College Park, Md. – March 8, 2019 – Aurora Tights, makers of performance apparel for dancers and ice skaters of all skin tones, won the $15,000 grand prize at yesterday’s Pitch Dingman Competition, the University of Maryland’s business competition. Hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, the competition awarded $30,000 in seed funding to top student entrepreneurs in a “Shark Tank”-style pitch session. The competition is chaired by UMD Distinguished Alumnus Robert G. Hisaoka ’79, whose generous donation created more opportunities for student entrepreneurs to receive funding, guidance and mentorship.
More than 500 students, faculty, alumni and VIPs gathered to watch the student entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to the expert panel of judges in a ballroom at the university’s Stamp Student Union. The judges assessed each startup’s current level of success, plan for using the funds and their overall growth potential. The winners were:
- $15,000 Grand Prize: Aurora Tights, a company that makes performance sports tights and apparel for women of all skin tones and sizes, run by founders Jasmine Snead ’19, Imani Rickerby ’17 and Sydney Parker ’18
- $7,500 Second Prize: Solr Tech, a solar-powered charging station that can retrofit any patio umbrella, invented by Alex Onufrak ’20
- $3,500 Third Prize: Synapto, a device that uses novel AI and portable EEG to streamline Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, developed by Dhruv Patel ’20, Christopher Look ’20, Anoop Patel ’20, David Boegner ’20 and Megha Guggari ’20
Synapto also took home the $1,000 audience choice award, decided by text voting.
Also pitching in the finals were crepkitchen, a web service to alert customers of limited-edition sneaker and clothing before they sell out, led by Mathew Steininger ’22; and OpenPoll, an interactive web and mobile polling platform to collect reliable opinion data, launched by Zackary Wynegar ’19.
“The purpose of Pitch Dingman Competition is to seed student ventures so they can take their startups to the next level,” said Holly DeArmond, MBA ’17, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. “At Maryland Smith’s Dingman Center, we are dedicated to helping students grow as entrepreneurs in all ways. The finalists pitching are some of our most talented and dedicated student entrepreneurs. We hope this event will not only lead to success for the finalists, but will also inspire and empower future entrepreneurs and changemakers to make the leap from an idea to a venture.”
Investor and philanthropist Hisaoka, a 1979 accounting graduate with an extensive background running and co-owning some of the biggest car dealerships in the auto industry, generously donated funding in 2017 that has allowed the Dingman Center to host a bigger and better final round of the annual Pitch Dingman Competition, as well as expand opportunities for student entrepreneurs to receive funding, guidance and mentorship throughout the year. David Quattrone, a 2005 MBA graduate and co-founder and CTO of CVENT, and wife Robyn, along with credit union SECU, also generously donated to fund the competition and the $30,000 prize pool.
Quattrone served as a judge for the competition and was joined on the panel by Cassie Costin, community market leader of SECU; Bill Boyle ’80, founder of FiberGate Inc. and chair of the Dingman Center Board of Advisors; and Gloria Jacobovitz, technology manager of Applied Physics Laboratory.
Pitch Dingman applications opened at the beginning of the academic year, with a short quarterfinals phase in October. A vetting process from alumni entrepreneur judges led to a selection of 10 semifinalists. At the Pitch Dingman Semifinals on Nov. 15, 2018, the field was narrowed to five finalist teams, who became the second cohort of Hisaoka Entrepreneurs. As part of the program, they participated in coaching and workshops to further accelerate their ventures. Some of the semifinalists who didn’t compete in the final round took part in the Founders Showcase before the finalists took the stage yesterday evening. Kareemah Mustafa '19 of Sabreen Cosmetics took home a $250 prize for winning the text-to-vote for the Founders Showcase.
About the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
The Dingman Center is one of the nation’s preeminent institutions where the research, education and practice of entrepreneurship are pursued vigorously. The center, located at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, develops and executes curricular and co-curricular programs to support the startup community.