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Summit Launches Student Competition to Earn Up to $2M in Venture Funding

Annual Cohorts to Seek Solutions to Gun Violence, Then Mental Health Challenges

By Sala Levin ’10

two people on stage make an announcement while looking at an envelope

Phillip Alvarez, associate director of ventures and partners, left, and Isabella Laurel '18, program director for marketing and communications, both with xFoundry@UMD, announce the topic of the initiative's next competition, chosen by the audience at the event at the Hotel at the University of Maryland on Friday: mental health.

Photos by Stephanie S. Cordle

University of Maryland students preparing to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges started their journey on Friday night at … the summit.

The inaugural Xplore Summit hosted by the new xFoundry@UMD brought together more than 350 Terps, administrators, government leaders, investors and successful entrepreneurs to kick off a competition that will offer up to $2 million in venture capital funding to a student startup tackling important issues such as school safety (particularly active shooter detection), the subject of the inaugural competition.

At the event, held at The Hotel at the University of Maryland, UMD President Darryll J. Pines, xFoundry@UMD Cofounder and Executive Director Amir Ansari, U.S. Rep. Glenn Ivey and others shared a vision for the initiative, which is inspired by the XPRIZE, a series of public competitions encouraging technological innovation.

“Competition inspires the human spirit to do something the human doesn’t think is possible,” said Pines. “It taps into deep talent that you don’t even know you have.”

The first cohort of The xFoundry@UMD’s Xperience academic program kicked off in January with over 30 students committed to doing good on a large scale; they will train over 15 months to work across disciplines while gaining knowledge and experience as they build their projects.

Two guys talk on a stage
xFoundry@UMD Cofounder and Executive Director Amir Ansari (right), discusses the entrepreneurial initiative with UMD Chief Innovation Officer Dean Chang at the event on Friday.

In the program’s first course, cohorts will learn about the mindset of entrepreneurship, including team building, product development and collaboration. During the second course, students will form multidisciplinary teams of three to 12 to develop a business plan, a product strategy and a product pitch. They will work with instructors and mentors the following semester to develop and test their prototypes and start selling their solutions.

The student teams will face off against other UMD students as they develop their products at the annual Xperience competition. The event will award the winning team up to $2 million in funding and support from a group of seasoned executives as part of a newly formed venture. Upon graduating, the winning team members will become co-founders working on the venture’s product team, complete with a salary and equity stake. The program is a key initiative of xFoundry@UMD, a new campus initiative that fosters innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship across disciplines at UMD, which launched out of the E.A. Fernandez IDEA Factory.

An engineer, serial entrepreneur and inventor with 70-plus patents, Ansari was the title sponsor of the 2004 Ansari XPRIZE that awarded $10 million to the creators of the first reusable manned commercial spacecraft (which went on to become the basis for Virgin Galactic).

He said he was struck by “the willingness of the community—every department, every dean, every school—to come together and help us get this message on the board. There’s an organic passion to make something like this happen at this university.”

At the Xplore Summit, three new topics were introduced as possibilities for the 2026 competition: mental health care for young adults, artificial intelligence in the workplace and chronic health care management for seniors. After presentations on all three subjects, the audience voted via cell phone poll, and mental health emerged as the winner.

“Launching Xplore is going to take the students who are going to participate in this program on a journey that’s going to be enriching, impactful and meaningful,” said Pines. “If you monetize it—fantastic. But if you change the world and solve a real problem, I will be grateful.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.