At 2 a.m. on a Saturday, it seems as if all the students at the University of Maryland are either asleep or out partying. Bass thumps from music in the distance and most dorm windows are dark and lifeless. Upon closer inspection of a glowing window – a first-floor computer lab on South Campus – one can see there is another way to spend the wee hours of the weekend: fine-tuning a business plan.
In other dorms, students might be looked down upon for staying in and working on their business ideas on a Friday or Saturday, sitting grouped around a computer and surrounded by textbooks. Here, not only do these 89 culturally diverse students understand the drive to succeed in business, they encourage it, said Karen Thornton, program director of Hinman CEOs.
"These students have a strategic sense of who they are and where they’re going," Thornton said. "That’s what differentiates them from the rest of the students on the campus."
The Hinman Campus Entrepreneurship Opportunities Program is a three-year-old living-learning venture at Maryland’s College Park campus, jointly sponsored by the engineering and business schools. Students live and work side by side in a state-of-the-art dorm inside what can best be described as a business incubator.
The program’s home feels more like the office of a Fortune 500 corporation than a traditional residence hall; there are no tile floors, concrete block walls or raucous students in sight. Instead, the lobby greets visitors with a conference room, a professional office and a computer lab, with a seminar room just down the hall and wireless Internet connectivity throughout the building.
"Because it’s a business environment, it should have a corporate look," Thornton said.
And a corporate look it has.
The conference room – marked by the rich scent of fine leather – features a glass-topped cherry-wood conference table, high-back leather chairs, a whiteboard and telecommunications capabilities. The room is available to every student in the program via a sign-up list for meetings and presentations.
Much of the technology availed to Hinman CEOs has been donated by Avaya Inc., including cell phone technology that links students’ cell phones and dorm phones so they never miss a call.
Executive Assistant Cindy Gilbert mans the program office and provides any services a business receptionist would, Thornton said.
"Our building is really a dorm for dreamers," said finance major and Hinman CEO Kamana Sharma. "Every apartment has an open-door policy because we all foster the spirit of entrepreneurship and that unites us all.
"If you have a business idea, you can go down the hall and find a computer science major to write up a program, go next door to find a marketing major and then run upstairs for an engineer to develop your prototype – all within a day," Sharma said. "An idea is just an idea sparked in one individual but is ignited and actualized as a group."
Roommates and Business Partners
Students experience the program in a broad spectrum of ways. While some students are already running their own successful businesses and have been for years, others – especially computer science and engineering majors -use the program as a business learning tool while honing their technical skills in the classroom.
Students often form business teams upon entering the program through announcements and e-mails.
"When selecting members for my team, I knew I was picking from the cream of the crop of the school," said junior mechanical engineering major Eric Jones. Jones’ team, Cyprus Precision, is working on interfacing global positioning systems with athletic equipment to quantify motion and help athletes shave seconds off finishing times for sports like rowing and skiing.
To solicit team members, Jones hung a flier and made an announcement at a weekly Hinman CEOs seminar. Ten individuals expressed interest and he selected four, including both technical and non-technical majors.
"Being around [fellow Hinman CEOs] fosters a lot of new ideas," he said. "In a regular dorm, it’s not only much less luxurious, but harder to relate to others and discuss ideas."
Applicants to the program face a rigorous selection process. The acceptance ratio is 3:1, and the number of applicants increases every year, Thornton said. Acceptance criteria include a 3.0 GPA, a personal essay and an application.
Current students’ majors vary and include business, engineering, psychology, computer science, math, architecture and English. There are many double majors and one triple major. Character, integrity and drive are key traits Hinman CEOs possess, Thornton said.
"Students join because they know they want to do something different and want to grow themselves and their businesses," she said. "They don’t know the word ‘no.’ When they see a challenge, they just see a new opportunity."
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