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University of Maryland Offers $250K Fund for Socially Conscious Companies

October 03, 2007

Socially-responsible entrepreneurs at the University of Maryland now have a new financial resource available to help them get new businesses off the ground. The university's Impact Pre-Seed Fund program will offer grants to students with business plans that could offer potential benefits to global society. Students participating in the university's Hinman CEOs program and the Hillman Entrepreneurs program will be eligible for two kinds of grants: Seed Fund grants of $2,000 to $5,000 will be awarded to students with complete, well researched business plans, and Opportunity Assessment grants of $500 to $1,000 will be available to fund promising ideas that require additional research. Each grantee will be assigned a mentor to help guide the new business and to monitor the use of the award.

Warren Citrin, co-founder of the Solypsis Corporation (now Raytheon Solypsis), donated $250,000 to launch the fund. Citrin hopes it will provide students with the financial support they need to exert a positive influence on the world around them. "The weakest link for student entrepreneurs has always been the funding," says Citrin in a press release announcing the new program. Citrin's gift is part of a seven-year, $1 billion campaign at the University of Maryland to raise private funds to support student programs, university facilities and academics, and innovative research.

The fund will be administered by the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (MTECH), which oversees the university's entrepreneurial education programs and its partnerships with the private sector to create new businesses and bolster the state economy. MTECH is seeking applicants with ideas to address the environment, education, healthcare and other markets and communities that have been underserved by the private sector and the entrepreneurial community. Any plan, however, that promises a positive impact may apply.

The University of Maryland is the latest of several universities to offer business plan awards to social entrepreneurs. Since 2005, the University of Washington's Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition has offered financial awards to university students around the world with feasible and sustainable business plans to improve quality of life in Third World countries.  This year, the first and second place winners will receive at least $7,500 to implement their plan. The University of Florida's Howard J. Leonhardt Business Plan Competition added a new category this year for social ventures that aim to produce positive and sustainable societal change.