Fearless Innovators Find Success for their Startups at UMD

By Maris Medina
For Unwind magazine

When Nathalyn Nunoo walks past the balcony staircase at Stamp Student Union, she blends in like any other University of Maryland student. Donning a sweatshirt and with Chick-fil-A take-out box in hand, you would never guess the junior neurology and physiology major is the CEO and co-founder of her own startup business.

“POSH is a platform and a service that helps simplify the process of working with beauty professionals,” Nunoo explained.

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Simply put, her company is the bridge between clients looking for reliable, skilled makeup services and various beauticians in the area. POSH alleviates the problem of trusting a stranger to make one look perfect on an important day, Nunoo said.

Serving upward of 1,600 clients in their trial month, Nunoo and her co-founders are on their way to making POSH a successful venture.

And they’re not the only ones doing so. Home to fearless innovators, this university boasts hundreds of entrepreneurs solving a variety of problems in inventive ways.

One student duo is tackling the classic registration dilemma: the lengthy waitlist of a required class.

When senior information systems major Aaron Bloch and junior computer science and finance major Ben Khakshoor were unable to get into their introductory computer science course, they set out to find a solution.

Khakshoor developed a software that notified him when a seat opened up, rather than him continuously refreshing the registrar. Two days later, they were successfully registered. Bloch and Khakshoor eventually realized the software could be useful for other students too.

“It turns out that the whole registration process is run very inefficiently, and we wanted to come up with ways of innovating that process,” Bloch said.

Thus, CourseHunter was born—a web application where students can register to receive notifications when there are open seats in certain classes.coursehunter-umd

Another team of students—junior marketing majors Damar Bess and Henry Blanco and Towson senior Rodrick Campbell—are aiming to revolutionize a different industry: fashion.

The three co-founders came up with Nonich, a high-end fashion brand that walks the border between Western European, Japanese and Americana fashion.

Bess, the lead designer, looks to “mixing our world with all of their worlds and making one cohesive aesthetic.”

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In contrast, freshman marketing and management student David Rosenstein is juggling his business all on his own. Rosenstein has been a professional entertainer since he was seven years old when he performed his first magic show at his friend’s birthday party for $32 withdrawn straight from her piggy bank.

Since then, he has performed hundreds of gigs from birthday parties and summer camps to corporate fundraising events–one including a cocktail fundraiser with Oz Pearlman, a professional mentalist, magician and third place finisher in season 10 of America’s Got Talent.

Other notable companies and organizations founded by Maryland alumni include Javazen and Survivor: Maryland.screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-7-49-21-pm

Javazen was the brainchild of Eric Golan, Aaron Wallach and Ryan Schueler when they were students at this university. Golan was a junior when he started blending teas, herbs and “just the healthiest things [he] could find” into his daily cup of coffee. Later, these balanced blends grew into Javazen, a healthy solution to the jitters and crashes Golman experienced with caffeine.

“We’ve developed a brand that’s the way to get something healthier with your cup of coffee you drink every morning,” Golman explained. Javazen went on to win this year’s Cupid’s Cup, an entrepreneurial competition founded by Maryland alum, Kevin Plank.

Survivor: Maryland, founded by alum Austin Trupp, is a competitive reality game show filmed on campus and based on the hit CBS show, Survivor. Trupp had been an avid fan of the show and decided to bring it to campus because the college vibe mirrored much of what the actual show already embodied.

“I thought college would be a really cool place to replicate the [Survivor] experience,” Trupp said. “At Maryland, we’re obviously not living on an island but everybody’s on the same campus isolated from the outside world.”

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Survivor: Maryland mirrors actual “Survivor” with physical and mental challenges, “Tribal Council” and a cast of competitive contestants.

As students, these entrepreneurs often encounter a reoccurring problem: getting the real world to take them seriously. Nunoo explains that the best way to act is authentically.

“You don’t have to try to be so uptight. That’s not what people are looking for,” Nunoo said. “The thing that sets a signal off that someone’s not ready to be in the real world, to other people, is when they think there’s a lot of pretense.”

For Rosenstein, the first impression is of utmost importance.

“I make it very clear that I’m confident in what I do. I’m so comfortable now with talking to new clients that when I establish emails, there’s no funny business,” Rosenstein explained. “I totally stick to my roots. I’m not begging on my knees for clients.”

The Nonich team stresses that professionalism and craftsmanship go a long way.
“Anyone becomes a professional as soon as you go out and show people that you’re professional,” Bess said.

With the right paperwork, legal work and final products, Bess explained that their partners “have no choice but to take us seriously…let the work show your professionalism.”

Although their innovative ventures have been rife with success, these entrepreneurs recall the many life lessons they’ve accumulated after countless hurdles. Nunoo’s cofounder William Kwau stresses the importance of not being a “stereotypical businessperson.”

“When you get into the real world, other people don’t care if you wear a suit,” he said. “All they care about is execution. Can you do what you say you’re going to do?”

Bess believes it’s crucial to jump at opportunity.

“If you have a good idea and you believe in yourself, really go out and try it. All you can do is try,” he said. “These buildings will be here forever, but opportunities can pass you by in a couple months.”

And when opportunities do arise, Trupp advises to tackle it wholeheartedly.

“You should start big and make it as big as it can be. I made sure [Survivor: Maryland] was as good as possible,” he said. “You have to go in not saying ‘I’m going to start small and build up.’ You have to go in with that big vision.”

At the end of the day, authenticity is the key to success, Nunoo said. “Being honest, being yourself, being true, that’ll help you grow because you’ll know where to improve [more quickly] and people will be able to help you.”

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