Innovation Fridays: Dingman Center Angels Brings Investors to
Campus, Students to Startups
Bet you didn’t know the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business
has its very own “Shark Tank.” Though lacking the made-for-TV drama of the hit ABC
reality series, the Dingman Center Angels network is every bit the lifeline for
entrepreneurs seeking critical early-stage funding and professional expertise.
The group is run by the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, which
has a more than a 25-year history of helping students and regional entrepreneurs
start and grow businesses. It’s the only center of its kind running a full-fledged
– and very active – investment group, bringing entrepreneurs in front of angel investors
each month to pitch for funding to grow their businesses.
“With more than 30 members, our group has the ability to provide a substantial
amount of capital to a startup in order for them to grow and become successful,”
says Joel Marquis, assistant director of the Dingman Center, in charge of venture
programs. “More important than the financial capital though is the knowledge capital.
Our members come from diverse backgrounds, bringing forth various experiences across
all types of industries. We have serial entrepreneurs, seasoned operators, academics
and finance professionals. This allows our group to provide the mentorship, industry
expertise and relevant contacts that are so valuable to entrepreneurs.”
Last year, the Dingman Center Angels invested more than $4 million in 13 companies
that pitched during monthly breakfast sessions between September 2011 and June 2012.
The group is more active than ever, more than tripling the $1.2 million invested
by angel network members in the same period a year earlier. Last year, the Dingman
Center received applications from 116 companies last year, screened 60 of them,
and invited 40 to present to the 50-plus-person investor group. The center is on
pace to do even better this year.
Dingman Center staff provides hands-on coaching to entrepreneurs selected to
participate to help them prepare a successful pitch. Companies must be located in
Maryland, D.C., Virginia or Delaware and seeking between $150,000 and $1 million
in equity financing.
"Elana Fine [managing director of the Dingman Center] has managed to not only
deliver fantastic deal-flow, but has also created a true community of smart and
seasoned angels that really enjoy each others' company and counsel," said Ed
Barrientos, an angel investor and entrepreneur-in-residence with the Dingman
Entrepreneurs and investors clearly have a lot to gain from the group, as do
Smith School students.
“It's rare for a business school to have a program that brings both investors
and entrepreneurs to campus,” said Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman
Center for Entrepreneurship. “Having these groups here allows us to bring their
experience and advice to students and to connect students with job and internship
opportunities at the startups.”
Relationships with startups that began with the Dingman Center Angels network
helped the Smith School create an internship program to place MBA students at startups
last summer. That program grew to a for-credit experiential course, called the Venture
Practicum, that is now part of the MBA Smith Experience program. Students spend
the semester learning about and working with startups, many of which were introduced
to Smith through interactions with the angel group. Working with startups gives
students the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the exciting, fast-paced –
even grueling – experience of growing a business. The taste might be just enough
to push some of them to launch their own ventures.
About the Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader
in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the
University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate,
full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive
education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The
school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning
locations in North America and Asia.