USM Launch Fund Enhances Economic Development and Access to Capital Through Grants to Entrepreneurs

Baltimore, Md. (Sept. 13, 2023) – The University System of Maryland (USM) Launch Fund has awarded financial microgrants and grants to a number of USM-affiliated entrepreneurs and ventures.

The Launch Fund connects early-stage entrepreneurs—builders, creators, and innovators to existing resources, mentorship, and capital. It creates a new capital source designed to fill gaps and connect to other capital and resources. This includes resources across the USM and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The program is administered by the USM Office of Research and Economic Development.  

As approved by the Board of Regents, the USM seeks to deploy up to $600,000 over three years via the USM Launch Fund. The Fund enables relatively small amounts of capital (under $75,000) to be deployed to USM-affiliated entrepreneurs and ventures in order to generate economic development activity.

As supported by the USM Foundation, the Launch Fund also seeks to deploy $100,000 in microgrant funding to USM-affiliated students and employees, including faculty.

Funding levels were anticipated to range from microgrants of $2,000 to grants and investments up to $50,000. Approximately $3,000,000 in funding for ventures was requested from over 90 applicants. In this initial funding round, approximately $280,000 in microgrants and grants up to $30,000 were deployed, with the strategy for potential future investments still under development.

This small, early capital is currently a key gap experienced by many individuals in the start-up phases of a new venture. Societal and structural barriers can make foundational capital even more elusive for some people and types of ventures that for structural and/or historical reasons have been left out of early funding. Through the Launch Fund, this critical foundational capital helps create a financial bridge to next-step capital, including revenue/sustainability, bank financing, and seed investment funding.

“The Launch Fund will play a critical role for USM-affiliated entrepreneurs and ventures. Our office is truly pleased to know that the funding can support these entrepreneurs at this important, start-up phase,” said Michele Masucci, USM Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development.

Microgrant Recipients
Participation across the USM is an important goal of the Launch Fund. Microgrant funding to students and employees who do not yet have ventures is one way that the Fund pathways leading to readiness for venture creation and funding. The following $5,000 microgrants were awarded to institutions:

Coppin State University received funding to support students participating in their inaugural Summer Launch Program.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) received funding to increase support for student participants of the UMB GRID Pitch competition.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) received funding to provide follow-on support to winners of the Cangialosi Business Plan Competition who are advancing their ventures.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) received funding to assist the entrepreneurs (students, faculty, and staff) who completed the UMES Business Plan Seminars and are starting businesses.

Grant Recipients
All ventures (for-profit or non-profit) receiving funding must have a substantial portion of their manufacturing, service, research and development, or office space located in Maryland. Recipients are affiliated with USM institutions. Additionally, for ventures to qualify for these grants, each has met one of the following criteria: 1) Founded by at least one USM student, faculty member, other employee, alumnus or former students; 2) Based on USM intellectual property-based; 3) Physically located in a USM research park, incubator, or RISE Zone. Primary evaluation criteria included the potential economic impact and the impact on the venture. The following diverse portfolio of applicants were awarded funding:

The Blade, which brings the barbershop experience to customers with services and products via a mobile barbershop. The Blade is located in Prince George's County and is led by Santana Pleasant, who is an undergraduate student at Bowie State University.

Allegheny Front Soccer Club, a data-driven and socially conscious elite men's soccer program in the MD-PA-WV tri-state area. The club is underpinned by a living laboratory ethos where students are provided career development opportunities through high-impact practices. Allegheny Front Soccer Club is located in Allegany County and was founded by Martin Barrett, Anthony Hamrick, and Remy Humphrey. Dr. Barrett, a faculty member at Frostburg State University, leads the nonprofit organization as President.

The Athlete Academy, LLC, a community-centered, youth athlete and adult small-group and private training facility that specializes in injury prevention, rehabilitation, recovery, and performance improvements. The Athlete Academy, LLC is located in Wicomico and Worcester County and is led by CEO Cody Revel, and Regional Director Ryan Maitland, both of whom are alumni of Salisbury University.

Brian Furr LLC, which provides workforce training for community members, project-based classes, and small batch manufacturing. Brian Furr LLC is located in Baltimore City and is led by Brian Furr, who is an alumnus of the University of Baltimore.

Cheek Seat, which is developing a portable, collapsible, toilet seat cover that keeps your bathroom experience comfortable and clean. Cheek Seat is located in Prince George's County and is led by Jazmyn Brown-Washington and William Kent, who are undergraduate students at Bowie State University.

The Cube Cowork, the largest Black woman-owned coworking space in the United States to provides a space where parents no longer have to choose their businesses over their families. The Cube Cowork is located in Baltimore City and is led by Tammira Lucas, who is an alumna of and a faculty member at Coppin State University, in addition to being an adjunct faculty member at UMBC.

DISTRICT5, which creates and produces various types of media content such as films, TV shows, web series, documentaries, music videos, commercials, and other digital content. DISTRICT5 is located in Montgomery County and is led by Sonny Tu, who is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP).

EBO, an innovative and all-inclusive on-demand booking technology that swiftly connects vetted subject matter experts and on-air contributors with media outlets. Based in Baltimore City, EBO is led by Crystal I. Berger, a proud UMES alumna.

NuMoon Technologies, LLC, which is commercializing intellectual property licensed from UMBC directed to a unique optical configuration enabling high-speed hazard detection from a distance. The technology has a distinct advantage in that it does not vaporize, burn, or ignite the item being tested. NuMoon Technologies, LLC is located in Howard County and is a Women Owned Small Business, with Gianna Arnold as CEO.

ReBokeh Vision Technologies, which is developing an app-based assistive technology system for people with moderate vision impairments that allows them to personalize how they see the world to their specific needs in any situation. ReBokeh Vision Technologies is led by Rebecca Rosenberg and is located in Baltimore County at Towson University's StarTUp at the Armory.

Repurpose Farm Plastic Inc., which has developed an affordable farm plastic cleaning device for recyclers. Repurpose Farm Plastic Inc. is located in Queen Anne's County and is led by Krisztina Christmon, a recent Ph.D. graduate from UMCP.

Room 242, an artist incubator that provides housing, label services, artist development workshops, events curated for the local scene, and a community for young musicians launching their careers. Room 242 is located in Prince George's County and is led by Kang Ewimbi, who is an undergraduate student at UMCP.

Ryan's Place LLC, a comprehensive health care center for transitioning youth with disabilities and complex medical conditions. Ryan's Place LLC is located in Montgomery County and is led by Debbie Sahlin, who graduated from the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Seeing Green Studio, which is a houseplant boutique with a focus on intuitive care and intentional design, making plant care effortless with custom soil blends. Seeing Green Studio is located in Baltimore County and is led by Amanda Ly, who is an alum of UMBC.

The Sheller, which makes the first ever patented stainless steel, seafood multitool, crab mallet, picker, and bottle opener. The Sheller is located in Anne Arundel County and is led by Shelby Blondell, who is an alum of the University of Baltimore.

Ticker Markets, which provides unprecedented security, liquidity, and access to private sector investing. Ticker Markets is located in Baltimore City and is led by Max Harris and Max Faufmann, who are undergraduate students at UMCP.

The TrillestDollhouse, which makes natural hair education available to HBCU students by providing natural haircare products and services. The TrillestDollhouse is located in Baltimore City and is led by Lauren Kelly, who is an undergraduate student at Bowie State University.

The USM comprises 12 institutions: Bowie State University; Coppin State University; Frostburg State University; Salisbury University; Towson University; the University of Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; and the University of Maryland Global Campus. The USM also includes three regional centers—the Universities at Shady Grove, the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, and the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland—at which USM universities offer upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses.
USM institutions and programs are among the nation’s best in quality and value according to several national rankings. To learn more about the University System of Maryland, visit To learn about the new USM Strategic Plan, “Vision 2030: From Excellence to Preeminence,” visit


Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719