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Five University of Maryland Student Startups to Compete in Pitch Dingman Competition

Jan 31, 2017
Entrepreneurial Spirit

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Each year, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship hosts Pitch Dingman Competition, an opportunity for University of Maryland student entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses shark tank style to an expert panel of judges to compete for a total of $30,000 in seed funding. Pitch Dingman applications open at the beginning of the academic year, with a short quarterfinals phase in late September. A vetting process from alumni entrepreneur judges leads to a selection of 10 semifinalists. The Pitch Dingman Semifinals on Nov. 17, 2016, received a record turnout of students to watch the 10 teams whittled down to five finalists. The final round of competition is set for March 7, 2017, at 6 p.m. in the Colony Ballroom of UMD’s Stamp Student Union.

These five startups and their founders reflect a diverse range of backgrounds and industries:

CourseHunter, founded by Aaron Bloch and Benjamin Khakshoor, is a web platform that interfaces with school registration systems to help students get into the classes they need.

David Potter and Abb Kapoor are launching Curu, a mobile app that helps users improve their credit score without changing their spending habits.

Freshman finalist Richard Kong produces Gravity Tales, a successful online publishing platform for Chinese and Korean fantasy stories translated into English.

Gary Hwang and Michael McGraw, both army veterans who are currently in University of Maryland graduate programs, founded an online novelty t-shirt shop for veterans called Grumpy Joes.

Last but not least Nathalyn Nunoo, Elania Tait and William Kwao are representing POSH, a beauty consultation firm that provides reliable, affordable service to clients seeking freelance makeup artists.

Since the Semifinals, these entrepreneurs have been looking to achieve new goals and milestones that will bring them closer to winning funding at the competition. Elana Fine, executive director of the Dingman Center, noted the long time frame between Semifinals and Finals as a unique asset of Pitch Dingman Competition.

“What differentiates this competition is this idea that it's not just about the business, but it's also about the execution of the entrepreneur,” said Fine. She went on to explain, “The three months between Semifinals and Finals are a way for the judges to see, in addition to the viability of the idea and the market, the validity of the entrepreneur in how they executed on their plan to progress their business.”

David and Robyn Quattrone, SECU and Tata Technologies generously donated the sum of $30,000 in funding, of which $15,000 is allotted to first place, with additional monetary prizes available for second place, Judge's Choice, and Audience Choice.

To determine which of the finalists will receive funding, a panel of judges assesses each startup’s current level of success, plan for using the funds and their overall growth potential. The judges panel is filled with entrepreneurs and innovators who fully understand the needs and challenges that seed stage startups face.

According to Fine, “The Dingman Center looks for judges who will value understanding the entrepreneur versus people who will only see the viability or the strength of the business idea.” She added, “The judges need to be people who are inspired by student entrepreneurship and the will of the student to pursue the business.”

This year features judge and keynote speaker Warren Harris, president and COO of Tata Technologies; John Czupak, president and CEO of ThreatQuotient, Inc.; Julie Lenzer, the associate vice president of Economic Development at University of Maryland as well as the co-director of UM Ventures, the University of Maryland investment fund; Carmen Mirabile, vice president of marketing at SECU; David Quattrone, co-founder and CTO of Cvent; and the chair of the Dingman Center Board of Advisors and founder of Best Marketing, Liz Sara, who brings over 25 years experience in the local high tech community as an entrepreneur, business leader and angel investor.

As UMD’s largest student business competition, Pitch Dingman Competition brings together students, faculty and staff from all across campus in addition to local business leaders in an impressive display of entrepreneurial spirit. The Dingman Center hopes that the event will not only lead to success for the competition finalists, but will also inspire and empower future entrepreneurs and changemakers to make the leap from an idea to a venture.

For more information and to register visit www.rhsmith.umd.edu/centers-excellence/dingman-center-entrepreneurship/initiatives-programs/pitch-dingman-competition

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