Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute

Donor to Student Entrepreneurs: Dream Big But Benefit Society

Solypsis Co-Founder Warren Citrin Supports Seed Fund for Socially Responsible, Student-Founded Companies

Dream big, but have a positive impact on the world. That's the idea behind the new, Impact Seed Fund program available to select University of Maryland student entrepreneurs.

The Impact Seed Fund offers grants, in $500 to $5,000 increments, to students in the University's Hinman CEOs, Hillman Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program initiatives who present business plans for new companies that benefit society. Up to $50K totally will be awarded annually over five years.

"The purpose of the Impact Seed Fund is to encourage student entrepreneurs to innovate and think creatively about starting companies that have some positive influence on the world, while providing them with resources to execute on those ideas," says Solypsis Corporation (now Raytheon Solypsis) co-founder Warren Citrin, whose donation supports the fund.

While plans that address the environment, education, healthcare, and other underserved markets and communities are favored, any plan considering or offering some form of positive impact is eligible.

The Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) administers the fund.

"We expect students to look at everything from global warming to where our society is going to be in 50 to 100 years," says Karen Thornton, Director of Development, Office of External Relations, A. James Clark School of Engineering. "We need other ways of doing things, and we're looking for ideas--big and small--as answers for the future."

Proposals are accepted on a rolling basis. A committee reviews each proposal. Seed Fund Grants of $2,000 to $5,000 are awarded to thoroughly researched, well-developed plans, while Opportunity Assessment Grants of $500 to $1,000 are given to promising ideas that require further research to assess the opportunity.

A committee assigns a mentor to each grant-winning company to oversee the use of the funds.

Among the three programs the Impact Seed Fund is targeted towards is Hinman CEOs, the nation's first living-learning entrepreneurship program, which places entrepreneurially-minded students from all academic disciplines in a unique living community to explore new ventures. An average of 90 students are typically enrolled in the program, with approximately 25 percent engaged in some form of venture creation at any point in time. Graduates include the founder of Squarespace, a top blogging and Web publishing platform on the Internet.

The Hillman Entrepreneurs Program, launched in 2006, is a collaborative, four-year, entrepreneurship scholarship program between the University of Maryland and Prince George's Community College. Students from any major complete their bachelor's degrees at the University of Maryland after transferring from Prince George's Community College. The program offers students entrepreneurship and leadership courses, intense mentoring, networking and community-building opportunities. The program's first cohort at the University of Maryland includes 15 students, although the spring 2008 and subsequent semesters will include an average of 40 students.

Launching fall 2010, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program is a cornerstone initiative to further elevate the university's profile and competitiveness internationally, particularly in the entrepreneurship and innovation arenas. This new Honors College program, launched by the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), provides entrepreneurially-minded freshmen and sophomores from all majors the opportunity to learn and live entrepreneurship and innovation. In this living-learning program students develop the entrepreneurial mindsets, skill sets, and relationships to launch successful concepts with startup companies and corporate ventures.

"Students from all three programs are encouraged to unleash their imaginations to change the world," says Thornton.

"It's inspiring for students to know their ideas can come to fruition," says Citrin. "The weakest link for student entrepreneurs has always been the funding. This makes things more possible."

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