In partnership with local schools, Gaithersburg’s University Startups is uplifting student entrepreneurs

When Georgetown University professor and resident businessman Mark Steren decided to start a social project for enterprising high school students, he definitely didn’t want to start a new startup.

“I’ve had five different companies before. I wasn’t interested in starting another company,” Steren said for this moment in the summer of 2020.

Steren, who has worked in business departments at several colleges, and a fellow professor had a different experience. John Jabara. After hearing various success stories from students, such as getting into their favorite colleges, Sterena received a call from a friend who worked at the foundation. That friend pointed out how much students from underrepresented backgrounds could benefit from Steren and Jabbar’s efforts.

“It was like a wake-up call that we’re not doing enough to democratize the opportunity to go to college or get a better-paying job,” said Stērēn. “So, we put the band together.”

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He and Jabara are now co-founders New university establishments, a Gaithersburg, Maryland company that helps students interested in business prepare for work and college. The startup partners with nonprofits, school districts and community colleges to help high school and college students learn startup skills, identify and prepare for job opportunities, and provide college counseling. It also offers a mentoring program for community college students. So far, the startup has partnered with professors from Georgetown, John Hopkins, Cornell, University of Maryland, University of Pennsylvania and Syracuse University.

Steren has identified three main reasons why high school and early college students, especially those who lack access to resources, do not reach their full entrepreneurial potential. He said many are not focused on the future, whether it’s college or work; they do not know how their existing skills can translate into work; and finally, that college counselors are often too overwhelmed to help with these issues.

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“Our passion and what we’re really about is trying to change that trajectory to give them an opportunity,” Steren said. “Not everyone goes to college and not everyone gets a job, but we want to show them all of that [chances] to match your skills with these great opportunities. Whether it’s college, whether it’s community college, whether it’s a job, it’s something we do.

The 20-person startup was founded in 2020. Since then, it has been financed by a venture fund created by the government of Maryland. TEDCO. It was also selected for the first DC cohort Technology stars accelerator this fall, and Stērēns said it helped about 2,500 students this year. With help from TEDCO and Techstars, the company raised $1.1 million in total seed funding.

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Stern and Jabara received raises in October and want to raise it again at the end of 2023. As the company continues to grow, he believes there has never been a greater need for students to receive this education and on-the-job training.

And while he may have found his way into university startups, Stērēn said he found passion with a necessary purpose.

“We are at the right time and the right moment; We are entrepreneurs, but we have an educational background, and everyone believes in the mission of helping underprivileged students,” said Stērēns. “For anyone who needs help to get a better future, that’s what we’re focused on.”



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