University of Maryland students sparked ideas for nonbinary clothing, home-cooked food delivery and more on Sept. 28, 2019, at the annual spark: Where Fearless Ideas Start. Co-hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and Startup Shell, a student-run incubator, the ideation workshop fostered experimentation and an entrepreneurial mindset.
“It’s a support system to come up with ideas,” said Oliver Schlake, clinical professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and co-host of the event with Dingman Center events and marketing manager Megan McPherson.
Simple tools like Play-Doh helped aspiring entrepreneurs, mostly freshmen and sophomores, who lack venture platforms to get ideas off the ground. At the end of the day, several teams emerged with hopes to continue what could be the next hot startup.
A mini-pitch competition from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. started with muffins and a card game designed to get ideas flowing with three “quick idea” rounds. Teams threw out two of their ideas and kept one to develop into a fully formed pitch by the end of the event.
“We decided to streamline the model this year,” McPherson said. “Rather than having long lectures, we made the activities more robust to give students more time with each other and their ideas.”
At the conclusion of the game, representatives from each of the 22 tables presented their pitches.
One recurring idea involved variations of Tinder. Students generated ideas for a dating app for restaurants, a dating app for talent acquisition, a dating app for vegetarians and vegans, and a dating app for gamers.
Schlake then gave an accelerated sales pitch training class, featuring techniques from OxiClean’s television pitchman, the late Billy Mays.
Students took this inspiration to create 60-second infomercials and “napkin sketches,” emphasizing their product’s solution to an everyday problem, replacing the traditional PowerPoint pitch.
Many pitches included catchy slogans like, “Homey Foods: We got you covered, homie,” “Chews: If you can’t decide, let your cravings choose,” and “Bizner: Hook up with a job today, not a Chad.”
Winners were selected in two categories:
Judges Choice: Spectrum, a clothing company for nonbinary and transgender people looking for clothing that doesn’t fit into the traditional men’s and women’s categories. Team members included Philippe Castillo, Su Thant Phyu Sin, Chantelle Rodriguez, Sriya Srikanth, Benjamin Bradshaw and Ly Nguyen.
Audience Choice: Homey Foods, a food service app where people can connect to make and order home-cooked meals. Team members included Aniya Yarborough, Allen Myers, Allison Criswell, Chris Wallace, Colleen Whitcomb, Sayaka Shanbhay, Pete Schultz and Trent Williams.
The Audience Choice winner received a one-year subscription to Treehouse, a coding bootcamp website, and Dropbox, including entrepreneurial templates. The Judges Choice winner received, on top of that, an Echo Dot and an interview with the Startup Shell.
Judges included Alex Onufrak and Daniel Raithel from the Startup Shell, and Sara Herald, Lottie Byram and McPherson from the Dingman Center.
Students were encouraged to continue forming their businesses through opportunities from both organizations.
— Kira Barrett, Communications Writer at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business