The Download: The University of Maryland’s Cupid’s Cup competition goes national

The University of Maryland’s business school took its annual Cupid’s Cup competition to a national level this year, expanding the applicant pool to include student entrepreneurs from colleges around the country.

That’s a first for the eight-year-old contest, and part of a concerted effort to build the university’s reputation as a hub for entre­pre­neur­ship beyond just the Washington region, said Elana Fine, managing director of the university’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.

Cupid’s Cup 2013 attracted 55 applications from entrepreneurs at 25 universities in 16 states, Fine said. The businesses ranged from luxury lingerie to eco-tourism to glaucoma surgery.

Six finalists competed Friday.

The top prize went to Earth Starter, a home gardening company founded by University of Maryland alumni Phil Weiner and John-Randal Gorby. The firm provides novice gardeners with seeds and a mat that shows where to plant them.

The second-place prize went to CoverPlay, a company out of the University of Virginia that makes a thin, wireless speaker. Diagnostic Ansers, the creators of a chemical test to authenticate food and drugs, also from the University of Maryland, took home third.

The remaining finalists included Hole Patch, a pothole repair company from Case Western Reserve University; Neural Analytics, a brain trauma detection company from the University of California, Los Angeles; and Moolaguides.com, an online marketplace for class notes from Florida State University.

Also bigger this year was the pot of winnings. The competition doled out $70,000 in prizes, including $50,000 to first place, a considerable hike from the $20,000 in total that judges handed out last year.

Under Armour founder and Maryland alumnus Kevin Plank increased his financial contribution to the event, which is named for a Valentine’s Day flower delivery business he started while an undergraduate.

Plank will also introduce the winner to his network of business contacts.

Plank told the crowd that the idea for Under Armour, now 17 years old, was hatched while at the university, and that students today, with the right drive, can find similar success.

“It’s more than just an idea,” Plank said. “It’s the ability to believe that you can actually make a difference.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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