Symbiont Health, maker of technology to detect falls for seniors and nursing home patients, took home the $15,000 grand prize March 7 at the Pitch Dingman Competition, the University of Maryland’s business competition chaired by businessman and philanthropist Robert G. Hisaoka.
The competition awarded nearly $30,000 in seed funding to top student entrepreneurs in a “Shark Tank”-style pitch session, hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Nearly 600 students, faculty, alumni and VIPs gathered to watch the student entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to the expert panel of judges in a ballroom at the university’s Stamp Student Union. The judges assessed each startup’s current level of success, plan for using the funds and their overall growth potential. The winners were:
- $15,000 Grand Prize — Symbiont Health (founders Erich Meissner, Maria Chen and Kyle Liu), maker of automated fall detection devices for seniors
- $7,500 Second Prize –BEEQBOX (founder Brianna Queen), a vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics company featuring feminist branding
- $3,500 Third Prize –Dark Sonar Technologies (founder George Lee), a cybersecurity company that prevents synthetic identity fraud on websites and mobile apps
- $1,000 Audience Choice (decided by text voting) — Flee (founder Didac Hormiga), a mobile app that helps students discover events and entertainment around campus
Emprology, a marketing consultancy working with minority female bloggers, vloggers and podcasters founded by Sydney Parker, was also a finalist.
“Being able to pitch your business to an expert panel of judges and a crowd is a critical skill for entrepreneurs,” said Elana Fine, executive director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. “Here at the Smith School and the Dingman Center we are committed to providing this platform for students across campus. Successful entrepreneurs at any level have to show they can execute on their idea, iterate on their business model and deliver a compelling pitch.”
Hisaoka, a 1979 accounting graduate, donated funding which has allowed the Dingman Center to host a the competition as well as expand opportunities for student entrepreneurs to receive funding, guidance and mentorship throughout the year. David Quattrone, a 2005 MBA graduate and co-founder and CTO of CVENT, and wife Robyn, along with credit union SECU and law firm Venable, also donated $30,000 for the competition.
Hisaoka and Quattrone served as judges for the competition and were joined on the panel by Dick Patterson, president and CEO of RRR Automotive; Michele Moore, vice president of retail banking at SECU; Bobby Turnage, partner at Venable LLP; Rob McGovern, CEO and founder of PreciseTarget; and Connie Weaver, co-founder and CEO of Tracker Group.
Pitch Dingman applications opened at the beginning of the academic year, with a short quarterfinals phase in October. Then 10 semifinalists competed on Nov. 16 to narrow the field to the five finalists. All semifinalist teams took part in the inaugural cohort of the Hisaoka Entrepreneurs program of coaching and workshops to further accelerate their ventures. The semifinalists who didn’t compete in the final round took part in the Founders Showcase before the finalists took the stage.