When junior computer science major Sam Drozdov approached Brendan Iribe — co-founder of virtual reality company Oculus VR — during the on-campus coding marathon Bitcamp in April, he wanted to build a relationship between the entrepreneur and the student-run organization Startup Shell.
Drozdov didn’t expect Iribe to donate $50,000 to the group later that month.
“It honestly did not feel real,” Drozdov, director of events for Startup Shell, said. “I’ve never dealt with that much money before and it didn’t really hit me until [we] had a phone call with Brendan’s accountant.”
Startup Shell is a nonprofit organization that provides a network for student-run startup companies to expand. It relies solely on donations for all expenses, including operational costs, grants and funds for events, Drozdov said. Iribe’s donation is the largest gift the group has received since its creation in 2013, surpassing the previous high of $25,000 from Uber, he added.
In addition to the donation, Iribe also pledged to participate in a one-to-one matching program. If someone donates money, Iribe pledged to make the same donation until he spends $10,000 or until the end of 2018. Any donation made to Startup Shell in 2017 or 2018 is eligible to be part of Iribe’s matching program, according to a Startup Shell news release.
Jericho Asis, a freshman public health science major, said he has a few friends who are involved with Startup Shell and supports the donation.
“Being part of this big campus, you don’t get to have your ideas be heard as much, so giving these students who have such great ideas an opportunity to follow through with them is really unique,” Asis said.
This is not the first time Iribe, a former University of Maryland student who dropped out his freshman year, has donated to this university. Iribe donated $31 million in 2014 for the creation of a new building, named the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation, which is currently under construction. The $142 million center is expected to open in 2018 and will house virtual and augmented reality labs.
Startup Shell already received $25,000 from Iribe and will receive the other $25,000 one year from now, according to a press release. The money will support Startup Shell’s general operating expenses, capital improvements and venture grants. Nicholas Bentley, director of resources at Startup Shell, said the group has around $8,000 to $10,000 of operating expenses per semester.
The organization also has a grant program for covering the costs for a startup to become a company. Part of Iribe’s donation will provide a $200 grant to both Flee — a location-based social app — and Symbiont Health, an app and wearable device that helps detect when an individual falls down. Symbiont Health placed second in the venture category at the annual Do Good Challenge on April 26.
Additionally, Startup Shell is re-opening a startup grant application. Student companies that apply to this grant can receive up to $500 in funding, Bentley said. The junior criminology and criminal justice major added that part of Iribe’s donation will partially fund Startup Shell’s “pipeline effort,” which connects entrepreneurial resources on the campus, such as the business school’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, to students.
Drozdov said he doesn’t think Iribe will just donate the money and disappear.
“Over the next two or three years, we will make a difference with this donation, and I see Brendan continuing to be involved,” Drozdov said. “We will definitely be updating him with the things we have going on.”
Students can see Startup Shell in action on May 9, during the Startup Shell Spring Expo, where part of the organization will showcase its creations.