Early June, we found out that University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship will welcome its largest cohort of students to Summer Founders 2020 virtually. This group of students was composed of twenty-two startup teams totaling 34 students in the 12-week virtual pre-accelerator. During these virtual summer weeks, our founders have been receiving mentorship, education, and resources to develop and advance their concepts. Since going virtual, the groups have seen their fair share of ups and downs. The biggest include how to advance their concepts and build relationships with their teams all through a computer screen.
Vince DiFelice, senior instructor of entrepreneurship and faculty director of venture support, leads the program.
“The purpose of Summer Founders is to offer our most meritorious students the best possible opportunity for advanced experiential learning, continued co-curricular enrichment and external engagement," he said.
As our Summer Founders continue to work through the summer and prepare for Demo Day on August 25, we took a look inside their lives during the development process.
Maya Nazareth first started her business about a year and a half ago making and selling women's MMA gear because she could not find women's gear she wanted to wear.
“There was a huge hole in the market,” she said.
Realizing this large hole in the market for women’s MMA gear, her entrepreneurial spirit took over. Maya started exploring an online education angle where she could offer courses in female leadership, human optimization and trauma recovery.
“I have since returned to the gear model but with a twist. I am building a vibrant community around the aforementioned topics: female empowerment and owning your inner ferocity,” she said.
Favorite quote by a mentor: “You're the entrepreneur, you figure it out!”
Entrepreneur Blake Armentano created Oh-So Cycle which is an indoor cycling studio located in Newark, DE. Throughout this process, Blake has experienced his own set of challenges other than working completely virtually for summer founders.
“I pivoted multiple times throughout the development process! I opened Oh-So Cycle after 14 months of hard work on March 1  and had to temporarily close due to COVID on March 14, just 14 days later. Rather than giving up, I decided to pivot,” he said.
Being the entrepreneur he is, Blake decided to use this time closed to expand his horizons and try out something new for his company.
“I decided to offer Oh-So Cycle's services to a wider range of people through the use of at-home bike rentals, and access to Oh-So Cycle's classes in a virtual manner by filming spin classes in the studio. This opened up my business to a wider opportunity to scale. I am now going through another pivot, changing Oh-So Cycle from just a Spin Class to a full fitness and wellness experience for both in-studio and virtual members,” he said.
Best feedback received from a mentor: “The importance of simply never giving up. Continuing to fight for what you believe in and continuing to work hard each and every day passionately is so incredibly powerful.”
Female Food Foundry delivers a curated selection of snack foods backed by female entrepreneurs along with inspiration cards that contain stories and words of wisdom from these incredible girl bosses. Lily Wolfe and her partner Izzy Weinfield have been extremely passionate about their startup and have found a recent pivotal moment throughout the advancements.
“Our recent pivot is focusing on building a community of early stage female founders in food by providing a safe space to be vulnerable about the struggles these females face. We do this by bringing in experts and resources to address their needs and help them succeed. This pivot came after noticing existing subscription boxes have not proven to be helpful to female founders and the real issue is with resources and investment,” she said.
Advice for students considering the Summer Founders program: “Take advantage of all the resources provided during the program and don't be afraid to ask for help from staff and cohort team members.”
Imperium founders Susan Varhese and Lauren Burkett, needed to do an extensive amount of research in order to ensure that Imperium is successful.
“We have identified a problem that people with heart conditions are given little to no guidance post intervention beyond vague recommendations such as "eat better and exercise,” she said.
After discovering this issue, Susan and Lauren found a need to create a startup to help. They decided to specifically market towards caregivers who do not want to send the average bouquet of flowers or basket of fruit for their loved ones. Lauren and Susan want to provide an option for gift senders who are looking to have their receivers benefit mentally and physically. An example of their work that directly helps patients with heart conditions includes their most validated solution, The Customized Cardiac Care Package. This package includes physical and mental health items to assist patients on their journeys to better health.
One word to describe their feelings throughout the process: "Transformative"
Nuvensus founders, Mason Faust, Markos Zerefos, and Henry duPont, are “aiming to create a two-sided real estate platform where investors are able to receive performance metrics for their portfolio from us using data analysis and AI, as well as offering tailored leads to commercial brokers when selling a property.”
Before coming to the conclusion of creating a two-sided platform, the founders began thinking of a different angle.
“We first aimed to target local real estate investors and agents but realized a real demand when looking in out-of-state markets. We then sparked the interest of brokers to combine with our current business model to form a unique dual-sided market intelligence platform,” the founders stated.
Best feedback received from a mentor: “Focus on what the market growth looks like, how you can add unique value to that sector, and how to monetize your business model with scale.”
Founders of Sustain Surf, Kiel McMenaman and Tate Nelson are aiming to fix the problem of surfboards being made out of the toxic material polystyrene which takes up to 500 years to break down in landfills.
Kiel and Tate are extremely passionate about their startup and are excited to see the major impact it's going to have on the earth. The one struggle they found was committing to this one idea for so long when they have many entrepreneurial ideas to help the waste and pollution issue occurring around the world.
“Some days you’re super excited to get stuff done and make steps forward. Other days you’re completely lost and questioning whether or not to continue or scrap everything. However, the cohort was really helpful in steering the ship on the right path,” Tate said.
Working as a cohort has been a big help when it comes to Sustain Surf being able to move forward.
“Whenever we struggle or get stuck, the cohort is always there to offer support and get us amped. One thing about this particular cohort is they’re super energetic. As a naturally laid back personality, this energy can help push me to the next level on days that we’re feeling slow,” the team said.
Best advice from a mentor: “One of the most helpful pieces of feedback we’ve received came from an advisor meeting where they brought up the notion of building a community. Ever since then we’ve gained over 1,000 followers on our new Instagram, and are looking to post a podcast in the coming week. This community has helped us greatly in finding interviews and working towards a solution.”
Backyard Gig is founded by Shaun Gupta and Shahroze Ali. Their startup’s main idea is to solve two problems. The first is that college students are in need of money, but either cannot afford a part-time job with their school schedule or struggle to maintain their fixed job schedule with school. The second is that many Newark residents or small businesses need tasks done, but are unable to get them completed due to a lack of time, expertise, money, or even ability.
“Our solution is a two-sided platform where Newark residents or small businesses can post tasks they need completed and a UD student can go on the site, complete the task, and earn an agreed-upon wage from the resident or business owner,” Shaun said.
In addition to providing a solution to these two problems, the startup also is working to allow nonprofits to post volunteer opportunities for students who want to fulfill a requirement or help the community.
A hope for their start up: “Our aim is to bridge the gap between UD and the Newark community in a way that has never been done before and ideally we hope to carry this sentiment and goal to all colleges and college towns around the country.”
Candy should be for everyone regardless of dietary restrictions but also do good for the person and the planet,” Founder Anthony Denney said.
Denney’s Delight’s is working towards creating a candy that contains vegan ingredients and nutrients to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Anthony Denney also feels it is important for the candy to be packaged in a sustainable material to move away from traditional plastic.
Anthony didn’t find many challenges along the way of creating his startup, but did have difficulty in finding people to open up to him and talk about their problems.
“Once I got traction with that, the challenge became organization and keeping up with the people to interview but also the program as well,” Anthony said.
One word to describe his feelings throughout the process: “Motivated!”
Flourina is working to redesign bras that are comfortable for all day wear yet supportive and great for wearing under work clothes. Co-founder Brianna Bannach is very passionate about the startup and is thrilled to be a part of this fully female founded startup.
Flourina has pivoted multiple times throughout the process, but always having female comfort and satisfaction as their highest priority.
“Last summer, our co-founder Amanda was in Summer Founders and was aiming to fix problems with breast cancer bras, then transitioned to asymmetry,” Brianna said.
After starting at fixing problems with mastectomy bras, then transitioning to asymmetry, the team still didn’t feel this was their final destination with their startup.
“Once Brianna joined, we pivoted to a ‘bras in a box’ concept where we would help all women to find bras that fit their bodies by mailing them bras based on a quiz they took. As Brianna entered Summer Founders this year, we thought we would focus on larger cup/smaller band and larger band/smaller cup women because they had the hardest time finding bras,” the team said.
After deciding on this pivot to “bras in a box” the team is also expanding in a different direction by looking into designing a sports bra-like bra that provides the comfort of a sports bra with the fit and lift of a regular bra.
Advice for students considering the Summer Founders program: “Don't go in alone, a team to support you is critical. Also, take advantage of every opportunity presented, it can feel overwhelming at first, but then as soon as you know it, the summer is halfway gone!”
Attend the Virtual Event
See their struggles, solutions, and passion come to life on August 25, beginning at 1:00 p.m. and ending about 4:00 p.m. Registration is open through Eventbrite.
About Horn Entrepreneurship
Horn Entrepreneurship serves as the creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement at the University of Delaware. Currently ranked among the best entrepreneurship programs in the US, Horn Entrepreneurship was built and is actively supported by successful entrepreneurs, empowering aspiring innovators as they pursue new ideas for a better world.