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Officials want Cupid’s Cup winner Javazen to stay near UMD

After University of Maryland, College Park startup Javazen dominated the Cupid’s Cup entrepreneurship competition Thursday evening, officials want to make sure they stay put as they expand.

The company, which secured $80,000 in total prize money, is now looking to open a real office, Ken Ulman, the university’s chief strategy officer for economic development, said Friday, adding that he planned to meet with Javazen to discuss its needs later in the day.

Ulman, whose mission to help revitalize College Park includes attracting and retaining tech companies around the campus, was one of several officials celebrating the opening of a new headquarters for FlexEl, a UMD startup that he helped convince to stay near the campus rather than move to northern Virginia.

The annual Cupid’s Cup pitch competition, now in its 11th year, is the brainchild of Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank, who partners with the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at UMD to host the event.

Javazen, which makes a special, nutrient-rich coffee, was one of six finalists for this year’s competition; the others included a maker of comfortable men’s dress shoes and a company that sells tortilla chips made from ground-up crickets.

Success not guaranteed

But while companies can use their Cupid’s Cup wins to grow and attract new investors, it’s not a guarantee of lasting success.

Goozex, an online community for trading old video games and movies, won the cup in 2007. It flourished for a few years, but was sold in 2012 and shut down in late 2013.

Reed Street Productions won in 2012 with its pitch for the Run For Your Lives 5K races, which allowed participants to be chased by the people pretending to be zombies. Revenues surged to $8.3 million that year, but it didn’t last: by the end of 2013 they were bankrupt, founder Ryan Hogan wrote on his blog.

Others have had better luck.

The contest’s first winner, board game maker North Star Games, is still producing games that can be purchased online, and at retailers such as Target and Barnes & Noble, founder and Co-President Dominic Crapuchettes said.

Seal of approval

While the $10,000 provided by the Cupid’s Cup win was not a huge amount of money by itself, it served as a seal of approval; two audience members soon followed that with $100,000, making them the company’s first major investors, Crapuchettes said.

At the time, North Star was preparing to sell its first game at Target stores nationwide and needed capital to pay for it; since then, the Montgomery County-based company has grown from two employees to 18 and had about $5 million in revenue last year, Crapuchettes said.

College Media Group, which won $17,500 in the 2009 competition, was able to expand its College Magazine publication from Washington and Baltimore into the Philadelphia market, founder Amanda Nachman said.

“The prize money really helped us build momentum and continue to build the brand,” she said.

But the company has remained flexible as it grew in a changing industry: while it no longer publishes a print edition, its online publication has grown and now gets about 650,000 monthly visitors, she said.

“It’s a different business model entirely,” Nachman said.