Tag Archives: students

UMD Students Consulting with Local Businesses in Ecuador

This summer, we will feature guest posts from students who received a Dingman Center scholarship to participate in the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC). They will share their experiences learning about social entrepreneurship while consulting with local businesses in Latin America for eight weeks this summer. Learn more about MSEC here.

blog_pic4by: Gunleen Deol ’21

My time in-country here in Ecuador with the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC) has been phenomenal. I’ve had the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount from my peers, not just those from UMD, but also those from the University of Conneticut. Moreover, I’ve experienced an incredible amount of personal growth from conversing with my host familes in Spanish and really getting to know them by immersing myself in their culture. The most rewarding part of my experience, however, is the work that we do here in the rural communities.

Before dividing off into two groups and traveling to different rural communities in Ecuador, the entire SEC team spent two weeks in Cuenca, Ecuador, familiarizing ourselves with the four main projects that we have the liberty to work on during our time in the rural communities.

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Learning with Children in the Dominican Republic

This summer, we will feature guest posts from students who received a Dingman Center scholarship to participate in the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps (MSEC). They will share their experiences learning about social entrepreneurship while consulting with local businesses in Latin America. Learn more about MSEC here.


by: Shelby Pittman

The past few weeks I have immersed myself with Dominican culture, something that is brand new to me. I am only halfway through this journey, but along the way I try to act as a sponge, soaking up the mannerisms, problems and the language of the people. During this eight week program with the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps there are 22 students which are split between two cities, Ojeda and Los Blancos. I was placed in Ojeda, where I mostly spend time with my welcoming host family and their friends.

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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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Fearless Founders Complete Successful Year With Seed Funds

The Fearless Founders program guides the University of Maryland’s most entrepreneurial students from idea to launch. For the first time, students are able to earn credit for working on their businesses by enrolling in the Fearless Founders Hatch course, taught by Managing Director, Elana Fine (@elanafine). These students have solidified their business idea, begun customer development, built their minimum viable product and have completed milestones from Idea Shell stage. As we wrap up the year, the Dingman Center recognized the students in the Hatch Stage of Fearless Founders. Take a look at the entrepreneurs who were awarded funding to continue working on their business ideas beyond the course.


Ten companies were awarded $500 NCIIA grants:

Amlith – Carson Myers & Manjur Ahmed
Diagnostic AnSERS – Sean Virgile
Puzzable (417 App Studios) – Ghedalia Gold-Pastor & Zach Matz
PoliRoots – Lamar Rogers
justlikeyou.org – Brooks Gabel
VentureBoard – Scott Block
Phetter (formerly Blissic) – Leland Tran
Live Unchained – Kathryn Buford
LeagueFlow – Aaron Schwartz
Gym Supreme – Obidi Orakwusi & Onyekachi Illochonwu

Five companies were awarded $1,000 summer scholarships:

ProCity – Chris Lane & Dev Kavathekar
ViiP – Ozzie Bianchi
Pride Shorts – Ian Moritz
Taipei Fitness – Guarav Gupta
My Level Learning – Meir Snyder

Two companies were awarded $2,500 grants from Capital One:

Parallel – Daniel Noskin
Kivvik – Jeremy Horowitz, Emmanuel Kaska & Chike Nwankwo

Finally, a big congratulations to our seniors who advanced to the Terp Startup stage!

Aaron Schwarts (LeagueFlow)
Jeremy Horowitz (Kivvik)

Guarav Gupta (Taipei Fitness)
Brooks Gabel (justlikeyou.org)
Daniel Noskin (Parallel)

Are you interested in pursuing your business idea? Here are a few things you can do:

  • Learn more about the Fearless Founders program by visiting our website.
  • If you have an idea, but haven’t developed the business yet, start with Idea Shell! Interested students should sign-up here and we will contact you with more information.
  • If you have already completed the Idea Shell stage, enroll for the for-credit Hatch course. It is listed in Testudo as BMGT458R/ENES498R. 
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Worth Reading 9/6/13

As UMD undergrads started the new semester this week, the Dingman Center saw many old and new students coming to visit. During the summer, we worked diligently to make quite a few changes, one of which is Innovation Fridays, formerly known as Pitch Dingman. The experience is the same, only the name has changed. Students can pitch their ideas and receive feedback from experienced Entrepreneurs in Residence. We are excited to kick off Innovation Fridays today and expect to see more students this year! Now, enjoy this edition of worth reading.

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Worth Reading 8/30/13

It was an exciting week for The Dingman Center. We are thrilled to see MBA students coming back to campus for the start of another great academic year. A highlight from the week was Wednesday when the first year MBA students hosted MBA Marketplace, a fundraising competition to test out students’ creativity. Staff had fun using monopoly money to shop at the Marketplace. We also welcomed a new Dingman team member, Adam Van Wagner. Adam is our Community and Venture Programs Coordinator so many of you hear from him via email. When you’re in the office stop by and say hello.

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Let’s check out what’s worth reading for this week:

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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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7 Things I’ve Learned About Student Entrepreneurs

People are often surprised at how many students are starting businesses. We see it everyday. From engineers, to journalists, to student athletes, a few things are common among young Terps who work with the Dingman Center. Here are seven things I’ve learned about today’s generation of entrepreneurs:

7. They can dream up a new startup idea every hour and get enthusiastic about it every time.
Justin Searles of VentureBoard has pitched 3 ideas during his time at Maryland; each one better than the last.

6. Student entrepreneurs are great multitaskers. They can work on several startups at a time, all the while managing coursework load and maintaining their grades. 
Ben Simon is putting an equal amount of energy into 2 startups: Food Recovery Network and MyMaryland.net

5. They prefer to work on their startups at night—that’s when Dingman shared work-space is buzzing with activity.
You can often find Cristina Huidobro and her twin sister Catalina working on Destinalo in the Dingman Center’s bullpen.

4. Student entrepreneurs don’t think they know it all. In fact, they prefer getting advice and coaching from seasoned entrepreneurs over figuring everything out on their own.
161 students pitched their business ideas to our entrepreneurs-in-residence this past year.

3. They aren’t afraid to share their ideas, offer advice and help each other, even if it means helping their competition.
Daniel Noskin of Parallel Tracks helped fellow Pitch Dingman Competition competitor Suyash Mehta of UPride to perfect his pitch and win 2nd place.

2. They prefer to work in a small startup space rather than in a nice corporate office.
Ben Solomon just completed his MBA, but instead of looking for a corporate job he plans on working on his startup The Hyperion Project from a local business incubator.

1. While they are risk-takers, they are not reckless and take calculated risks.
Eric Mintzer of imagine(x) lined up paying customers before quitting his job and working on his startup full-time.

The campus is mostly quiet during the summer so I can’t wait for the students to return in August full of fresh ideas and determination. Who knows? Maybe there will be even more to learn from a new class of student entrepreneurs.

ACheadshotSince joining the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship in 2008, Alla Corey has been managing the center’s service offerings for student entrepreneurs including Pitch Dingman, Dingman Jumpstart, EnTERPreneur Academy, Terp Marketplace, and Cupid’s Cup Business Competition. Prior to joining the Dingman Center, Alla spent 8 years in the publishing industry. Alla graduated from the part-time MBA program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business in May 2013 and is re-discovering TV, movies and books in her newly found leisure time.
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