Timothy Chi got the idea for WeddingWire after planning his own wedding. As a groom, he experienced firsthand how difficult it was to execute on the wedding plans, and as a technologist, he couldn’t find an online resource that would help him plan more efficiently. So, he set out to create a more effective solution. Twelve years later, that small startup—launched in his Chevy Chase living room—is now the world’s largest vertical marketplace serving the wedding industry, connecting millions of engaged couples to wedding professionals. WeddingWire has over 900 employees and currently operates leading wedding planning properties in 15 countries.
For Kelly Leonard, it was a change in professional focus that led her down the path of entrepreneurship. Trained as a CPA, but passionate about connecting people in her community, she saw an opportunity to build a company that could better equip professionals with training, business development and IT solutions, while helping them drive profitability. She also saw an opportunity to create a professional lifestyle that allowed her to be more available for her children as they grew.
And for Tien Wong, it was the lure of designing and building big ideas that gave him the entrepreneurial bug early on in his career. From his time at Dartmouth University, through the launch and sale of his first company in 1991, and now the management of several training, IT professional services, and advisory companies, Tien Wong has become one of the region’s greatest champions for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. He serves as entrepreneur-in-residence at Georgetown University and his popular ConnectPreneur platform serves a community of 6000+ Mid Atlantic leaders, CEOs, Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and angels.
Tim, Kelly, and Tien were just three of the remarkable entrepreneurs who shared their start up stories with a room of more than 200 students and entrepreneurs, as part of the University of Shady Grove’s (USG) Beyond the Degree conversation series. We were equally honored to host Steve Hull, founder and publisher of Bethesda Magazine, Peter Ettinger, Senior Advisor, Aldebaran Partners, Inc., and Shahab Kaviani, Social Entrepreneur; and Co-Founder of Breezio; and Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Startup Maryland.
Together, they discussed the importance of strong teams; of understanding your strength and weaknesses and then building a team to help you fill in those gaps. They discussed the importance of research and intentionality; not jumping at the next big idea, but building something that is sustainable. They stressed the importance of math, marketing, and economics classes—and leveraging opportunities available during your education to expand your experiences, from internships to studying abroad. Most speakers talked about wanting to be their own bosses, the freedom that comes with it, and their willingness to try, fail, and try again until they became successful.
It was a powerful moment to be connected to USG, and to witness the desire for information among our student body and this extended community, and for good reason.
Maryland is one of the most ‘small business-friendly’ states in the U.S., ranking second in the percentage of women-owned firms, and third in the percentage of African American owned-firms. It also ranks fourth overall in the Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship, which is based on the rate of startup growth and the density of high growth scale-up companies. Maryland is home to more than 30 startup incubator programs, many of them right here in Montgomery County.
This is an environment built for entrepreneurship, and we feel that every day on the campus of USG. As the partner campus of 9 Maryland public universities—we’ve been powering many of the entry and mid-level jobs in this region since 2000. Of the 10,000+ students who have graduated from programs offered at USG, nearly 9,000 have remained in the region and remain active participants in the workforce.
I’m particularly proud that at USG we have current students who embody this entrepreneurial spirit. Students such as Audrey Awesome, a senior in the Robert H. Smith School of Business, who launched Noble Uprising, a nonprofit geared at helping women rise out of poverty, or University of Baltimore alumnus, Brian Doyle, who built and launched his company, Let Me Think!, LLC, during his time on campus. I invite you to learn more about Brian through our Power of 9 campaign.
One way in which USG will continue to support these on-campus entrepreneurs is through our new Biomedical Sciences and Engineering (BSE) Education Facility, which is slated to open on 2019. This new building will play a central role in our continued building of an entrepreneurial eco system here at USG, and in Montgomery County. It will feature maker space with state-of-the-art resources to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, flexible workspace for inter-disciplinary student projects, and a unique meeting space for students, faculty, and business to work together on projects.
At USG, we realize the immense opportunity we have for our students and for our region to grow entrepreneurial programs, while increasing access, awareness, and opportunities for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-to-be in our region. But, just as the entrepreneurs in last week’s program experienced, we too realize that we cannot build it alone.
This is a special time to be involved with the future of USG, and I personally invite the business community and our students to engage with us.
- For business owners and entrepreneurs in the region interested in further building this ecosystem with us, we suggest that you consider visiting USG to engage with our students, explore how they can help solve problems faced by your organization or hire one or more of these talented and career-ready students. You can work with the USG Career and Internships Services Center to build a custom classroom-to-career pipeline to power your future workforce, or join our Entrepreneurship Advisory Group, which will support USG on building its framework to help increase access, awareness, and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the region.
- And for students enrolled in a program at USG or planning to take classes here in the future, we suggest you engage with the USG Career and Internship Services Center, where you can find out about internship and job opportunities in your field. We also invite you to join our Entrepreneurship Advisory Group to play a part in building the future of the region.
As Peter Drucker once said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” As we continue building an entrepreneurial ecosystem for our region, including USG’s own entrepreneurship initiatives, we invite you to get involved. Bring your ideas, your passion, and your talents to bear. For together, I know we’ll do great things.
For more information, or to get involved in USG’s entrepreneurship activities, please email John Zuknick at firstname.lastname@example.org.