UMD Startup Focuses on Customer Acquisition at Recent Conference

By: Justin Taubman MBA ’16

Last week, Managing Director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, Elana Fine and Associate Director, Holly DeArmond, visited the University of Florida to attend the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC) annual conference. Founded in 1996, GCEC provides for collaboration and communication on specific issues and challenges confronting university-based entrepreneurship centers. Each year in October, a global conference is held on the campus of a GCEC member school. This year’s conference drew more than 300 delegates from 17 countries, 42 states and 212 colleges, universities and schools. At the annual awards banquet, the Dingman Center received the 2015 Outstanding Contributions to Venture Acceleration award. The Dingman Center was selected for its Fearless Founders Accelerator with the mission of providing student entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to develop their business ideas and successfully launch their businesses.

The Dingman Center was not the only UMD presence at the conference. I spoke with Justin Searles the co-Founder of Venture Board (also founder of the Terp Startup Shell) who also attended GCEC. Justin has a unique understanding of how rapidly schools are adopting entrepreneurship into their curriculum. Venture Board is a platform to assist schools in connecting student entrepreneurs across campus and organizing special events. Justin explained that one of the biggest problems that newer entrepreneurship centers are struggling with today are the silos among separate entrepreneurship initiatives across campus and departments. Venture Board is a tool designed to help schools deal with those types of problems. As you could imagine, GCEC was a ripe place for Justin and his co-Founders, Scott Block and Avi Eisenberger. Justin said that his market makes business development enjoyable, that his customers’ jobs are to help young entrepreneurs succeed. Additionally, he mentioned that his customers are highly engaged with he and his partners so they are constantly receiving constructive feedback to enhance the product. For Venture Board, their attendance of GCEC was invaluable. They were in front of so many of their customers hearing about their pain points and learning how they could add value. This will be very helpful as they continue to expand through their recent partnership with Blackstone LaunchPad.

ventureboard_scott_block_fullres

One of the speakers at GCEC mentioned a forecast of the students at their University; they said that by 2030, 50% of the students would want to start their own business after graduation. Everyone in the audience seemed shocked, but then the next slide came up on the presentation and that data point was actually a poll from 2015. Colleges and Universities are realizing that many of the largest donors are actually entrepreneurs and schools that have entrepreneurship centers can stay engaged with those alumni to stay involved as a mentor, speaker, or even future donor. The proliferation of entrepreneurship programming is wonderful and we are very lucky to have such an established center at the University of Maryland.

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