Shining a light on student startups

April 13, 2021

At business model competition, student entrepreneurs share business ideas

Each term, the Towson University Student Launch Pad, the College of Business & Economics (CBE) and the Division of Strategic Partnership and Applied Research host the Business Model Competition.

There, students pitch their startup business plans to three successful entrepreneurs and receive feedback, with a chance to win a cash prize. From more than 100 submissions in 2021, 10 finalists were chosen to pitch during the event on April 6.

Jan Baum, CBE professor and one of the faculty members advising the Student Launch Pad, hosted the event, which she calls one of her favorite nights of the term.

“I never get tired of it,” Baum says. “Because it's students from across the board. It's students that are minoring in entrepreneurship, students majoring in entrepreneurship and students that have nothing to do with entrepreneurship. These competitions are a level playing field. Because if you understand how to pitch and you understand how to build a business model, then anyone can succeed at this.”

With events like the Business Model Competition, it’s easy to see how entrepreneurship is now a campus-wide priority at TU.

As an anchor institution, TU leverages relationships to bring people together and spark innovation and entrepreneurship. This summer, TU will open a new space in the former Maryland National Guard Armory building in downtown Towson. The StarTUp at the Armory will serve as TU’s front door for start-ups, small businesses, as well as our region’s largest corporations. This public-facing vibrant space will catalyze entrepreneurs and executives and connect them to each other and to TU’s programs and people.

As a business administration major with a focus on marketing and entrepreneurship, Adrianne Holocker ‘21 had to submit a startup business idea to the Business Model Competition as part of her capstone course. 

She never expected to be a finalist but wanted feedback on her two finalist pitches.

The first was based on her current career as an event planner for the Maryland Association of Realtors. The business, Eventualize, would serve as a one-stop shop where those planning weddings can meet with and easily compare and contact a variety of vendors.

The second was based on Holocker’s love of nonprofits. Called We Care Period, the start-up focuses on period poverty and would provide menstrual hygiene tools and education to women who are experiencing homelessness.

Not only were both business ideas chosen as finalists, Eventualize won the grand prize. It came as a surprise to Holocker because she was on vacation with her family in Florida and was worried her internet would go out before finishing her presentation.

Holocker and her family headed to Universal Studios after presenting. She continued to watch on the phone and was announced as the winner right as she was entering the park.

“I didn’t get second, I didn’t get third, there was no way I got first so let’s keep going through the line,” Holocker laughs. “Then they said Eventualize won, and I just looked at my family and told them I won. So, I’m listening on my phone, and I had to send it through the X-ray scanner, and I grabbed it as soon as it went through.

“Winning was just a validation of the work that I had done, especially for an idea that is part of the industry I work in. It’s really encouraging.”

Judges for the event included TU alum Aaron Copeland, founder of Alignstaffing; Valencia McClure, founder of The Artistry of Essential Oils; and Tim Wilson, who is part of the investment team at TedCo.

Presentations ranged from high-fashion swimwear, a job website for those on the autism spectrum, grocery delivery for the elderly, fighting human trafficking and more.

With so many applications and the number of different ideas, Baum is excited for the future.

“The entrepreneurship spirit here at TU is growing,” she says. “The programs we set up are tapping into something the current population already wants. Events like this signal to me we’re in the right place, and we need to keep the doors wide open and keep people flowing through.”

During the judges’ deliberations, Baum hosted a fireside chat with entrepreneurship students who have started building their businesses. This included Zephinia Hill ‘21 and alumna Abby MacQueen ’19.

The two shared their experiences in the program, how they grew their startups and how TU was instrumental in building their businesses. MacQueen told how Baum met with her in MacQueen’s New Jersey hometown to push her to become a limited liability company (LLC) in the state. 

Holocker cited extraordinary faculty support and mentorship in her experience, too. After her presentation, associate professor David Brannon emailed her to let her know how proud he was of her.

“The education we’ve been provided has set us up as students and future entrepreneurs,” Holocker says. “There is just the comfort of knowing that the entrepreneurship department is there to support you through everything. I don't think any of us would be as successful as entrepreneurs if it weren't for the faculty."