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After shutting down his startup, UD grad Ben Rapkin reflects on what he’s learned

One lesson? You can't win over everyone in the market.

Ben Rapkin founded ProjectedU as an undergrad. (Courtesy photo)

Starting out as a music major, Ben Rapkin did not expect to start a company as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware. But he did. All it took was a year off from school halfway through his degree to realize that entrepreneurship was truly his calling. As one of the first Horn Program in Entrepreneurship graduates, he created examples for future students to learn from, even if it meant learning through failure.
Rapkin started ProjectedU with his partner Austin Crouse while he was still a student. They pulled together the company, which sold a custom projector that acted as a marketing tool in the classroom, during Startup Weekend Delaware in 2013. They came in fourth, but that wasn’t the point. “We didn’t go there to win, we went there to work on our business idea for 48 hours with no distractions,” reminisced Rapkin. He said his skills complemented Crouse’s really well.
It was Rapkin’s fourth startup. The serendipitous meeting of his business partner happened soon after he founded Entrepreneurship Club at The Horn Program. Crouse’s role was in production, while Rapkin took care of business development logistics.
Rapkin had previously worked on the Carvertise team when it was just Mac Nagaswami and the company was called PenguinAds. It was a great opportunity for him to network with like-minded individuals.
“The Horn Program introduced me to a bunch of other students and surrounding me with a lot of other students who were just as passionate and driven as I was still feeling back in school. It’s people who thought differently and thought critically,” explained Rapkin.
ProjectedU’s product showed new possibilities for edtech by showing students a different way to engage students on campus. According to Rapkin, the pair secured Fortune 50 clients during the company’s first semester of launching and running.
But don’t expect to find the product available today because they called it quits around graduation. Why? Their biggest client, the University of Delaware, dropped them. According to Rapkin, ProjectedU received a note from UD stating that the university would “never acquire software, hardware or services for a critical campus function from a startup.” It was an end to Rapkin’s startup story that Cnverg founder John Kirk called “heartbreaking.”
“When I heard that my alma mater, University of Delaware, where ProjectedU was born, and which gave them the pilot program that validated their business model, had rejected a full rollout, it felt like I had been punched in the gut,” Kirk wrote.
Here are some lessons Rapkin learned from his failed business:

  • “Why” is the most important question you need to ask yourself. Starting a business just for the sake of is not a good reason to start a company.
  • Some people just don’t care and most are resistant to change. You can’t win over everyone in the market.
  • Be ready to pivot.
  • Getting credibility with the big guys is not easy.
  • You choose your fate when you architect your business model. Businesses affect founders on a higher level.
  • A supportive community really makes a difference. Be present and get involved with your local tech community

But the real question here is, did the business actually fail or was it just the wrong time to launch it?
Rapkin says he has plans of revisiting the project. “We absolutely may revisit ProjectedU in the future when we have more resources, influence and experience,” he said. “No need to change the name, the brand has a good reputation and clout as is. It’s really up to me to reignite this business.”
Currently, Rapkin is a marketing specialist specializing in demand generation at Parse.ly in New York. He began working there after he graduated from UD in 2014.

Companies: University of Delaware
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