Natalie Urban (Q25) and uBoard’s Journey to the Pitch Dingman Finals

As QUEST students, we’re no strangers to innovation and disruptive ideas. Whether it’s 190H, 390H, or 490H, we’re always being told to push the envelope and think differently. The QUEST environment encourages change and gives us a safe space to innovate and explore, a luxury that some can’t afford. Despite this, there comes a time when the “forces that be” seem to push your idea out of that safe space and into the world. Before you know it, you’re forced to get your house in order and get your business running before you’ve even had time to seriously consider your ideas. It’s a scary space to operate in, but after talking with Natalie Urban, Q25, it seems to also be a space that forces creativity and pushes you past your limits.

Natalie started uBoard her summer after freshman year, and had you asked her then, forming a company would have been the last thing on her mind. uBoard provides customizable headboards for beds in the residence halls. Natalie built one for herself freshman year to make her room feel unique and give it personality. Suddenly the people on her floor were giving her compliments and encouragement and after freshman year, she decided to pursue her idea with two friends, after participating in different case competitions.

Unexpectedly, the coordinators of the Smith School’s Pitch Dingman competition emailed uBoard, encouraging Natalie and her team to apply.

“Initially we didn’t want to because we weren’t that developed yet,” said Natalie, but with some encouragement from a professor, uBoard sent in their application and made it all the way to the Pitch Dingman finals last month. In the end, Natalie’s product uBoard won the Judges Choice Prize and the Audience Choice Award.

According to Natalie, the time commitment for this project was no joke. In its early stages, the team would meet all day on Sundays and a couple of hours throughout the week as well. Once Pitch Dingman started, they began to meet two or three times a week for three or four hours at a time.

When you invest such a large amount of time into a project, there must be a serious connection between the people you work with.  Natalie said, “The main things I looked for were people who cared about the idea and weren’t thinking about the money. People with intentions to develop the company.”

The other members of uBoard are UMD students Lina Bauer (a QUEST student in Q26), Erich Meissner, Uday Misra, and Tristan Prejean. Having a diverse and reliable team is invaluable and definitely contributes towards the feeling of pride for ones work.  Natalie said that for her, working on uBoard with her team didn’t even feel like work because they were so invested in the project.

When I asked Natalie about the role QUEST played in her creation process, she only had positive things to say. She gave credit to QUEST as an incredible resource in regards to presentations, PowerPoint, and helping them properly analyze their data and utilize it to improve their product. Her experience from 190H also helped make the brainstorming process a lot easier and more fruitful. Having done projects of this sort before, she knew the right things to focus on and had no trouble developing her ideas with her team.

As a sophomore, Natalie still has two more years to develop her idea within the confines of UMD, but as for her plans after that, she seems fairly grounded about the future of uBoard. Understanding that nothing is ever guaranteed, she plans to take things as they come, but in a situation where uBoard is big enough, hopes to transition full-time and devote all of her energy to her company. Starting a company can be scary and to those who are on the fence she says, “If you want to start a business, but you aren’t sure, just try it because there’s nothing really stopping you.” Whether you fail or succeed, it’s sure to be an experience, and in Natalie’s words, “If you do the hard work, you will see the positive outcome.”

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