Inaugural UMD Business Model Challenge Caps New Experiment in Lean Startup Workshop Framework

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Eric Schurr
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Pictured: University of Maryland students working with Business Model Canvases.

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—The inaugural University of Maryland Business Model Challenge finals held this Friday cap a new experiment for the university: integrating a multi-week business model and customer development workshop into a competition where results count more than presentation.

What this means for the 11 teams invited to participate in the challenge, culled from an initial 44 entries, is that they must complete a difficult but rewarding process to win money, and, rather than making investor pitches, they present what they have learned.

The 11 teams committed to the following process: define their business model, assess the product/market fit for their technology, get feedback from at least 25 potential customers, then refine their product and business model based upon that feedback. Each team received funding to get out and talk to the required 25 customers.

Not all teams will complete the process before the finals, but they will have learned and progressed in the development of their startups.

Finals will be held at the University of Maryland on Friday, April 26, from 1-3:30 p.m., in room 1115 of the Computer Science Instructional Center. The event is open to the public (register here).

The new UMD competition is based upon the growing Lean Startup movement, the foundations of which are drawn from Steve Blank's Stanford University Lean LaunchPad course and The Startup Owner's ManualAlexander Osterwalder's Business Model Generation book, used as a framework for customer development, and workshops structured through the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.

The University of Maryland, along with George Washington University and Virginia Tech, were awarded $3.75 million in February to launch a regional I-Corps node. UMD Business Model Challenge leaders Craig Dye, director of Mtech Ventures at the university, and Edmund Pendleton, Citrin Fellows Program director and director of VentureAccelerator, are I-Corps-trained and have led teams through the process.

Together, Dye and Pendleton evolved the UMD $75K Business Plan Competition into the new format, pivoting after 12 years of the business plan, investor pitch competition.

The 11 Business Model Challenge teams invited to the new competition were divided into Beginning/Intermediate and Advanced categories.

Beginning/Intermediate teams include:

  • CellTrace: developing an automated data extraction software program designed for researchers in the life sciences.
    Team: Deborah Hemingway, graduate student, biophysics; Frank Hemingway, graduate student, electrical and computer engineering; Joshua Juen, graduate student, University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign, electrical and computer engineering; and Kimberly Stroka, Johns-Hopkins University, post-doc, bioengineering.

  • Destinalo: developing an online booking platform dedicated exclusively to offering accommodations in environmentally friendly hotels.
    Team: Cristina Huidobro, graduate student, urban planning.

  • MotionVibe: developing fitness lifestyle technology solutions that improve training, motivation, and communication between professionals and enthusiasts.
    Team: Nick Gerontianos, student, digital innovation management studies.

  • Proteus: developing 3-D filament recycling solutions that allow users to convert waste plastic and plastic pellets into usable filament for 3-D printers.
    Team (all mechanical engineering undergraduates): Ethan Nusbaum, J. Scott Wheeler, and Kelly Kempf.

  • UMDTutor2Go: developing an online system to provide students with private, online tutoring via Skype, live instant messaging chats and audio broadcasts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    Team: Chandra Smith, undergraduate student, psychology, human development, and technology entrepreneurship; Changudra Smith, undergraduate student, finance, marketing, and technology entrepreneurship.

  • Wheel Shields: developing a skateboarding accessory that solves "wheel bite" (a dangerous safety problem), keeps riders dry and allows riders to stand over their wheels.
    Team: Chase Kaczmarek, undergraduate student, management and entrepreneurship.

Advanced teams include:

  • Kitsune: developing a dynamic enterprise software-updating framework that eliminates downtime and keeps vital services accessible. 
    Team: Edward Smith, undergraduate student, computer science; Michael Hicks, Associate Professor, computer science; Jeffrey Foster, Associate Professor, computer science.

  • Maryland Energy and Sensor Technologies (MEST): developing a novel, solid-state cooling technology for air-conditioning, dehumidification, and refrigeration applications.
    Team: Ichiro Takeuchi, Professor, materials science and engineering; Yiming Wu, Research Associate, materials science and engineering.

  • Secure Mobile Devices: developing a technology that strengthens the security of mobile devices by combining physical layer technologies with user biological traits and cyber technologies.
    Team: John Baras, Professor, electrical and computer engineering and Institute for Systems Research; Vladimir Ivanov, Research Associate, Institute for Systems Research.

  • Tauros Engineering: developing a technology for the detection and monitoring of bridge scour.
    Team: Alison Flatau, Professor, aerospace engineering, Associate Dean for Research, Clark School of Engineering; Tyler Flatau, undergraduate student, government and politics; and Adrian Ross, MBA candidate, Harvard Business School. 

  • Vasoptic Medical: developing a medical device for the early diagnosis and management of diabetic retinopathy and other medical conditions.
    Team: M. Jason Brooke, alumnus, University of Maryland and University of Maryland, Baltimore; Abhishek Rege, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University.

Led and managed by the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), a unit of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, the UMD Business Model Challenge encourages students, faculty, researchers, staff and recent alumni at UMD and University of Maryland, Baltimore to leverage their talent and ideas to create tomorrow's leading companies. The competition process, its mentors, partners and cash prizes have helped many students, faculty and researchers build their own companies.

The competition historically has spurred the commercialization of university technologies and served as a launch pad for multi-million-dollar companies, including AnthroTronix, RioRey, Alertus Technologies, Squarespace and Lurn.

Sponsors of the 2013 competition include Fish & Richardson P.C.Lockheed Martin, and Nixon Peabody LLP.

For more information about the University of Maryland Business Model Challenge and the finals event, visit  

About Mtech (
The mission of Mtech is to educate the next generation of technology entrepreneurs, create successful technology ventures, and connect Maryland companies with university resources to help them succeed. Founded in 1983, Mtech has had a $29.4 billion impact on the Maryland economy and helped create or retain more than 7,800 jobs. Top-selling products such as MedImmune’s Synagis®, which protects infants from a deadly respiratory disease, and Hughes Communications’ HughesNet®, which brings satellite-based, high-speed Internet access to the world, were developed through or enhanced by our programs. Billion dollar companies such as Martek Biosciences and Digene Corporation graduated from our incubator. Mtech offers three experiential learning programs and 18 entrepreneurship and innovation courses, served to 1,003 enrollees in the academic year 2011-12, at the pre-college, undergraduate and graduate levels. For more information about Mtech, please visit

About the A. James Clark School of Engineering

The University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering is a premier program, ranked among the top 20 in the world. Located just a few miles from Washington, D.C., the Clark School is at the center of a constellation of high-tech companies and federal laboratories, offering students and faculty access to unique professional opportunities.

Our broad spectrum of academic programs, including the world’s only accredited undergraduate fire protection engineering program, is complemented by a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, early hands-on educational experiences, and participation in national and international competitions.

The Clark School is leading research advancements in aerospace, bioengineering, robotics, nanotechnology, disaster resilience, energy and sustainability, and cybersecurity. From the universal product code to satellite radio, SMS text messaging to the implantable insulin pump, our students, faculty, and alumni are engineering life-changing innovations for millions. Learn more at



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