Tag Archives: Fearless Founders

An Inside Look at the Inaugural Ladies First Founders Cohort


From left: Audrey Awasom, Yinyin Lao, Megha Guggari, Maria Chen, Natalie Urban, Breonna Massey, Sydney Parker, Jess Rosenthal, Jasmine Snead, Fiona Whitefield, Sara Herald

by: Megan McPherson

This semester, something truly remarkable is happening on Monday afternoons in the Smith School’s executive board room. Sitting around the room’s imposing conference table are the inaugural Ladies First Founders cohort, ten young women united by their experiences as female entrepreneurs. At the head of the table sits adjunct professor Sara Herald, the Dingman Center’s Associate Director for Social Entrepreneurship and founder of the Ladies First initiative to get more women involved in entrepreneurship at UMD. Yesterday, I was offered the privilege to sit in on the class and discover what Ladies First Founders is all about. What started out as an observational study for a blog post became an empowering exercise in what can happen when women are given a platform to learn from and support one another.

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Congratulations to the 2016 Student Entrepreneur Grant Winners

Each year, the Dingman Center sees many aspiring student entrepreneurs pass through its doors. Students that participate in our Fearless Founders accelerator program and Dingman Fridays advising hours have an opportunity to grow their companies at a rapid rate, but as with anything, willpower prevails. To those students who have shown a particularly strong level of dedication and commitment to their entrepreneurial endeavors, we are able to award seed funding through our Capital One and Venture Well sponsored grants:

Capital One Grant:CapitalOne_Logo_06_02_14

For several years, Capital One has been an
ever-loyal supporter and sponsor of student entrepreneurs. With our Capital One MVP grants of $500 and our larger grants of $2,500 for those who have completed the Hatch course in Fearless Founders, recipients are enabled to take their business ideas to a new level of growth and possibility.

This year’s winners are:

Capital One MVP
Teddy Li, Tixel Labs – a data analytics company that aims to provide smarter inventory management for restaurants
Carlouie Nievera, Carlouie & Company – a retro fashion line inspired by the ’90s looks of Saved by the Bell and Fresh Prince of Bell Air
David Potter, Abb Kapoor and Giorgi Managadze, Curu – an app that provides tools and tricks for smarter credit management
Thomas Rivas-Siles, Vendoo – an app that allows online sellers to access multiple marketplaces from one convenient location
Davit Sargsyan, Sunset Sangria – an American-produced sangria company and lifestyle brand
Victoria Tataw, Nails by Tataw – a vegan, 5-free and cruelty-free nail polish brand
Oru Wonodi , NOVA Prints & Apparel – a globally conscious fashion line with a mission to supply aid to individuals in developing countries

Capital One Grant: Hatch
Dustin Ecton, TapTimeTV – a customizable entertainment and advertising channel for bars and restaurants
Sumanth Jinagouda, SpotThis – a fashion discovery service that helps you find outfits based on images you can upload

Capital One Grant: Idea Shell
Danielle Karpa – a mobile app that provides incentives for better driving practices
Nathalyn Nunoo, William Kwao, Elania Tait, and Saron Bizuayehu, POSH – a beauty and makeup consultation service

VentureWell Grant:VentureWell_logo_stacked

VentureWell is a higher education network that cultivates revolutionary ideas and promising inventions. Their grants of $500 each are given to students with promising startup ideas who have shown outstanding commitment to furthering their business.

This year’s winners are:

Saron Asfaw, East Habesha – an online clothing store and cultural destination for East African wares
Philemon Masewal, Q – an app that allows you to pay a fee to reserve a bar seat during peak hours
Shyon Parsadoust, RollaWire – a wireless headphone alternative to unreliable bluetooth options
Aaron Pludwinski, Kanvasroom – an online platform for creatives across industries to collaborate on projects

Congratulations on your hard work, everyone!

Learn more about the Fearless Founders program on the Dingman Center website.

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Female Fearless Founders Featurette

In honor of Smith Women’s Week, we would like to highlight some recent past and present female participants of our Fearless Founders student accelerator program. We are immensely proud to have worked with these young women and to have been given the opportunity to help them grow their startups.


East Habesha – Saron Asfaw

Saron Asfaw ’18 started East Habesha in our Idea Shell stage, where she won a $500 MVP grant from Capital One to build her startup. She is currently working on further improving her business as a member of the Spring 2016 Hatch cohort. East Habesha is a website that sells custom Ethiopian dresses and food spices to customers in the DC metropolitan area. There is a large population of Ethiopians in the DC metropolitan area and there are many vendors that supply these necessities. What differentiates East Habesha from its competitors is that the prices are low but the quality is high. We look forward to seeing East Habesha grow as it continues to gain traction in the community.

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Fearless Founders Complete Successful Semester by Winning Seed Funds

The Dingman Center’s Fearless Founders accelerator program guides the University of Maryland’s most entrepreneurial students from idea to launch. This experiential program demystifies the venture creation process by breaking it up into three stages: Idea Shell, Hatch and Terp Startup. At the recent Pitch Dingman Semifinal Competition, 10 students from the Idea Shell stage were awarded $500 seed grants provided by Capital One. These students spent much of the semester interviewing customers to validate ideas and developing a minimum viable product. At the final Idea Shell meeting, each founder pitched his or her idea in hopes of receiving one of the Capital One MVP grants. In the end, the following 10 startups received funding.

Idea Shell grant recipients.

Idea Shell $500 Capital One MVP grants:


Founder: Carl Comasco

Currently, homeowners have to contact multiple contractors in order to get a home refreshed. Refresh is a service that will provide “one stop shop” for curb appeal improvement.


Founder: Natalie Urban

uBoard manufactures and sells customizable headboards for college students. Customers can order any color or pattern they would like. For example, the company offers solid colors, the Maryland flag, and tapestry style patterns. The uBoard is high-quality, affordable for the college market and easy to install.

East Habesha

Founder: Saron Asfaw

East Habesha is a website that sells Ethiopian dresses and food spices to customers in the DC metropolitan area. There is a large population of Ethiopians in the DC metropolitan area and there are many vendors that supply these necessities. What makes this startup different is that the prices are low but the quality is high.


Founder: Shyon Parsadoust

RollaWire is a small earphone cord retracting device. Users place their earphones in the Rollawire device to prevent a dangerous and annoying tangled mess. The device keeps the earphones neat and organized. With RollaWire, users can retract  earphone cables and replace them if they break. An added benefit is that the user can extend the earphones out as far as desired because there is a lock.

Campfire Marketing

Founder: Bret Caples

A digital and experiential marketing firm that leverages the media assets of the university to provide custom marketing solutions to businesses in the area. The startup provides a community oriented approach to marketing consulting for the small to medium business and student groups who can’t afford large scale marketing efforts.


Founder: Gabriel LaFranchi

Snapchat is the best way to connect and engage with customers through social media since it combines photos, videos, text and emojis. However, Snapchat is missing a key element, the search function. Snapvertise helps jumpstart and run company-centric Snapchat accounts  in order to increase followers who want to connect and engage with a company or brand.


Co-Founders: Ab Kapoor & David Potter

There are a lot of factors that determine your credit score, but no service that helps manage all of this chaos. Curu is here to alleviate that pain by providing the tools to clear up this gray area of credit and put users on the road to saving thousands. Through giving users a live Heads Up Display of factors influencing their credit, and a unique payment cycle to optimally increase a users credit score. Curu helps the user understand and take charge of their credit.


Founder: John Harlepas

CellShare is a service that allows people to buy and sell data from each other. Essentially, it is Uber for data.


Founder: Philemon Mastewal

The current music selection process is a dictatorship where one person has full control. Queue allows users to select upcoming music choices so they can hear the music they want.

Pregrame Ritual

Founder: James Thompson

The Pregame Ritual is the most convenient and digestible way to receive sports news. Via a newsletter, the startup delivers everything a sports fan needs to stay in the loop. Pregame Ritual sends readers one email each weekday morning.

Capital One provides MVP grants in both the Idea Shell and Hatch phases of Fearless Founders. Learn more about the program by visiting our website.

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Top Ten Reasons to Join Fearless Founders Idea Shell

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:

Photo Dec 15, 4 25 21 PM10. 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!

Sign-up Here

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Startup Founder Inspires Unique Company Culture


david picture

David Engle is the CEO and co-Founder of Demere.co, a a virtual clothing platform that allows users to upload photos of their garments and within 20 seconds – based on age, gender, weather, and personal style – Demere can predict the best outfit for the user to wear in addition to notifying them of what to purchase online to add to their current wardrobe, as well as while they are shopping in physical stores. Currently, the platform is in a private beta, which is one reason why David is participating in the the Dingman Center’s Terp Startup summer incubator program. Leading up to the full site launch in early fall, David and the Demere team are spending the summer collecting valuable user data to improve the platform. Continue reading

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Inspired By Spanish Art, Student Launches Street-wear Brand

As a college student, Jordan Greenwald didn’t know he would become an entrepreneur. It wasn’t until an eye-opening study abroad trip to Spain that he realized he was destined to run his own company.

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Terp Startup K. Sultana Creates Breathable Head Scarves For Muslim Women

Omar Goheer is on a mission to change the way Muslim women feel in a head scarf. His company, K.Sultana, was founded to solve the prevalent problem of discomfort from hot temperatures experienced by Muslim woman who wear the head scarf. These innovative scarves ventilate and provide comfort over the head and around the neck through the use of a unique blend of breathable and lightweight fabrics. The K. Sultana scarf can be worn over the head by women who wear the hijab or it can be used as the perfect fashion accessory for women who choose to not wear the hijab. K. Sultana also has a social impact component to the business, partnering with local homeless shelters to allow battered and abused Muslim women help sell the scarves in exchange for a sales commission.

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Fearless Founders Confessions: Fei Mancho, Fancy Muffin

The Fearless Founders Confessions video series was created to give our community brief glimpses into the lives of student entrepreneurs. This video features Fei Mancho, founder of Fancy Muffin, an online store that specializes in eco-friendly, handmade tie-dye garments. Fei completed the Idea Shell stage of Fearless Founders this past spring semester and was awarded a $500 Capital One MVP Grant for her commitment to the customer discovery process. Watch the video below to meet this tie-dye fanatic turned entrepreneur.

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Communicating Your Business

the companies that win are the ones that

Are you able to easily communicate your business to potential customers, advisors or investors? The best place to start is with a solid elevator pitch. Begin with the problem, simply explain your unique solution and how you can do it better, faster and cheaper than your competitors. Do it in under one minute and you’ll keep their attention.

Our Terp Startup companies know this all too well, having completed many customer interviews to get to this stage in their businesses. Check out their brief elevator pitches on the Terp Startup page on our website. Are they easy to understand? Can you instantly tell what the mission of the company is? Provide any advice or feedback in the comments below!

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