Terps bring their big ideas to a big audience at
the October 29 Pitch Dingman competition.
A group of student entrepreneurs got an unusual opportunity to present their big
ideas to an audience of University of Maryland Trustees and the university’s new
president, Dr. Wallace Loh, as the Smith School’s weekly
Pitch Dingman competition went to the
Riggs Alumni Center on Friday, October 29. The event followed a University Board
of Trustees meeting which focused on the importance of entrepreneurship to the
university and the state of Maryland.
Pitch Dingman, a weekly program of the Dingman Center for
Entrepreneurship, allows students to share a business idea that is evaluated by
professional investment staff and entrepreneurs-in-residence. Presenters at this
Pitch Dingman competition had already passed the first hurdle: one of the weekly
informal sessions held every Friday during the semester. But at the October 29
competition, students were competing for cash—$2,500 in startup funding—in front
of a distinguished audience including some of the university’s most influential
alumni and friends.
Kevin Plank ’96, founder and CEO of Under Armour, opened the event,
reflecting on the combination of enthusiasm and naivete that led him to start
his own company. “I never believed it couldn’t happen,” said Plank. “I didn’t
know enough to know what I couldn’t accomplish.” Plank said he wanted to
encourage a commitment to enterprise among students and throughout the
university. “How many great ideas are still sitting in a garage somewhere
because someone is afraid to take a chance? They probably know too much. They’ve
been told too much about how difficult it will be.”
Asher Epstein, managing director of the Dingman Center,
described how the center helps young entrepreneurs take their ideas “from the
back of the napkin to the first million dollars” before turning the event over
to an eager roster of young entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs had just six minutes to make their cases to a panel of
discerning and experienced judges: Robert Facchina’77, president and CEO,
Johanna Foods, Inc.; Jason Finger ’94, co-founder, Seamless Web; Suzanne
Hillman, partner, Hillman & Glorioso; John LaPides, entrepreneur-in-residence,
Dingman Center; Kevin Plank’96, founder and CEO, Under Armour; and Tom Scholl,
partner, Novak Biddle Venture Partners.
Companies ranged from the high-tech to the highly ambitious. Adam Hurwitz, of
Carpe Muse, invented a stand-alone pocket that hooks over running shorts,
allowing the user to carry his iPod or ID while on the go. CloudSolar’s founders
Michael Armani and Ramik Chopra invented a patent-pending fluid that can make
solar panels more efficient and cheaper to use. Enertaq’s founders, Max Epstein,
John Silberholz, and Martin Long, created a 100% efficient system of virtual
energy storage for utility grids. Inkup founders Sascha Maraj, Bill Ke, and Jon
Grunewald, all current undergraduate students at the university, offer a
printer-ink-refill service. And Matthew Ahdut and Efrayim Ahdut of Nuroll want
to start a fast food sushi chain that allows people to customize their sushi the
way Chipotle allows people to customize burritos.
Carefully dressed in their professional best and speaking with carefully
prepared electronic slides behind them, students explained how their companies
were going to become financially viable and fielded pointed questions from the
panel. Judges were interested in strategy and metrics: how would you protect
your intellectual property? What is the shelf life of your product? How do you
plan to deal with a fragmented market? What makes your offering unique from
others? Students defended their business plans—occasionally realizing that they
had a bit more thinking to do.
In the end, it was the enthusiastic founders of Inkup who took the day’s
prize--$2,500 in start-up funding—plus the Audience Choice award, another $250. Maraj, Ke and Grunewald plan to be refilling ink cartridges on campus, and
hopefully reaping substantial profits, for the rest of the Maryland careers.
But Plank encouraged all the student entrepreneurs to continue to develop
their businesses and pursuing their big ideas. “Don’t listen to us,” he laughed.
“What do we know? When I started selling roses on campus, I never knew where I
was going to end up. Keep on, keep going.”