By Ally Tobler
Ten student-entrepreneur groups battled it out in the Pitch Dingman Competition on Nov. 16 for a chance to win startup funding for their innovative business ideas. Only five moved on to the finals.
The grand prize for the final winner of the Pitch Dingman Competition, the only business competition at this university, is $15,000. These five final individuals and groups will compete for this startup money on March 18.
These finalists include: Brianna Queen (BEEQBOX); George Lee and Simon Schlegel (Dark Sonar Technologies, LCCC); Sydney Parker (Emprology); Daniel Diazdelcastillo (Manta Technologies); Erich Meissner, Maria Chen and Kyle Liu (Symbiont Health).
Winning business ideas ranged from a vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics line with a feminist edge, to a digital brand consultancy shop for black women, to a cybersecurity company that prevents synthetic identity fraud for small and medium-sized businesses, and more.
According to Diazdelcastillo, an aerospace engineering masters student, Manta Technologies is “the Roomba for the ocean.”
“There are aerial drones that scan entire bodies of water — rivers, lakes, oceans — and detect where the actual trash is and will send a water drone to directly where it is,” he said. “Cleaning up the trash from the water is much more efficient.”
But the grand prize winner isn’t the only one to receive money for their business ideas. Semifinalists have the opportunity to place in categories such as second place, judges’ choice, audience choice and more, with prizes ranging from $500 to $5,000.
Juniors Shyon Parsadoust and Nick Pouliquen, founders of Ötzi, a Tinder-like platform for tattoo artists and customers to connect, didn’t make it to the next round of the competition, but did win the $500 audience choice award.
“The money would’ve been cool but it definitely isn’t a barrier for us. I think it would’ve helped if we got it, but I’m pretty confident in our skill sets that we can do this on our own,” said Parsadoust, an economics major. “We’ve got a beta out right now…and I have a company in India trying to build the platform.”
And students participating in the Pitch Dingman Competition earn more than just startup money.
“We also get marketing out of it,” said Erich Meissner, a senior electrical engineering major and co-founder of Symbiont Health, which tackles the issues surrounding unconscious falls amongst seniors. “This will also help with our pitching as well as show a legitimate company that we won this competition. It would give us more venture capital.”
Angwei Ndam, a senior management and supply chain major believes initiatives such as the Pitch Dingman Competition contribute to the Robert H. Smith School’s prestige.
“It gives students a platform, because what if you have an idea but no place to show it? Secondly, it’s a marketing strategy, because you can market your product to the students that show up to watch,” she said. “It’s because of these kinds of events that we are ranked one of the best business schools in the country.”
According to Megan McPherson, events and marketing coordinator at the Dingman
Center for Entrepreneurship, students also receive assistance for participating.
“As part of our Hisaoka Entrepreneurs program, each semifinalist is also provided with coaching and assigned venture mentors who can help them accelerate their businesses, whether they advance to finals or not,” she said. “We at the Dingman Center want to keep all of these students engaged with us, even if they don’t win. They’ve accomplished so much just by getting to semifinals in the first place, and we ideally want to see them all succeed in their ventures.”
Last year, innovative Terps David Potter and Abb Kapoor took home the Dingman Pitch grand prize. They won with their business idea Curu: a financial technology application which gives users advice on improving credit score.
Runner-up ideas from the last Dingman Pitch Competition included: CourseHunter, a system that notifies students when classes are available; Gravity LLC, a website and community dedicated to the translation of English, Korean and Chinese novels; Grumpy Joes, a Veteran t-shirt line; POSH, a makeup service company.
The first Pitch Dingman Competition was in 2009 and since then, the competition has been providing Smith students with valuable entrepreneurial experience.
“Holding a business competition is a great way to showcase the talented and driven students we are privileged to have enrolled at UMD,” McPherson said.