Taking Care of Business
15 Terp Startups to Demo Progress at Expanded Summer Accelerator Program
Amid the debates, rallies and campaign ads leading up to next year’s elections, gauging voter opinion could get faster and cheaper through a Terp’s young company—one of 15 student startups getting a boost this summer at UMD.
Zachary Wynegar ’20’s company, OpenPoll, is part of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship’s Terp Startup summer accelerator program. Through a partnership this year with College Park’s new WeWork co-working space, the expanded program provides founders with up to a $5,000 stipend and a mentor to help them grow their businesses over eight weeks, culminating with Demo Day from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today in Van Munching Hall.
Wynegar was a sophomore in January 2018 when he developed his app, which uses push notifications to conduct polls over text messages, email and social media. Robocalls and spam have deterred voters from completing political polls over the phone, so the computer science major sought to create an easier platform. He’s acquired more than 20,000 users, including some in last November’s midterms, and has worked at Terp Startup to attract more.
“They definitely have a lot of resources, especially when it comes to connecting entrepreneurs with the broader entrepreneurial community,” Wynegar said. “One of the things that drew me into the program was that social dynamic.”
The summer accelerator program launched in 2015 with five startups, hoping to allow students who could demonstrate their companies’ traction to forgo internships and focus on their own ventures. It has grown each year since, with this summer’s cohort eclipsing 10 for the first time, partially due to the increased innovative space and resources offered by WeWork.
This year’s group includes everything from a drone-operated food delivery service to an online coding school, inclusive beauty products and even a hybrid bracelet-lint roller.
“It has been really interesting having this many teams, seeing how they come together as a cohort,” said Holly DeArmond MBA ’17, managing director of the Dingman Center. “That was an unknown, but I’ve been pleased with how they’ve really pulled together and helped one another, giving advice and feedback on their various challenges and opportunities.”
Besides bouncing ideas off each other, participants attend workshops and collaborate with mentors known as practitioners—successful founders, investors or experts outside of the Dingman staff.
“Our first meeting, it was just really difficult things to hear, but I knew I needed to hear it,” said founder Barathi Aravindan ’22—whose startup, Azelle, sells charm bracelets to benefit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation—about her mentor, Jennifer Hsin, director and CFO at CNF Investments. “She’s very straightforward, and I really like that.”
Such guidance has helped Aravindan register Azelle with the state of Maryland and overhaul her company website. Wynegar has acquired additional customers and progressed with calculating revenues and costs on a per-unit basis. Others have secured investments or expanded their teams, progress they’ll present in six-minute pitches followed by four-minute Q&A sessions at today’s Demo Day.
“The workshops and programs they brought together exceeded my expectations,” Wynegar said. “You get really practical knowledge, and it really helps fill any gaps you may have.”