TU-backed accelerator starts up new legacy in new home

By Arthur Smith on October 14, 2021

Founders of seven startups pitched their ventures at the StarTUp Accelerator Showcase on Oct. 8

Presenter speak to audience viewed from above

Four months ago, seven startups were accepted into Towson University’s StarTUp Accelerator. Their founders pitched their ventures to an eager audience at the StarTUp Accelerator Showcase on Oct. 8. 

The accelerator launched in early 2020 and was held virtually due to the pandemic. The 2021 cohort began in person and, in July 2021, took up residency in the recently opened StarTUp at the Armory.

As part of its strategic plan, Towson University has prioritized entrepreneurship as the university develops and sustains innovative programs for internal and external parties that increase student participation from all colleges.

“This cohort includes ventures ranging from a 501c3 social venture to for-profit tech platforms,” says Patrick McQuown, executive director of entrepreneurship. “Two ventures are woman-owned, five are minority-owned and TU students and alumni lead four.”

The accelerator helps startups gain or strengthen traction with a $10,000 equity-free stipend during the eight-week, cohort-based fellowship.

“All of these ventures pitching tonight are incorporated, and all of them have traction,” McQuown said during the event. 

For Brendon Mellinger ’21 and Michael Wyman ’21, founders of RENNDVOUS, an online vehicle sales marketplace and social site for modified and collector vehicles, traction has included gaining more than 52,000 followers on social media.

Wyman said RENNDVOUS has almost 2,000 registered users and nearly 1,700 unique uploads. “We’ve pretty much doubled our users and close to that in revenue too. We have a lot to thank the accelerator for.” 

Their app taps into the automotive enthusiast industry through an interface where users tap a decal on a modified vehicle to see what might be under the hood, including audio, turbo, suspension and fuel systems; interior upgrades; and engine swaps. 

All StarTUp fellows also gained mentorship, founder-centric programming and introductions to successful ventures who are alumni of the same type of program.

Flave, a mobile app that incentivizes foodies to eat local instead of at chain restaurants, was a member of the 2020 cohort. Founders Jal Irani ’15 and Derek Battle returned as mentors this year.

By the time the fellows reach their final pitch at the StarTUp Accelerator Showcase, the companies often look and feel different.

Patrick Dempsey and co-founder Veena Radhakrishnan started inso, an online discussion platform that creates student-driven discussions with accessible insights, nearly four years ago. Over the course of the fellowship, they renamed their venture and changed their logo.

“We’ve already applied so much of what we learned,” says Dempsey. “Our core product is the same, but everything else we’ve done to acquire customers and grow our business has changed and been shaped by what we’ve done in the accelerator.”

Delaney Fox, founder of Minutes 4 Moms, echoed that sentiment. She wanted to learn how to better structure her custom care services company and build teams.

“It can be really challenging being a solo founder, especially for someone who didn’t have a business or tech background,” says Fox. 

In 2017, she had 49 providers working for her. That number grew to 216 in 2020. Fox is booking $50,000 a month and has left her job as an elementary school educator to launch other at-home support services, including child care, companion care, home services and tutoring.

“I have more confidence thanks to everything I’ve learned from Patrick [McQuown] and the rest of the fellows, who always made themselves available to talk even at odd hours,” says Fox.

Applications for the next StarTUp Accelerator will open in January 2022 and accepted ventures will take up residency at the StarTUp at the Armory for eight weeks next summer.

The 2021 StarTUp Accelerator included: 

  • Minutes 4 Moms, Delaney Fox
  • Plugged Technologies Inc., Victor Ehienulo and Madiagne Sarr
  • Good Choice Productions, Terrel K. Hunt, Wayne Morgan and Jeremiah Kobena
  • inso, Veena Radhakrishnan and Patrick Dempsey
  • RENNDVOUS, Brendon Mellinger ’21, Michael Wyman’21, Jack Bauerle and Josh Bloom
  • CAMSKNS, Colin Dougherty ’17
  • Flave, Jal Irani ’15 and Derek Battle 

View the full stream of the 2021 StarTUp Accelerator Showcase.