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.
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.
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.
By Danielle Bennings
Chris Lane is a Smith School student that wears many hats: entrepreneur, Fearless Founder and campus leader, just to name a few. The role we at the Dingman Center know him best for is founder and CEO of Procity, a University of Maryland service network that rewards users for doing good. Chris got the idea for Procity, during his first semester at UMD. While taking a Psychology 101 course, he learned about reciprocity; doing something good that may result in getting something good in return, but not asking for it. Chris developed Procity to combat the idea that money is the only value in society. Using his platform, you can do good in your community and receive rewards such as discounts from restaurants or ProPoints used to obtain items from the site. The company launched on September 17, 2013 and now has more than 470 users.
I first met student entrepreneur Brooks Gabel in 2012 when he began coming to the Dingman Center to get feedback on what seemed like a brazen business idea for such a young man. Brooks was taking a big risk and I wondered how he’d accomplish such a mission and bring it to fruition. I know now–through two long years of customer discovery, pivoting, research, passion and just plain hard work. Now a senior at the University of Maryland (UMD), Brooks is the founder of justlikeyou.org, a non-profit organization providing a free and anonymous social network for people 13 years and older going through the coming out process. Through developing online and mobile technology, coordinating LBGTQ competency/suicide prevention training and connecting users from the network to their local communities, justlikeyou.org is working to eliminate the burden of coming out. I recently sat down with Brooks to talk about the history of his company and his plans for the future.
Danielle Bennings (DB): Tell me how and why you started your company?
Brooks Gabel (BG): The company started after my decision to leave UMD’s Division 1 swim team. It was my personal perception that the college community was not accepting of an openly gay athlete. That was the time when I swore to myself that I would do something to create inclusive environments in our schools, on our teams, and in our communities.
DB: How did you first get involved with the Dingman Center?
BG: I started coming to Innovation Fridays to talk to the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. The idea started as a question of whether the personal narrative could guide a discourse around the coming out process. The feedback I got was to test it, so I started the Just Brooks blog and began writing about my personal story. Eventually I invited some of my friends to write about their stories. After a month, emails began flooding in from UMD all the way to Australia from people who could relate to my story. It was at this time that I realized my idea could have huge impact on a global scale.
DB: What happened next?
BG: In January 2012, my parents helped me fund the site and we hired a web development company based in Washington D.C. to develop the social network. In the beginning it was just me facing plenty of people that told me no. Since then we’ve developed a custom social network that connects free users with other people going through the coming out process and volunteers who have been through it before. The Just Like You team has gone from being a team of solely myself to a team of 21 people; 16 from the U.S. and five who are international. We all collaborate through Skype and conference calls to deliver on our mission.
DB: Have you made any connections on campus?
BG: We recently brought on a UMD student that you connected me with. He is another entrepreneur working in the Startup Shell who will film a campaign video that addresses our story, the problem we’re solving, the solution we’ve created, the team creating it, and where your donations will go for our Indiegogo campaign.
DB: I know you’re embarking on a crowdfunding effort. Tell me more about your Indiegogo campaign.
BG: Our Indiegogo campaign is a $50K online fundraising campaign to generate awareness about the network and to raise funds to develop technology, coordinate LBGT competence and suicide prevention trainings, and connect users from the network to their local communities. It will launch on February 1, 2013 (my birthday) and will continue until the site launch on April 13, 2014.
DB: That’s great–I’ll check it out. What do you plan to do next?
BG: Unlike my peers, I haven’t gone on a single interview. This will be my job after college. This is what I want to do. I understand that I’m not going into investment banking, but at the same time this is the resource I never had.
DB: What is your ultimate goal for what justlikeyou.org will become?
BG: We see this as being an international operation. We designed it so that the resources aren’t bound by language or location. Everyone’s story is unique so there is a seemingly infinite amount of people who can engage in the discussion and ultimately we would love for people who have come out, for people who have an LGBT sibling or friend or parent, to join the conversation. The social change will happen when we recognize that the story of the ally is just as important as the person who is going through the process.
DB: Brooks, thanks for answering my questions. I hope we’ll continuing seeing you in the spring.
BG: I will continue spending a lot of time here — the Dingman Center bullpen has become my office. I still meet with Dingman Center staff and EIR Harry Geller to field new ideas and update them on my progress.
To connect with Brooks, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with justlikeyou.org on Facebook and Twitter. Follow the Dingman Center blog for updates on the justlikeyou.org Indiegogo campaign and to read about other student entrepreneurs.
This week, participants of Fearless Founders presented on the progress of their business ideas to sponsors from Capital One. It was great to see how far they’ve come! We also had a Research and Practice Luncheon discussing the use of crowdfunding. The luncheon promoted engaged interaction between faculty, staff, angel investors and students. Check out some photos from the event on our Facebook page.
Now, here’s the Worth Reading for this week.
The Fearless Founders program helps prepare student entrepreneurs from idea generation to business launch. The program demystifies the venture creation process by dividing it into three stages: Idea Shell, Hatch, and Terp Startup, each of which with its own deliverables. Powered by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship in partnership with the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), the program will offer students with necessary resources to meet their business requirements.
In this first Idea Shell cohort, the goal for the teams is to identify the value proposition through market research and the customer discovery process. They will participate in a series of workshops over the course of seven weeks and learn the necessary skills to refine their business and better understand their customers. In the final week, each team will be required to present on their progress and will receive $500 dollars in seed funding.
This fall, we were impressed by the quality and number of applications, but ultimately selected 22 teams for the first Idea Shell cohort. Congratulations to all the teams!
417 App Studios
Ghedalia, Gold-Pastor Major: Mechanical Engineering
Zach Matz Major: Kinesiology
Ed Luo Major: Finance
Andrew Oles Major: Mechanical Engineering
Carson, Myers Major: Computer Engineering
Daniel Bolton Major: Mechanical Engineering
Manjur Ahmed Major: Electrical Engineering
Toni, Zhang Major: Marketing and Neurobiology
Pedro Henrique, Santos Carvalho Major: Civil Engineering
Felipe Israel, Camargo Pereira Major: Computer Science
Color Changing Soap
Erica, Long Major: MBA
Laura, Long Major: MBA
Chetan, Singh Major: Economics
Food Recovery Network
Ben Simon Major: Government and Politics
Evan Lutz Major: Business
Thomas, Luginbill Major: Entrepreneurship
GYM SUPREME LLC
Obidi, Orakwusi Major: Government and politics
Kachi Ilochonowu Major: Economics
Eric, Mintzer Major: Business Management
Aaron, Schwartz Major: Economics
Kathryn, Buford Major: Sociology
Meir, Snyder Major: Entrepreneurial Operations
Daniel, Noskin Major: Business Management and Marketing
Mohsen, Farshneshani Major: Government and Politics
Mohsen Farshneshani, Lamar Rogers
Kevin, Diehn Major: Chemical Engineering
Bani Cipriano Major: Chemical Engineering
Kikanae, Punyua Major: Economics
Mackenzie Burnett Major: Government and Politics
Allan, Nicholas Major: Engineering and Business
Erica Yingling Major: Biology
Ningwei Li Major: Finance and Economics
Peter Weng Major: Biology
The Island Pop Shop
Tenaj, Ferguson Major: Nutrition and Food Science
Scott, Block Major: Information Systems
We wish all the participating teams good luck. We will keep our readers updated on their progress in future blog posts. Stay tuned!