Curu, a website and mobile application that assesses spending habits and offers ways to optimize the user’s credit score, won the Pitch Dingman Competition on March 8, 2017, at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
The award came with a $15,000 prize that the startup plans to use to develop its initial web platform. The audience agreed with the judges’ pick, giving Curu the text-to-vote Audience Choice Award of $1,500.
Curu co-founders include David Potter, a finance and marketing senior at the Smith School, and Abb Kapoor, an electrical and electronics engineering junior at UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering. They were among five finalist teams that presented ideas to a panel of judges in front of an audience of more than 500 students, business leaders, alumni, faculty and guests at the UMD’s Stamp Student Union.
The Pitch Dingman Competition is UMD’s largest business competition exclusively for Terps, hosted by the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.
“We were at Pitch Dingman Competition our freshman year, and it’s hard to even imagine now that we were able to compete, not to mention able to win,” Kapoor said. “We have built this business by going through Dingman Center programs. This prize money gives us the comfort to continue pursuing the dream.”
Placing second and winning $7,500 was CourseHunter, a platform that interfaces with school registration systems to help students get into classes they need. Third prize and $3,500 was awarded to Gravity Tales, an online publishing platform for Chinese and Korean fantasy stories translated into English.
Other competitors included Grumpy Joes, an online apparel shop that features a line of novelty t-shirts designed by and for military veterans; and POSH, a beauty consultation startup that provides affordable services to clients seeking freelance makeup artists.
The competition was made possible, in part, by a gift from alumnus David Quattrone, co-founder and chief technology officer of Cvent, a top online event software and email marketing company. Quattrone served as a judge for the second time.
Also supporting the competition were State Employees Credit Union (SECU) and the Tata Group. Warren Harris, CEO and managing director of Tata Technologies, provided a keynote address and served as a judge.
“At Tata Technologies, we work hard to develop solutions to make the product development dreams of our clients become a reality, and it was a privilege to name Curu as the 2017 winner of the Pitch Dingman Competition, making their entrepreneurial aspirations now a reality,” Harris said. “It’s critical for future business leaders to disrupt existing business models in order to foster the generation of entrepreneurs, and Tata Technologies is thrilled to partner with the University of Maryland to create the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
Each team had six minutes to pitch its business to the judges, including an overview of the business model and how the team would use the prize money. Then the teams had four minutes to field questions from the judges. Prior to the on-stage pitches, each team met with the judges for about 10 minutes.
Joining Quattrone and Harris on the judging panel were John Czupak, president and CEO, ThreatQuotient; Christopher Groshko, vice president, retail banking, SECU; Julie Lenzer, associate vice president, economic development and co-director, UM Ventures, University of Maryland; and Liz Sara, Dingman Center Board Chair and founder and CEO, Best Marketing LLC.
The finalists had been preparing since advancing from the semifinal round of the competition, in November 2016, when 10 founders pitched their startups. Once selected as a finalist, SECU provided each team with $500 in seed funding to move the business forward between semifinals and finals.
"In my tenure at the Dingman Center, I have never seen a more engaged and energetic crowd at a Pitch Dingman Competition,” said Elana Fine, executive director of the Dingman Center. “The students, faculty and staff in attendance demonstrated the enthusiasm for innovation and entrepreneurship on our campus."