Students and entrepreneurs participate in the Elevate! Diverse Founders Dinner in Van Munching Hall on Nov. 15, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Ross Lewin)
This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week at the University of Maryland focused on inclusivity in entrepreneurship, providing students and alumni opportunities to share their business journeys.
Hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, Global Entrepreneurship Week allowed student entrepreneurs at this university to learn from leaders in their fields and discuss what diversity means to them. Global Entrepreneurship Week has hosted a series of inclusivity-based activities since 2016, showcasing opportunities for current and prospective student entrepreneurs.
Tsega Belachew, the venture development director at the Dingman Center, said inclusion is a core priority for the Dingman Center.
“It’s time we change the narrative. The data shows us that representation is pretty stark … and that’s why we’re here today to talk about how we change this,” Belachew said. “Our mission is to educate, empower and equip students to be entrepreneurs at the Dingman Center.”
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As part of the week of events, student entrepreneurs showcased their businesses and products at Terp Marketplace, a sale in Van Munching Hall last week.
NotUrAverage Candles, a Black-owned candle company, showcased its STEM-inspired candles made with environmentally friendly materials.
Courtney Johnson, a bioengineering doctoral student who is the founder of NotUrAverage Candles, said he began as a solo entrepreneur and later collaborated with Lauren Smith and Amal Shabazz, both doctoral students. Johnson said his interest in entrepreneurship was born outside of the classroom.
“I’ve been afforded a lot of different opportunities that I wouldn’t have known about because we were stuck in the [engineering] building all the time,” Johnson said.
Astrid Tagne, a freshman information science major and the founder of Cordeaux, said the showcase was her first time working with the Dingman Center.
Tagne is Cameroonian, and the products she sells are a nod to her heritage — her mother connected her with a designer in her home village of Bandjoun, Cameroon, who makes bags out of leather and palm tree fiber.
“This was on my mind for so long but I thought, ‘I’m gonna work. I’m gonna put the money towards [the company],’” Tagne said.
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Brin Xu, a sociology doctoral student at this university, is the founder of Fancy & Spicy, a company that teaches cooking classes online. At a dinner during Global Entrepreneurship Week, she shared how her traditional upbringing led her to this university, but she discovered her true passion during the COVID-19 pandemic when she started cooking more and sharing her dishes with her family and friends.
Now, Fancy & Spicy has grown to include 14 home chefs who teach a combined 100 cooking classes each month.
“I feel very happy every day. I know starting a business can be daunting, and a good supporting system is essential,” Xu said at the Elevate! Diverse Founders Dinner.
Xu encouraged fellow entrepreneurs to get active in the entrepreneurship programs this university offers.
Ngozi Irondi-Azubike, who graduated from this university in 1982 and has had more than 25 years of experience at a business startup, also spoke at the dinner about the importance of diversity in the field. She said innovation thrives when you create an environment with different thinkers and from different backgrounds coming together to solve problems.
“I didn’t know what the word entrepreneurship was. I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur,” Irondi-Azubike said. “It starts with creating an entrepreneurial mindset … in every discipline, in every major that you choose.”

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