Oct 262015

Where did you study abroad in college?

All too often, we–including yours truly–treat it like an extended vacation, a grand tour of some far-flung corner of the world. Not so with the 27 undergrad students in this year’s Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps, who spent their summers helping to empower local communities across Nicaragua, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic. I was assigned to cover last night’s Forum, an opportunity for all the students to gather with donors, faculty, and their families & friends to showcase their international experiences.

It was a great example of the unique, community-focused culture we have here at the University of Maryland, and the Smith School of Business in particular. It was appropriate that the Business School here shares the building with the School of Public Policy. Because, like any one country relative to the rest of planet Earth; despite all the emphasis on competition and the bottom line in business–at the end of the day–it’s all still a small part of the big picture.


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 Posted by at 8:14 pm
Oct 072015

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This year the city of Washington DC hosted the second annual DC Tech Day, an open forum for the startup community in the DC/Baltimore area to come together and share their products with the public. Once again, it was held in the magnificent National Building Museum, a historic building right off Gallery metro stop with a vast, light-filled space interspersed with massive columns.

The free event was sponsored by larger businesses in the region like CapitalOne Labs, providing a once-a-year opportunity to survey the DC area tech scene all under one roof. As you would expect, most of the companies there are smaller startups just trying to get off the ground and lock in that big Series A investment. But, among them are much larger technology firms that have hit substantial traction and funding from the marketplace. And then there are the sponsors, also manning their booths to spread awareness and scout for new talent from the DC tech community.

One example is Uber, a perennial attendee of these kinds of event, this year their DC office was on hand to promote their newest service extension, UberEats. A meal delivery service available right from within the app that promises 10 min delivery times in select areas of the city. The two most impressive ones I saw:

1. On-demand valet parking service ZIRX. Parking in congested city centers has never been easy, cheap, nor convenient, and our limited range on two feet effectively limits the options available for finding large parking spaces in dense cities. But with location-based valets ready to step in on-demand, everything changes. Cheap garages outside the city center are now suddenly viable. Pickup/Drop-off is greatly helped by scale. Competitor Luxe has been getting a lot of the attention in this space, but ZIRX is actually leading when it comes to raising capital and finding customers.


2. Local startup (is it still a startup once it turns 10..?) Optoro has so far raised $100+ MM for building an online marketplace for distressed retail inventory. Any kind of retail. Catering to everyone from individuals to discount retailers, Optoro has found treasure in the retail world’s “trash”.


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