one last Pitch Dingman Competition, taking place next Friday at Tyser Auditorium.  Don’t forget to stick around after the competition as well as the Dingman Center will be sponsoring a post-competition mixer for our guests, food and refreshments will be provided!

Enough plugs though, onto what’s worth reading from the week!

As always, we take some time to recognize enTERpreneurs in the press.  This week, Cupid’s Cup and Pitch Dingman alum Diagnostic anSERS were featured on the Washington Post’s weekly Business RX column.  In addition, this Businessweek article that examines the usefulness of the traditional business plan also features one of our very own MBA entrepreneurship classes, led by Smith Professor Brent Goldfarb.

Everyone knows that to do business in today’s world, you need a social media presence, but do you really know what a social media strategy entails? Inc. examines the basics of setting up a social media strategy that works for your business.

Companies everywhere have struggled with making their own “viral” marketing campaigns.  How does a campaign go viral?  Can it be forces?  Is it more about luck?  Inc. continues its social media primer, by offering a look at what attributes successful viral campaigns share, and how businesses can take apply those lessons.

Finally, a high ranking director at Oglivy & Mather examines the virtues of being weird, and how it’s helped him find success in his career. Inspiring words for weirdos everywhere, and to be fair, aren’t we all a little weird?

Until next time!

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Business Rx Entrepreneur Q&A with Elana Fine – Part 8

Elana Fine, Managing Director of the Dingman Center recently participated in a live chat on Tuesday April 23 with the Washington Post’s Capital Business magazine for their Business Rx column answering questions from regional entrepreneurs on improving or starting a business. This post features some of the questions from the live chat. Follow the Dingman Center’s Facebook Page and Twitter Page for information on the next live chat and other Dingman Center news and events.

Q. What kind of return do investors like to see within 1 year – 18 months of Series A funding? For example, if a start-up raises $3 million in Series A, at the end of 18 months, what’s the minimum profit margin the company should aim to achieve?

Elana Fine: Investors (meaning VC/angel in this case) actually don’t expect a return at all in 12-18 months. They are investing for the longer term – and understand that you will likely need additional investment before you exit (usually via acquisition or IPO). They invest in companies in big markets that might generate a 3x-10x return.  The investments are illiquid compared to the stock market and therefore riskier.  In exchange for this risk and longer holding period — the cost of venture capital is high.  Most venture investors don’t expect there to be profit margins right away because they understand the money it takes to scale a company.

Q. I have my own consulting business focused on data analysis, research, writing, and project management. I had started consulting when I lost my job a few months ago and found great success right away leading to a full-time offer that was too good to refuse. I want to continue consulting through my own business and have the time to pursue them, but I am wondering about the ethics of doing so.

Elana Fine: We work with a lot of companies who “moonstrap” their startups – working on them after normal work hours. I think the big question is whether you are competing with your employer — that would certainly cross the ethical lines.  I’d always go with the tenet of “honesty is the best policy.” If you are concerned, have an honest conversation with your employer. If you are running the business on your own time and it doesn’t conflict, shouldn’t be a problem.  They might be excited and impressed by your entrepreneurship!

Q. I have been following the Boston marathon bombings and think I have some good ideas for facial recognition software. I have a few friends that are coders and could help. Would a VC invest in this kind of business?

Elana Fine: I think VCs would (and have) invested in facial recognition and other security/identification/verification software.  However, they won’t invest until you have something up and running and have some initial customer traction.  I’d start by doing a competitive analysis. There were a lot of companies started in this space after 9/11. Would be interesting to see where they are now and how far the technology has come.

Q. I have been a nonprofit management generalist for 5-6 years and I recently started a consulting firm working for myself. I have been lucky and have gotten several contracts in the first few months. So far I’ve been marketing pretty broadly and while that has been successful, would it be wise to hone in on a certain expertise, or is it better to remain a generalist? Also, at what point is it recommended to work with sub-contractors? Is it ethical not to tell clients when I choose to work with a sub-contractor? Thank you!

Elana Fine: Hmmm… two questions on ethics in a row. Happy to be a moral compass 🙂  I’m actually not sure on the ethics relating to sub-contractors. I will take part one though. As a consultant I think you do benefit by becoming a specialist, as long as it is in a large enough market where you can build a strong business. You need to start with a market-sizing analysis around your expertise and broaden or narrow based on your skill set and potential demand.  This area has A LOT of consultants, so you’ll really need to focus on refining your marketing message. I think your expertise also drives the price you can charge.  Think of a handyman as an example — most often a generalist that can do a lot of different things in your house will have a lower price point.  However, when you really want to redo your bathroom, you call in specialists who will be more expensive but will know how to do the job.

Q. What trends are you seeing in angel financing? Do you think we’ll see more funding this year?

Elana Fine: Honestly, I think angels are having an identity crisis.  Angel activity across the country increased significantly in the past two years. Now they are facing a Series A crunch – not enough early stage VC capital to fund all the companies that have raised money.  This wave of investments also differs greatly from 5-10 years ago because the companies looking for Series A are at later stages now that software development costs have come down. Angels acted like Series A investors — so are they now looking for Series B investments? And if that is the case, what does that mean for valuation and their equity positions? Will their holding period be shorter? I’m hopeful, but I don’t think we’ll see as much funding this year until we start seeing the companies that were funded in last 24 months receive follow-on capital.

Q. I’m a student startup and am in the finals of a business competition. Obviously, I’m in it to win it. When I do, what are the first steps I should take in evaluating where to allocate the prize package?

Elana Fine: Great attitude – you have to always compete to win!  Be very thoughtful about where to allocate your winnings and don’t necessarily assume you need to spend the money all at once.  Make sure to include your use of funds in your application/presentation — usually judges focus not just on the company, but the ability of the team to use the prize package to take business to next level.  If you think you’ll need additional investment, use the money to get customer or user traction that will prove demand for your product and validate your business model.  If this is a business plan competition and you haven’t already built something — use the funding to get a minimally viable product out to market to start getting feedback.  As a student you need to be careful – winning a large prize package can also create a lot of temptation.  Be smart, responsible and resourceful.

Q. As a successful woman in the finance and entrepreneurial worlds, what advice do you have for other women looking to start businesses or work in investment banking? Have you read “Lean In?” Is Sheryl Sandberg the Gloria Steinem of our time?

Elana Fine: My advice — DO IT!! I haven’t read “Lean In” yet, but it is next on my list. I’ll report back next month.  Women have so many of the necessary skills to start and grow businesses (drive, persistence, charisma, multi-tasking, delegation, etc.), but we just don’t see enough women entrepreneurs. I think the one ingredient we might be missing is appetite for risk and potentially over analysis.  We have great intuition and we need to apply it to starting more companies.  I don’t have the solutions, but it is really an issue I’d like to personally spend more time on.

cupidscup-033012-185_hr1Elana Fine 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.

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Meet Live Unchained and Support their Indiegogo Campaign!

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

Tell us about yourself and your company.

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

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

How did you come up with the idea?

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your Indiegogo campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your next steps with your business?

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

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

Do you have any advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneurs?

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

And, most importantly, Live Unchained.

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

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Meet the Feb. 15 Pitch Dingman Competition Finalists!

The first Pitch Dingman Competition of 2013 will take place at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 15 at Tyser Auditorium in Van Munching Hall.  Five UMD-based student startups will pitch for the chance to win $2,500 in startup funding. In addition, audience members will also have the opportunity to vote for their favorite entrepreneur of the day to award them with additional prizes!

Here’s a little preview of our finalists:

3841_356297531135361_89754252_nParallel Tracks
EnTERPreneur Academy Member
Team: Daniel Noskin, Vinnie Vendemia, Scott Block, and Jeff Hilnbrand

Parallel Tracks is a social networking web site and mobile application that gives users the ability to broadcast and listen to music with others in real time, creating a more social and enjoyable listening experience. Using a twitter like interface, users can “track” more than just their friends. They can also follow their favorite celebrities, athletes, and musicians to discover new music in a unique way. Detailed analytics help users strategize their music brand so that they can target specific audiences and advertise accordingly. Now everyone has a music voice. Play it louder!

Logo_20Adaptive Motion Technologies
EnTERPreneur Academy Member, Dingman Jumpstart
Team: Yoni Kozlowski, Emmanuel Klein, and Jonathan Howarth

Adaptive Motion Technologies LLC is a medical device development company that intends to design, patent, and market prosthetic devices related to the fit and comfort of the human/prosthetic interface. A group of engineers are currently developing three devices designed with the participation of prosthetists, physicians, surgeons, and patents.  The principal technique for maintaining a secure fitting of a prosthetic device with a patient is through the use of a socket. A properly fitted socket distributes the forces on the prosthetic device around the patents limb while holding the socket aligned and in place. This is primarily accomplished through the use of custom made shells which are formed based on molds of the patient’s limb. This process is both limited in function and expensive in practice costing about a billion dollars per year in the United States alone. Adaptive Motion Technologies LLC has developed technology which would allow a socket to conform to the unique and variable shape of a patient’s limb every time they don their socket. This would allow sockets to be used comfortably over longer periods of time and without the need for custom components reducing the overall cost. Adaptive Motion Technologies LLC intends to license this technology to a larger company. In this way the company will mature quickly from product development.

EnTERPreneur Academy Member
Team: Suyash Mehta and Dan Martinez

UPride is an innovative apparel company that strives to bring universities across the nation pride gear. The target audience for the company has no boundaries; it can apply to all ages depending on the nature of the merchandise. Currently, the majority of our merchandise is Maryland Flag themed. We constantly are designing new designs to keep our target audience up to date with the current fashion trends. We have started talking to many large companies about supplying them with our merchandise. In the near future, we plan on branching out and becoming a distributor as well as a retailer.

601249_413571745384601_408988131_nThe Electric Squeeze
Team: Julian Ragland, Fuad Balashov, and Eugene Skinner

The Electric Squeeze is a business dedicated to bringing a culture of music into College Park while helping to create opportunities for local, partner, DJ’s.  The business was originally formed as a blog to share the music that its founders listed to with their friends. As it grew, the opportunity to host events at local venues and establish a physical presence presented itself. Since the fall of 2012 the Electric Squeeze has organized seven events in three venues, both in DC and College Park. We plan to continue our growth and would value the Dingman Center’s assistance.

9695_471694029535714_1794550549_nWheel Shields
Team: Chase Kaczmarek

Shield Boards, LCC produces my patented invention Wheel Shields. Wheel Shields are a skateboarding accessory that solve “wheel bite” (a dangerous safety problem), keep riders dry and allow riders to stand over their wheels. “Wheel bite” occurs during hard turns when wheels come in contact with the deck, stopping the board and throwing riders to the pavement. Wheel Shields completely eliminate “wheel bite” and work universally with any skateboard. Wheel Shields have gone viral: our Facebook page has over 25,000 likes, we’re endorsed by a Guinness world record-holding skater, and we are in an upcoming edition of Heelside Magazine.

Interested in being a part of the action? Your first step would be to attend a Pitch Dingman informal advising session to talk to one of our expert Entrepreneurs-in-Residence who will help point you in the right direction.  Pitch Dingman informal advising sessions take place every Friday during the school year from 11am to 1pm at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.

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