By David DeWeaver
For The Diamondback
Will big business destroy the world? Jacques Marais doesn’t think so.
Business “is the only thing that’s gonna save it,” according to Marais, a junior architecture major and director of operations for Startup Shell, an on-campus business incubator.
By Startup Shell’s count, the student-run nonprofit has helped more than 300 students start businesses since 2012. Last week, it held an open house to find a few more.
[Read more: 3D imaging entrepreneur visits UMD to talk making it big in business]
Most of the program is “designers and people who have business savvy,” Marais said, but Startup Shell is open to anyone with an “entrepreneurial spirit.”
“We need more members because we want to have an impact,” he said. “The more people have access to the resources we give away, the more people benefit from our mission: to help young entrepreneurs build their ventures.”
Housed in the Technology Advancement Program Building on North Campus, Startup Shell and its “shellers” — as they call themselves — freely admit that not many students know they exist.
But the organization’s directors said the nonprofit is a very serious place that has spawned several successful businesses, including Gladius, a cybersecurity company, and Imaginex, which creates elaborate light shows for artists such as G-Eazy and Pretty Lights.
[Read more: UMD will create startup hubs with resources for student entrepreneurs]
In total, the ventures to come out of Startup Shell have created an estimated $40 million in value. The group has received large donations from Uber and Brendan Iribe, the former student at this university and co-founder of Oculus VR.
Attendees at the open house bounced ideas off each other while eating Oreos and lounging on bean bags. Marais, for example, has combined his love of sustainability and design to produce “plantiles,” moss-covered tiles he hopes to sell as interior decorations.
Marais said greenery makes people happier and more creative, and that his creations could help counteract the harmful psychological effects of cubicle work.
“Plants have a positive impact on our psychology,” he said. “It’s good to bring some of that environment that we are used to into this environment that we’re not.”
Victor Ogelle, the co-director of events at Startup Shell, said he had plans to bring technology to the “underserved populace” of Nigeria, where he grew up.
Ogelle, who is also a recent transfer student from Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon, pointed to unemployment in Nigeria as an issue he’d like to address. He proposed creating a platform where skilled workers could offer their services to potential customers.
“You have a bunch of people who graduated from university, but there are not enough job opportunities,” he said. “My goal is to create a freelance service community there using some kind of venture partner.”
Ogelle said students aren’t required to have a concrete business idea to join the incubator, and that students with any number of skills could join as “fellows” instead. He said he hoped to expand the Shell community in the months to come. The group is accepting applications until Feb. 28.
“I want Startup Shell to become more prominent on campus,” he said. “I want to do a lot more outreach this semester.”
Jacob Cohen, a sophomore information science major, stopped by the open house. Cohen — who works for Ground Up Ventures, a New York-based venture capital firm interested in funding new entrepreneurs’ ideas — said he was eager to hear what different shellers had to say, and saw great potential in the student community.
“These people, they’re students and they’re starting companies at the same time,” Cohen said. “That’s really incredible to see.”