Maryland Launch Fund

Maryland Launch Fund

Maryland Launch Fund: Funding for Ventures

Welcome to the University System of Maryland (USM) Launch Fund! We’re thrilled to support builders, creators, and innovators like you, connecting you with resources, mentorship, and capital.

If you are a student or employee at a USM institution without a venture yet, you can get in touch with your institution about the possibility of funding via a microgrant.

If you already have a venture, read on for guidance on how the Launch Fund can help with your next steps.

How it Works

Here’s a breakdown of how it all works. Keep in mind that USM Institutions form the backbone of the Maryland Launch Fund. Every application undergoes verification by the institution, ensuring a reliable process. Regardless of the funding outcome, these institutions are here to support you, helping you tap into valuable resources. We’re all excited to be part of your entrepreneurial journey. If you have any questions or need further assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out. Let’s build a brighter future together!

1. You Register and Apply: Get in the game by registering. We’ll provide you with a unique link to access the online application (you can preview the application below). Registered previously? Have your unique link re-sent to you by entering your email address here.

2. Review Committees Advise: Once you’ve submitted your application, our Review Committees, comprised of institutional representatives, external experts, entrepreneurs, and investors, delve into the details. They evaluate each venture individually, utilizing the evaluation criteria, and then convene for a discussion on a call. Their insights help identify ventures ready for funding and prioritize them based on the current availability of funds.

3. Executive Committee Decides: The Executive Committee, representing institutions and the USM Office, considers the Review Committees’ recommendations. With a keen focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, they make the final decision. You’ll receive the news—whether your venture is approved or not—along with valuable feedback. If your venture is approved, our Managing Director will assist in finalizing the terms.

Application Process & Questions Preview

Welcome to the application process! First, some important notes:

  • Confidentiality: Your ideas and plans are safe with us! Feel secure in sharing your information, knowing that the Launch Fund reviewers and our team are committed to confidentiality.
  • Application Format: We use Typeform for our applications. When you register, you will receive a unique application link. Registered previously? Have your unique link re-sent to you by entering your email address here. If this doesn’t suit you, no worries! Reach out to Lindsay Ryan (, 410-409-2236) to explore alternative options.
  • All Venture Stages Welcome: Every venture, regardless of its stage, is welcome. Reviewers are instructed to evaluate answers based on your venture’s specific development stage. Early-stage ventures won’t be directly compared to those further along in their journey.
  • What We Are REALLY Looking to Fund: Take a look at the criteria/rubric to understand what we are looking for.
  • What Is NOT Priority to Fund: The University System of Maryland, as a public entity, is not prioritizing support for ventures in certain industries as part of the Launch Fund (e.g., cannabis, sports betting, smoking, alcohol, and similar industries). If you think your venture may be in an industry that the Launch Fund would be hesitant to support, you are encouraged to get in touch for guidance before applying. Additionally, ventures with significant prior funding and/or revenue are not a focus of the Launch Fund. Ventures with more than $100k in annual revenue and/or $500k in previous funding, if applying, should provide a thoughtful explanation as to why Launch Fund capital is needed.
  • This is a Pilot: We’re growing the Fund, and we want awardees to share information about the impact of the funding. Your insights will help shape the future of the program.
  • Application Assistance: Need help preparing your application? Reach out! We have also compiled some helpful content from USM institutions to guide you:

Application Questions Preview

When you register, you will receive a unique application link. Registered previously? Have your unique link re-sent to you by entering your email address here.

Below is a preview so that you can prep before entering your info. If discrepancies, defer to the actual form. Answering these questions will give us a deeper understanding of your venture. Be specific but concise.

// Venture Basics

  1. Funding Ask: How much funding would you like? You can request up to $50k, but the more specific the better!
  2. Overall Funding Needs: Estimate the cost for your venture to reach an operational or next phase.
  3. Prototype/MVP: Do you have one? Yes or no will do here.
  4. Customers or Users (paying or not): Yes or no will do here. No judgment!
  5. Revenue: Any starter revenue? Great! Specify the total amount over the last two quarters (excluding grants or competition winnings). If you don’t have revenue yet, no worries – when do you anticipate it (in months)?
  6. Employees: How many paid employees? No worries if none yet.
  7. Support So Far: Detail the amount and type of funding (excluding revenue) you’ve accessed, along with any non-capital resources you’ve utilized. This helps us address access issues and acknowledge your effective use of existing resources.
  8. Resubmitters Only: Looking back at your previous 6-12 month goals, on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the best, how well were you able to execute on those goals? This answer is to inform the program only and will NOT be shared with reviewers or used in any funding decisions.

// Venture Specifics

  1. Venture Name
  2. One-Sentence Description
  3. Inspiration: Your ‘why’ – there is no wrong answer!
  4. Problem/Opportunity and Solution: What issue are you tackling or what opportunity are you creating, and how does your solution address it?
  5. Market Understanding: Who are/will be your customers? How many potential customers have you spoken to? Are larger market trends at play?
  6. Market Access: How do you/will you reach customers?
  7. Competitors: What direct and indirect competitors are you taking into account, and why are you/will you be competitive?
  8. Team: What relevant resources, assets, experiences, devotion, or education will you leverage to advance? Co-founders, team members, advisors? What’s their superpower?
  9. Finances: How do you/will you make money, and how much?
  10. Current Stage and Evolution: Where do things stand; what has been accomplished? Have things changed since you started? If you previously applied, this is a good place to mention any changes since then.
  11. Ask and Goals: What’s the plan for the next 12 months? How, specifically, will this funding be used? How might you obtain additional funding if needed?
  12. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: These are values of the fund, and we prioritize ventures that share those values. This looks different for every venture, but share how yours will or does advance those values.
  13. Long-Term Vision: Where’s the venture headed in 5 years? There is no wrong answer here.

// Wrap-Up

  1. Program Benefits: How can we help?
  2. Cohort Connection: Interested in connecting with other go-getters?
  3. Anything Else?: Got burning questions or something to share? Interested in a form of capital that is not a grant? This is a good place to mention it.
  4. Optional Uploads: Support or answer any questions above.
  5. Discovery: How did you find us, if this is your first application?
  6. Resubmitters Only – Quality of Feedback: On a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being most helpful, how helpful was the feedback from the review process from your last application? To refresh your memory, it was emailed to you from with a subject of “Feedback on Application ECPR[your application number] to the USM Launch Fund”.
  7. Final Check: Have you looked at the evaluation criteria/rubric? Ensure your answers put your best foot forward.

Your success is our goal. Any feedback? Shoot it over – we’re all ears: via this form, via email, or phone — Lindsay Ryan at and 410-409-2236.

Evaluation Criteria


  • 1 – Potential Impact on Economic Development: this can come in many forms, including social, environmental, and community impacts. Standard impacts are creating jobs and generating revenue. Some applicants have high-growth ventures based on scalable innovations and/or technologies. Other applicants may be just getting started and may not aim to employ very many people but will sustainably support a critical need in their local economy. For example, a venture may provide a product or service in a rural location that could help strengthen other local businesses or help residents obtain higher-paying jobs. This is not an exact science, but we try to take into account what impact the venture will have on the economy in Maryland if it is successful in achieving its long-term goals.
  • 2 – Potential Impact on Applicant: The registration and application processes ask applicants about their current resources, progress, future goals, and plans for capital or capital gaps/challenges they are facing. Taken together, these give reviewers and idea of how catalytic the requested funding could be in addressing early capital gaps that the applicant is facing. Applicants who have had and will continue to have sufficient access to capital are not the focus of the program.
  • 3 – Application Answers (Rubric Below): As a reminder, we know that the depth and quality of application answers will scale according to how early the venture is in its journey. The rubric below guides the evaluation of specific elements:

Market Understanding

    • 7: Has clearly identified a viable target audience and the market
    • 4: Has identified a potentially viable target audience and the market, but could use some clarification and/or revision
    • 1: The target audience and market were incomplete or not realistic

Market Access

    • 7: Has a clear go-to-market strategy for communications, customer acquisition, product fulfillment, product pricing, etc.
    • Has a partial strategy and could use some mentoring
    • The plan to market the product or service is not well-informed and/or unlikely to be successful

Competitiveness in Market

    • 7: Good competitive market analysis and a good strategy for how to differentiate against competitors
    • 4: Competitive market analysis and strategy for how to differentiate against competitors are acceptable but could use some help
    • 1: Competitors and competitive advantage are not well-defined and/or well-informed


    • 7: Has assembled an appropriate team
    • 4: Has partially assembled an appropriate team and understands the gaps necessary to fill
    • 1: Has not demonstrated an ability to lead others toward the goals of the venture


    • 7: Reasonable and competitive
    • 4: Partially reasonable, can make progress if guided well
    • 1: Unreasonable and not competitive

Short-Term Goals & Ask

    • 7: Has a clear idea and goals for the venture and a clear plan for making wise use of the funding
    • 4: Has a reasonable partial idea or plan for the use of funding
    • 1: Does not have a clear idea or any short-term plan

Values of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

    • 7: Strongly demonstrates how the venture is or will advance diversity, equity, and inclusion
    • 4: Describes how their venture advances diversity, equity, and inclusion in some way, but the connection is not strong.
    • 1: Does not adequately address values of diversity, equity, and inclusion are not well-described.

Long-Term Goals

    • 7: Has clear long-term plans
    • 4: Has partially explained plans and values but could use more clarification and mentoring
    • 1: Future plans are not well-described

Strategy & Cohesion

    • 7: Strategy is cohesive across multiple aspects of the venture
    • 4: There is some confusion or contradiction among elements of the application that could be improved
    • 1: A cohesive approach to a plan for a venture and/or the funding is not present

Likelihood of Execution

    • 7: The applicant should be able to execute on the funding and venture goals
    • 4: The applicant needs more advising and mentoring but with that could reasonably execute on the goals for the funding
    • 1: The applicant candidate does not seem to be able to execute on the venture and/or funding goals

Review Process

In the evaluation process, reviewers play a crucial role in advising on the fundability of applications and prioritization of which ventures to fund. The final funding decisions are made by the Executive Committee, which analyzes the provided information within the context of the existing portfolio and program goals. Reviewers will receive instructions on how to individually review applications and will be invited to a collaborative call to discuss applications with fellow reviewers. Learn more about the process here.


Guidance for Reviewers and Focus on Fair Review

To ensure the highest quality review, reviewers are advised to follow these steps. This structured approach aims for a fair, comprehensive, and unbiased evaluation process. Other elements of the program design, such as the online application; collecting but shielding names, demographics, and affiliations; and a diverse reviewer pool also work toward those goals. Your diligence contributes significantly to the success of the review process. We are thankful to the National Science Foundation and Chicago Beyond, whose resources helped inform the program and review design.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to the Managing Director. 

  • Allow sufficient time to thoroughly review applications.
  • Review the rubric before and during the evaluation process. Recognize that applicants may be in various stages of development. Responses from early-stage ventures should not be directly compared to those further along; all stages receive equal consideration.
  • Preview applications prior to providing in-depth scores and feedback. Disclose any financial interest, board positions, or potential conflicts with the Managing Director before proceeding.
  • Recognize inevitable bias up front. Reflect on personal biases that might influence evaluations. Although biases are natural and inevitable, individuals can consciously engage in strategies to change their biases over time or keep them in check in a specific situation to help reduce the impact it has on decision-making. Here are ways biases could surface during Launch Fund review:
    • The first application or part of an application can affect how you view the rest of the applications.
    • Prior impressions can shape your review, so we ask about this to bring it to mind.
    • Style — writing, speaking, or visual — can positively or negatively obscure content.
    • In group discussion, even with careful moderation, well-grounded views may be undervalued if not supported by details.
  • Take detailed notes as you review. This will enable you to articulate well-grounded positions with specific details during group discussions, even if they differ from those of other reviewers. Make note of strong first impressions, prior exposure to the applicant, or impressions based on how information is conveyed.
  • Review your scores and feedback at the end, and ask yourself the following questions:
    • What alternative views could be justified?
    • How might you play devil’s advocate on your decisions or feedback?
    • Would your review change if something about the applicant were different?
    • Is the feedback constructive and backed by specific examples?
    • If you had to read your feedback aloud to the applicant in person, would you consider any changes?

We are aiming for fair review, but we can always improve. Share any feedback via this form, via email, or phone — Lindsay Ryan at and 410-409-2236.

Please direct any questions to Lindsay Ryan at


The University System of Maryland comprises 12 public universities, three regional higher education centers, and more than 200,000 people—students, faculty, and staff—dedicated to pursuing knowledge, advancing discovery, improving lives, and strengthening communities across the state and around the world.