Chris Rehkamp Helps Student Entrepreneurs at UMD Through the Dingman Center

By Morgan Caplan
For Unwind magazine

Starting a business in the realm outside of college is a difficult task, and for the student entrepreneurs at the University of Maryland, creating a college start-up proves to parallel to real world experiences, according to Chris Rehkamp, Student Venture Programs Manager of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.

College businesses from the Dingman Center are emerging around UMD with a variety of niches from companies such as Javazen, which provides a healthy alternative in the coffee industry, to a business like Demer, which focuses on consumer image recognition. The creation of the Dingman Center has allowed students to compete in a friendly manner while discussing with other students the ideas they have.

Rehkamp, who works side-by-side with the students during their development phases, has compiled three steps that he passes to his students in their business ventures. Having this entrepreneurial experience on and off campus allowed Rehkamp to provide his students the real-world perspective, so that they are prepared when they move the campus company to a larger scene.

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Chris Rehkamp helps students create their businesses through the Dingman Center. Photo courtesy of the Dingman Center.

“It is a cool opportunity at UMD because they are in this ecosystem where they are supported by one another, there are a lot of good peers who are working together,” Rehkamp said. “The curriculum exposes them to the opportunity to test and learn from a process, to potentially succeed or to be an impactful figure in the broader ecosystem.”

The first necessity Rehkamp believes a student should have for a campus startup is passion. He finds in his students that the ones who have an eagerness to solve an issue and produce social change in some cases, follow through with their project and face the obstacles that accompany it. Without it, he says, it becomes difficult to go any further into the project.

Personal connections or experiences with an issue is another component Rehkamp believes students should utilize when developing their company. At the Dingman Center, teachers emphasize the importance of understanding your topic on a deeper level, which in many cases comes from these experiences or connections.

“Solve a problem you know,” Rehkamp said. “Don’t try to create the next big thing for the sake of creating the next big thing. Understand that it will be something that sustains you. It will make you excited and persevere when it gets difficult.”

Rehkamp advises student entrepreneurs at the Dingman center to create a team and build those relationships. This allows for more people to get involved and provide more feedback while also helping the leader execute efficiently when the team faces adversity. With networks and teams, comes difficulties Rehkamp said, but it also develops a student who is able to listen and work well with a team.

There are no specific guidelines that Rehkamp–or any entrepreneur–could provide since each company is different and need different attention. However, these three steps are universal to any situation, Rehkamp said. Trial and error, something Rehkamp is familiar with in his ventures, is an aspect each student could face to produce a successful and impactful business venture.  

“It’s not an easy task, we put in a lot of work as entrepreneurs,” Rehkamp said, “But you have to jump in now and not hesitate to make social change or innovation.”

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