Volume 11 No. 1 SPRING 2010

Pitch Dingman

Tensions were high at the November 20, 2009, Pitch Dingman Competition, a program of the Smith School’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Pitch Dingman allows students to share a business idea so it can be evaluated by the Dingman Center’s professional investment staff and Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Presenters at this Pitch Dingman Competition had already passed the first hurdle: one of the weekly informal session held every Friday during the semester. During the informal sessions, potential business owners receive actionable feedback and advice.

But on the last Friday of the month there is money on the table: $2,500 in start-up funding. The competition is fierce. Students bring their “A game” and a polished pitch, hoping to convince a panel of distinguished judges that they are worthy of capital.

This Pitch Dingman Competition was no exception. With only six minutes to present, the pressure is on even before the student opens his or her mouth. Carefully dressed in their professional best and speaking with carefully prepared power point slides behind them, students discussed their business plans, explained how their company was going to become financially viable, and fielded pointed questions from judges about strategy and metrics.

The crowd of onlookers filling the packed classroom included friends of the presenters, brought in to provide a confidence-boosting friendly face, and David Hillman, founder and CEO of Southern Management Corporation, for whom the University’s Hillman Entrepreneurs Program is named.

The judges on November 20 included Kevin Donoghue ’84, CEO of Enhanced Rehabilitation Technologies LLC; William Greenblatt UM ‘79 , founder and CEO of Sterling Infosystems Inc.; corporate attorney Stanley Jutkowitz ; investors Paul and Deanne Shatz; Joseph Valeri, MBA’99, president and COO of Lucernex Technologies; and Bruce Winter ‘84, president of FSG Leasing Inc. If the students brought charm and enthusiasm to the table, the judges brought a wealth of knowledge and practical entrepreneurial experience.

“I started my business with $100 of capital,” Winter confided to the students. “I wish I’d had this kind of opportunity.”

Six minutes goes by pretty quickly when you’re trying to encapsulate the entire business plan for your new venture, so there were a few anxious moments as students tried to wrap up their talks in the appointed time. Their ideas ranged the gamut from grand to practical to somewhat fanciful. One presenter hoped to create the next big media conglomerate. Another was aggregating local networking events held by many organizations onto one site, to make it easier for small business owners to find place to network. Yet another wanted to produce environmentally friendly “party cups” that printed measurements on the side, to allow party-goers to more accurately judge how much alcohol they were imbibing.

The big winner on Nov. 20 was NuSkool, which won a prize of $2,000 and was voted as the audience favorite, winning an additional prize of $250. Networking Loop also took home $500. The announcement was greeted with delighted grins from the winners and a round of raucous applause from the audience. Students were then invited to stay for lunch courtesy of panel judge Bill Greenblatt, to hear about his early career experiences as an entrepreneur and to network with the judges and each other.

Pitch Dingman is open to all current University of Maryland students who want to explore a potential business idea. Students who already own and run established businesses are also encouraged to come to the Pitch Dingman sessions for more advanced advice on how to take their business to the next level.

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