While he was a student at UMBC, Markus Proctor made entrepreneurship part of his education by starting the company EduPal. He was able to win funding for the venture and proved he learned lessons about the need to keep learning and pivoting. But back then, it was also apparent, at least to this reporter, that he was a leader on the community level, especially among local students interested in innovation and startups.
We saw him at events like TechBreakfast and met up for interviews and eggs at Federal Hill’s Spoons, venturing well off campus to connect with the local tech community. Just at the beginning of a period where it seemed like every university in the region was starting to build an entrepreneurship program, Proctor was out digging in.
Today, Proctor looks back and sees his passion for building entrepreneurship in the region crystallizing in 2014, when he went to Annapolis to testify in favor of a bill before the Maryland House of Delegates that would ultimately create the Maryland Technology Internship Program (MTIP).
Sitting before elected officials, he talked about how providing funding for college students to intern at local startups could help not just the students, but the businesses, as well.
“The bill passed unanimously and ever since then I’ve been really excited to be on the side of impacting my community and being a change agent, as well as creating opportunities for others,” Proctor said.
Proctor graduated from UMBC in 2016, and went on to become an IT manager. While he’s no longer building EduPal, the company he started, the aim to help students and spread the knowledge of how they can benefit from entrepreneurial resources has stayed with him.
Innovators of Progress is designed to offer students space and resources as they apply entrepreneurial principles to new ideas.
So, in 2019 he decided to create a scholarship of his own for students seeking to grow new business and tech ideas.
Innovators of Progress has an award package of up to $30,000 for students, spread across seed capital, tuition assistance, and paid internships. Offered to students who are beyond the freshman year, it’s designed to offer students space and resources as they apply entrepreneurial principles to new ideas. Applications for the next cohort are due by 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 17.
“The idea is that students can come in at any level of their academic journey, minus their freshman year, and can come in at any stage of their business as well,” Proctor said. “The experience is customized for every student, depending on where they are and what skills they have.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Proctor created the scholarship on his own. And the idea is that the program can be customized depending on skills and stage. But he has drawn on the experience at UMBC and networked with the local tech community to bring it to fruition.
While at UMBC, Proctor was a student in the university’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which applies a much-studied educational model to help Black undergrad students advance in STEM fields. This includes a cohort approach, strong advising and built-in accountability. And through the university’s Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, he saw how a community that include advisors and links to further resources offering funding could help open doors for students starting companies.
So, he’s taking influence from both of these programs. Students are accepted into cohorts of about three to five people per year, so the idea is that they can collaborate and have a built-in network. When it comes to accountability, the funding model is set up so that students earn their way to the $30,000 offered — a student can only receive the full amount if they stay in the program. Students get $1,000 in seed capital for their business, and $1,000 in tuition per semester.
With this cohort, Proctor is looking to the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region, including Baltimore.
Taking the connection to MTIP one step further, Innovators of Progress has also partnered with the UMBC-administered program to connect students with internships at local companies, which are funded by the state.
With this cohort, Proctor is looking to the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region, including Baltimore. He’s reaching out to students and universities around the region, including HBCUs, trade schools and community colleges.
He is also working with Baltimore innovation leaders. The selection committee includes national tech policy expert and former gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross, Stephanie Chin of Fearless-founded incubator Hutch, Innovation Works CEO A. Jay Nwachu and Early Charm Ventures Principal Chris Moad. Lindsay Ryan, venture development director for the University System of Maryland, has also been a key connector, Proctor said.
Asked about what success might look like, Proctor said he sees it in three tiers. For one, a student might graduate the program in a strong position to get a good job.
“Getting a job is not a loss in entrepreneurship in my opinion,” he said, speaking as someone who took that path himself. “I look at it as, you getting someone to hire you is your biggest client now.”
In another scenario Proctor could see a student getting into a local accelerator or other entrepreneurship program that offers more support and funding. A third is that students might push ahead to raise their own money in the program.
He thinks it can offer additional resources to the funding that entrepreneurs on campus can receive, as well. Perhaps a student wins a business plan competition. But then they might wonder what to do next, or how to spend it effectively. A network and cohort can help.
“I do think that type of support is going to lead to better outcomes for students,” he said.
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