It’s hard enough pitching a startup idea to a room filled with maybe half a dozen judges, each looking to find holes in your idea.
Now imagine doing this in a fully decorated ballroom filled with 600 people, including friends, family and peers, and things get interesting.
That was the challenge for founders at the final round of the University of Maryland’s Pitch Dingman Competition. Hosted March 6 by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, the competition gave aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to win up to $15,000 in startup capital with second and third place winners snagging $7,500 and $3,500, respectively. The audience had the chance to vote via text for a fourth candidate to take home $1,000. The contest features seven judges from assorted industries. Throughout the competition, organizers work to gather entrepreneurs from across the University of Maryland’s campus to create a signature competition.
“Over the past few years, we’ve been really very lucky to have several donors who’ve been involved in the competition. That’s given us the ability to raise the stakes a little bit,” said Elana Fine, Executive Director of the Dingman Center for Entrpreneurship. “We’ve learned from events on campus that students like the sizzle and the stakes…so we try to have more of a user experience.”
Fine went on to mention that in addition to being able to pull in students from unlikely programs around the UMD campus (such as Education and the College of Agriculture) and pairing them with the business school’s resources, the competition also brings together students who started new ventures on their own.
Before the competition, Fine had yet to meet BEE-Q-BOX, a vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics company founded by junior Information Science major Brianna Queen, even though the company is making revenue and got the attention of national media outlets. BEE-Q-BOX, which advertises its products as “F*ckboy Repellent,” took home the second prize of $7,500.
The competition also presented a place for companies like Symbiont Health, which snagged first prize in the competition, to tell their story.
“My grandmother had a fall and broke her hip, and we found a larger issue surrounding elderly falls. Roughly three million elderly falls are treated in the United States each year in the ER. These are only the ones that are reported,” said Erich Meissner of the Symbiont Health team. The Electrical Engineering major’s team, which also consists of Maria Chen, a Neurophysiology and Biology major and Kyle Liu, a Computer Science major, was able to study the current marketplace, determine what products were on the market, and develop a device that could be installed in a retirement home and monitor patients’ motion as needed.
“Our new solution is kind of like a Wi-Fi router,” said Liu. “It doesn’t require any wearable devices, sensors or pendants. How it works is you basically place a device in a room and it sends out a radio signal which reflects off the walls, like humans, objects in a room and we’re licensing algorithms from the University of Maryland that allow us to basically construct a 3D model of the space and track motions and movements.”
The unit, in turn, could be available at a $300 retail price with a monthly subscription fee built in to cover maintenance and updates. A configuration of two to three devices could cover a retirement home and the company hopes to establish a proof of concept, collect data, prove savings per patient over time and have an installed base of more than 100 retirement communities within five years.
“We’ve done this before, so we’re not as nervous,” said Meissner, when asked as to how the team felt before their impending pitch to a ballroom full of people. Since the pitch last year, the team pivoted from an initial wearable device after getting feedback from seniors.
“The entrepreneurship program is pretty huge,” said Liu. “You have the Startup Shell and student-run incubators.” This, in addition to an assigned mentor, allowed the team to meet with the mentor five times last summer as well as readily communicate via conference calls and Skype to touch base on ideas.
Despite pre-show nerves, a ballroom full of people and a panel of judges, the Symbiont Health team walked away with a $15,000 first prize, good feedback via hard questions from the judges and work ahead of them.
Pitches also included:
- Dark Sonar Technologies, a cybersecurity company that prevents synthetic identity fraud on web and mobile apps founded by junior George Lee. (Third prize)
- Flee, a mobile app that helps students discover events around campus founded by senior Didac Hormiga (Audience choice)
- Emprology, a marketing consultancy working with diverse female bloggers, vloggers and podcasters founded by senior Sydney Parker.