Since founding, the University of Maryland’s Startup Shell — the on-campus, student-run incubator — has admitted only those working on launching a company. To join, you had to have more than just an idea. Over 200 founders have gone through the program representing, between them, somewhere between 60 and 75 ventures.
But at the beginning of this school year Startup Shell leadership decided to switch it up — they decided to add a cohort of fellows.
Startup Shell fellows are individuals who may not be working on a specific venture, or even have an interest in launching a company, but who do want to spend time around, and lend expertise to, their entrepreneurial classmates. The idea is that a fellow with, say, expertise in photography, can help the startups in residence with their photography needs while at the same time building a valuable portfolio.
Sam Drozdov, now director of events at the Shell, explained it this way — “there were a lot of talented people who just weren’t interested in starting their own company.” In the past, these people could be found informally hanging out at the Shell’s space, but Drozdov wanted to give them a way to formally contribute. Each semester, in addition to accepting 10 to 12 ventures into the program, the Shell now welcomes 10 to 12 fellows. The most recent cohort started in mid-February — they’ll be members through their time at UMd and valuable alumni beyond, should they choose.
Fellows and startups interact in various ways. The space holds “shell class” for fellows once a week, and makes space for a skills board where fellow can identify what they have to offer and startups can draw from that talent pool.
Drozdov told Technical.ly that the Shell looks for fellows with a diversity of abilities, but also those who want to “not only learn but also teach their skills to others in the community.” Because at the end of the day, Drozdov and his fellow leaders can only assure so much. Just like college more generally, “you really get out what you put in.”