Spark seeks to inspire entrepreneurial excellence in UMD students

By: Jenna Pierson

Spark at UMD, a creative workshop sponsored by the Robert H. Smith School of Business’ Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, held their annual event at the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center on Saturday.

From 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 119 students came together to participate in a variety of brainstorming events designed to help them think creatively and critically about new business ideas.

“Spark started in 2016 and it was initially a two day idea festival in Van Munching Hall,” said Megan McPherson, Events and Marketing Director for the Dingman Center and for Spark. “Over the past few years we have streamlined the event into one day so the momentum stays strong.”

Students began the day by working through various tables with cards that explained business model types, target audiences and customer value. After they had moved from table to table, students created business ideas and a representative from each of the 21 tables pitched their idea to the room.

Many of these ideas focused on apps or services, ranging from platforms that help individuals reduce their carbon footprint to giving input on food at the dining halls on campus.

“This experience is really beneficial because it brings together people who can collaborate together and work off each others ideas and we can learn about what prompted others to innovate,” Bailey Tetrault said. The freshman undecided major hopes to pursue business marketing and finance.

After the rest of the students heard the ideas, they selected their pitch of choice and started developing the concept on the “back of a napkin.” This is essentially a piece of paper where the idea is sketched in its entirety. It answers important questions like, who the ideal customer is and how they can generate profit.

“How do we put these business theories into action?” business Professor Oliver Schlake asked. The leader of the event bounced between tables to answer questions and offer advice. “How do we make this work?”

The event was also sponsored by Startup Shell, which is a student-run collaborative space on campus that was created with the purpose of encouraging innovative ideas.

Daniel Raithel, a senior economics major, who assisted with the workshop, found inspiration several years ago to create his own product. BraceLint, a portable single-use lint removal system in the shape of a bracelet, was propelled forward into reality with the support from winning Spark.

“This is one of the first events I attended at the University of Maryland and it helped me realize I was around people who were like-minded and who wanted to really develop their ideas,” Raithel said. BraceLint is currently in the process of acquiring both U.S. and international patents and acquiring a manufacturer.

After teams pitched their final ideas, a panel of judges chose a winner. The audience chose a winning team as well, who was awarded year memberships to Dropbox and Treehouse. The judges-picked team received the same memberships, as well as Echo Dots and an interview with Startup Shell to propel their final idea further.

Homey Foods won over the audience. Their app allows users to buy and sell home-cooked meals in a fashion similar to GrubHub in order to provide comfort and nostalgia.

The group of students who created Homey Foods with their prizes. From left: Pete Schultz, Colleen Whitcomb, Allison Criswell, Sayaka Shanbhag, Chris Wallace, Trent Williams and Aniya Yarborough.

The judges chose an apparel store called Spectrum, which would provide feminine, masculine and androgynous clothing for non-binary individuals and the LGBTQ+ community. Spectrum would also uplift LGBTQ+ designers by selling their work and providing fashion guidance for transgender individuals as they go through their transition.

The group of students who created Spectrum with their prizes. From left: Philippe Castillo, Ly Nguyen, Sriya Srikanth, Chantelle Rodriguez, Benjamin Bradshaw and Su Thant Phyu Sin.

“Spark is really a great opportunity to find inspiration and connect with other people,” McPherson said. 

Hear the winners speak about their Spark ideas here!

Benjamin Bradshaw, speaks about Spectrum, the judge’s choice winner.
Chris Wallace speaks about Homey Foods, the audience-choice winner.

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