Yellow Dingman Dollars filled the cups and bins on eager entrepreneurs’ tables at the 4th Annual BB&T Invitational on April 1. Resembling the brightly colored currency used in Monopoly, each yellow piece of paper counted as a vote for an attendee’s favorite start-up to be tallied up and awarded at the6th Annual Cupid’s Cup competition later that afternoon.
Part of the 2011 University of Maryland Entrepreneurship Invitational powered by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, the festivities of the day didn’t end with the colorful money. Balloons floated in every corner, chocolate candies covered the tables, and Testudo danced through the crowds of people, inviting them into the Grand Ballroom at the Stamp Student Union to participate in a celebration of entrepreneurship at the university.
The entrepreneurs arrived early to set up their booths, complete with eye-catching signage, colorful business cards, and information regarding their start-ups. Some brought computers for added explanation of their entrepreneurial visions, some had models to show off their technology, and some had freshly baked cookies to entice passersby to stop by and listen to their business pitches.
Regardless of how simple or elaborate their displays were, all of the entrepreneurs at the invitational wanted to win the one of the four fan favorite awards, which came with $2,000 or $500 in prize money from BB&T to help kick off their business.
David Croushore, co-founder of Atmo, a system that allows people to vote for their favorite music using Smartphone apps to play in places like bars and restaurants, said the event was great exposure for Atmo and allowed him to meet other entrepreneurs like himself.
“We had some great conversations with people about Atmo. I found it interesting that people were reluctant to play around with our system, but the ones who did seemed to really enjoy it,” he said. “I think the most beneficial thing for our company that came out of the day was getting to meet with all of the other entrepreneurs at the event. There were a number of companies that could become strategic partners with us to help both of our businesses succeed.”
Atmo was just one of 12 university start-ups, also called “New Terpreneurs,” and one of more than 40 business present at the entire event. Other university startups at the invitational included campus-focused ventures such as Greek Recruits, a database for pledges to find fraternity and sorority requirements, and InkUp, a printer ink-refill service for students. Broader-focused student startups included Blind Pig Cocktails, a pre-mixed cocktail company, and Mike & Cookies, a fresh-cookie food truck.
Other startup companies at the BB&T Invitational were: Beagle, a mobile app which serves as a task distribution service for university students and professors; Community Ladders, an organization that helps people make better financial decisions; Dingman Pedicabs, a campus bike taxi service; GreekUs, social networking for fraternities and sororities (voted the fan favorite); Melia’s Cupcakes, a cupcake business run out of a local fire department; Pamble, an online gambling site that uses prizes instead of money; and Veggiecool, a cold-storage company for produce and winner of the Dingman Center’s January 2011 China Business Plan Competition.
“This invitational is a terrific opportunity for us and for entrepreneurs,” said Dan Waetjen, the Greater Washington, D.C. group and state president of BB&T Corporation. The invitational also showcased regional companies and past Cupid’s Cup winners, as well as the 2011 Cupid’s Cup competitors. (A complete list of BB&T participants can be found here.)
Adam VanWager and his bother Eric VanWagner created their company, MyFridgeRental, which ultimately took home $18,500 from the Cupid’s Cup Challenge. They showcased their business during the invitational as well as pitched to an audience of more than 500 people, including event sponsor and CEO of Under Armour Kevin Plank ’96.
“Meeting Kevin Plank was definitely very exciting,” Adam said, adding that he enjoyed Plank’s talk during the competition, especially when he talked about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his passion for his job. “Later, Kevin told us, ‘You guys seem to have focus a lot like Tom Brady.” I just took a step back there mentally, and was like ‘Wow, Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour who knows Tom Brady personally compared our focus and energy and passion to Tom Brady’s.’ That is something I’ll never forget.”
Other businesses at the invitational aspire to win the Cupid’s Cup challenge in future years, but this year they just took in the atmosphere and the experience of the afternoon’s events: “Overall, I really enjoyed Cupid's Cup and all of the other events that were going on around it. It was great to be around so many people who are looking at starting new businesses and doing interesting things,” said Croushore, the Atmo entrepreneur. “We would definitely participate in the BB&T Invitational again, and we hope to be on stage winning Cupid's Cup next year.”
Jessica Bauer, Office of Marketing Communications