COLLEGE PARK — The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business concluded its Terp Startup program on July 31, where student entrepreneurs spend eight weeks building their business startups.
Working out of the new College Park WeWork, the shared co-workspace company’s first location on a college campus (which opened last fall), 15 teams of current students and recent graduates gathered to develop their business ideas.
“The idea is that they would accelerate,” said Dingman Center Managing Director Holly DeArmond. “These are students who have been in our program throughout the academic year, and they apply for Terp Startup, we interview them and what we’re trying to know is do they have traction.”
According to DeArmond, there are four key elements to the program. Students received funding of $3,500 to $5,000 per startup company, they were able to use the co-working space, they participated in weekly acceleration workshops and they are assigned a coach to assist them.
The accelerator program accepted any business idea into the program. One of them was Break Box Recycling, created by University of Maryland senior and Bowie resident Ryan Perpall, where he repurposes recycled glass.
Perpall had gotten involved with Terp Startup following a New Venture Practicum class at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship where students looked at startups academically. From there, he wanted to accelerate his recycling business he had been working on for some time.
Before entering the summer program, Perpall said he had done significant work to grow the idea into a testable business, such as recycling over 5,000 glass containers. He saw the Terp Startup program as a way to expand his business even more.
“I’d say this program is for people who are very serious about their ventures,” Perpall said. “All of them had been working on their businesses for a while. I think this program, for me, was something to accelerate to the next level, which I think it did.”
Nadia Edet, a native of Greenbelt, worked on her hair braiding company called Blessed Braids through the program. An international business major looking for entrepreneurship classes based in the school, Edet found the program and immediately applied.
When she first came into the program, she had already been doing Blessed Braids full-time, and she intended to cultivate a way to train others in hair braiding to work with her. She then developed a hair braiding curriculum but later decided it was not the direction she wanted to go in.
“Shortly after, based off of things I was going through and things I had heard from the program, I kind of pivoted from that idea to just really expanding because I figured that was most important for me right now,” Edet said.
Both Perpall and Edet found success in their businesses through the assistance that the Dingman Center provided.
With recycling being a hard and labor-intensive business, as well as being very expensive, Perpall was able to come up with a plan to bring in two additional revenue streams as well as offset the cost with upcycled products. These include creating mood lights and upcycled jewelry with the old glass.
He has also found a way for the community as a whole to participate. With his bottle-throwing trailer, which Perpall hopes to open in late August, people can come and break glass containers for fun for a small fee. The glass will then be repurposed and recycled and, most importantly, kept out of landfills.
Edet’s main goal at this point is expanding her business as well as making the business of hair braiding more uniform.
Currently, she is interviewing people to work for her and will be opening her first hair braiding shop on Sept. 1. If the first model goes well, she hopes to open another one.
Two other county residents nurtured their startups through the program as well. Kareemah Mustafa, from Greenbelt, started Sabreen Cosmetics where she makes vegan, cruelty-free beauty products for women of color. Bowie resident Sadia Alao started InstaBeauty, a delivery platform where users order beauty goods with a personal shopper.
“It was really nice to have people, and especially mentors, who dedicated their time to showing you things about business concepts and different things you can apply directly to your business,” said Edet, who talked about how before the program she did not have any guidance and was just “winging it.”
On July 31, the students presented a final pitch for their business. At the beginning of the program, they had come up with goals and milestones for their startup and the final pitch presentation was a culmination of all of the work they had done, DeArmond said. They examined things like the milestones they had met over the summer, their market strategy and their revenue model.
“The main thing we’re trying to get them to is this a viable business that they can run,” DeArmond said. “So student and alumni at Terp Startup, they’ve already proven some traction, but we really want to get them beyond MVP, minimum viable product. We want to get them to product-market so they can commercialize their product or service.”