The vibe was decidedly California cool — a bright white and modern wood industrial office space buzzing with entrepreneurs hard at work building their businesses, sipping cold brew and kombucha.
Not Silicon Valley, but instead a WeWork in College Park, Md., where 15 student teams were selected by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business to take part in its competitive Terp Startup summer accelerator program.
The students had eight weeks and $5,000 to build their startups with help from Dingman Center experts for advice and mentoring, and workshops covering topics including product/market fit, market sizing, raising capital and legal issues. Teams could also take advantage of the facilities and services at WeWork, the coworking giant’s first college campus location.
Thanks to support from alumni donors, the Dingman Center expanded Terp Startup in 2019 and moved it to WeWork and Dingman’s new shared Diamondback Garage space, part of a $2 billion development push to revitalize Greater College Park and create a hub for entrepreneurs in the region.
“It made our founders take things up a notch,” says Holly DeArmond, MBA ’17, the center’s managing director. “They weren’t in a classroom in Van Munching Hall. They were sitting beside someone who is paying for WeWork space, working on their startup, trying to raise capital. The networking was really good for the students.”
The diverse cohort included students from many colleges and degree programs, running businesses at various stages. The startups covered a wide range of industries and products, from technology companies to consumer product makers to app designers. “That led to more peer-to-peer advising,” DeArmond says. “This group really collaborated. They know each other’s challenges, they are outgoing and would ask each other for help.”
The program culminated on July 31, with final pitch presentations to showcase students’ progress on their startups.
“The workshops and structure really prepared us for the demo day final pitch, and got us well prepared for pitching in front of others outside of the program,” says William Sherman, a student in Smith’s part-time MBA and MS in finance programs, whose tech startup, Pendulum Analytics, ensures safe financial transactions. “It was great to put my idea and product in front of some angel investors and get their feedback and their interest. That gives you confidence.”
In addition to the workshops, Sherman says Dingman staff introductions to potential investors and banking industry contacts have been invaluable for moving forward with his business.
“The goal for the program was to have startups be able to make a ‘go’ or a ‘no-go’ decision on growing their businesses,” DeArmond says. Terp Startup provided valuable fuel as they surge ahead, she says, while others used what they learned to pivot to other ventures.