Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Salisbury U. looking for a few good startups

With a $1 million grant from the Philip E. and Carol R. Ratcliffe Foundation creating a five-year program to fund promising startups, Salisbury University is striving to make its Franklin P. Perdue School of Business a household name.

“We were already in the business of startups and entrepreneurship,” said Salisbury President Janet Dudley-Eshbach. “This gives us the dollar support to build upon what we’ve already been doing.”

Dudley-Eshbach noted that Salisbury graduates created 38 startups in the past year, more than any other school in the University System of Maryland during that time.

The $1 million grant, announced in August, will provide as much as $200,000 per year for five years for students or recent graduates looking to create companies. Any student or recent graduate in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, D.C., New York or New Jersey is eligible, and potential awards are determined by a board consisting of local business owners and Perdue School faculty.

For comparison, the Cupid’s Cup business competition for student-run businesses, run by the University of Maryland, College Park has a $70,000 prize pool, according to the event’s website.

Startups that earn Ratcliffe grant money will also be assigned a mentor, an already-successful entrepreneur who will guide them through the process of starting a business.

“The mentor relationship will be more valuable than the money,” said Bob Wood, dean of the Perdue School. “To have someone on the board that is successful. … I think that’s really the key to the whole thing.”

Entrepreneurial initiatives are nothing new to Maryland. Last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Maryland as the best state in the nation for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Bruce Rogers, president and CEO of the Sherwood of Salisbury car dealerships and a Perdue board member, said entrepreneurship is particularly strong on the Eastern Shore. There, the high quality of life has convinced residents that they could live and make a difference in a “beautiful” community.

“I want our Salisbury grads to stay in Maryland,” said Dudley-Eshbach, adding that the program would tend to favor startups that created jobs over individual positions. The foundation would like to see each startup employ at least five people.

Rogers added that businesses that had already started operating and had a “proven track record” would be more likely to earn grant money, citing an example of a student-run business selling healthy milkshakes that already has multiple employees and two locations.

Jim Wright, a co-trustee of the Ratcliffe Foundation, said the relatively young foundation was seeking new ways to encourage entrepreneurship when it heard of the Perdue School’s existing entrepreneurship programs. He said the grant could help the local economy, not necessarily by looking to sponsor “the next Apple,” but to support new small businesses.

Dudley-Eshbach said while Salisbury’s reputation for innovation is growing, it has had to overcome the long shadow cast by larger schools like the University of Maryland. She said that one of the reasons the school lends itself toward entrepreneurial training is the fact that it fundraises heavily.

“We, ourselves, are entrepreneurs,” she said.

This is not the first time the Baltimore-based Ratcliffe Foundation has donated money to a Maryland school; the University of Baltimore received a $550,000 grant to create a Ratcliffe Fellows Program for students looking to create new businesses, and Anne Arundel Community College awards multiple scholarships as part of its Ratcliffe Scholars program.