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Last year, Farhad Baqi, then just 21, stood alone in front of a room and pitched his invention. He was hoping for help getting it to market.

Among the crowd were fellow student entrepreneurs, business mentors and potential investors.

His invention is a new way to create dentures and crowns and it caught someone’s attention.

A year after that inaugural Summer Founders program put on by the University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship program, Baqi was back in the room for demo day Tuesday, the culmination of the 12-week Summer Founders course.

This time, he was at the Venture Development Center to watch the next wave of entrepreneurs from the program make their pitches.

Baqi listened as this year’s class sometimes nervously described their ideas that ranged from sustainable, recycled designer jeans to a company that is developing modular robots to reach unsafe and unreachable spaces.

Baqi credits the program for preparing him for the real world.

“I’m doing what I did last summer again this summer,” Baqi said. “It’s all about getting out of the building and talking to people, understanding what the needs of your customers are and making those connections. It gives you all the confidence because it forces you to do that.”

Last year, the Summer Founders program, led by instructor Vince DiFelice, saw four of its six ventures launch.

Six more teams made pitches Tuesday. The students, who ranged from undergrads to a doctoral candidate, receive stipends from $3,000 to $10,000 donated by entrepreneurs and members of the Delaware ecosystem, DiFelice said.

DiFelice described the Horn Entrepreneurship program as “structured as a meritocracy, wherein we allocate our extraordinary resources and scarce opportunities to students based on their engagement, contributions and accomplishments. … The students admitted into Summer Founders are some of our most meritorious; those who participate in co-curricular programming, add value to the community and devote themselves to solving important problems.”

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Farhad Baqi explains his business venture and product concept to guests at the University of Delaware’s Summer Founders Program demo day at the Horn Center in Newark on Tuesday afternoon. Baqi’s Curing Cube aims to revolutionize the way dental practices make molds. (Photo: KYLE GRANTHAM/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

The program pushes students to interact with the community to build relationships and find out how to best market themselves to their potential customer bases.

“It’s one thing to approach the market as a job seeker or a co-op or an intern or a student,” DiFelice said. “It’s another thing to say I’m trying to solve the same problem you are, how can I help you? And when that happens, they make the kinds of connections they wouldn’t have normally made.”

Like the connections made by a trio of longtime friends and Wilmington natives Joel Amin, Bryce Fender and Demetrius Thorn, the brains behind the venture WilmInvest, a company that plans to change the fabric of the Wilmington community by doing something about vacant housing. 

The trio, members of the Class of 2019 (Thorn goes to the University of Pennsylvania), buys distressed properties and renovates them to be used by those who need housing the most — those with disabilities, in recovery or with financial problems.

“There’s no experience like this that you can learn in a classroom,” the CEO Amin said. “You learn ten times more when you’re physically out doing something. Even if you’re in an uncomfortable position, which sometimes we’re put in here, having to pitch in front of people or set up meetings on the fly with government officials, Horn prepares you for the real world after.”

Fender, the COO, agreed.

“It’s kind of like a scientist in the lab,” Fender said. “We’re learning by doing. I’ve learned more these past three months than I’ve learned the past two years in classes.”

READ MORE: Amazon adding ‘hundreds’ of new jobs in Delaware

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Morgan Young (right) and Greg Harder (back) of AndAgain denim chat at their company’s table after giving their pitch at demo day. (Photo: Jeff Neiburg, The News Journal)

Adam Stager of TRIC Robotics is using the same lesson. His modular robots are garnering interest from SWAT teams and military professionals.

Matt Phifer and Peter Fomin of Fit Tech Labs developed an innovative device with four springs and two handles that may transform the world of physical therapy. But it also might not.

“We’re definitely excited for the future and a little bit nervous,” Fomin said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, too. Because we don’t really know what’s going to happen. We might hit Kickstarter and fall off and hit a dud. Or we might hit viral explosion and all of the sudden we have more orders than we can count. So it’s really just uncertainty.”

Baqi knows uncertainty well. Right now, his Curing Cube venture, while still operating, is largely dormant while he and his brother Seyar work on their Blue Hen Dental project, which is looking to make dental care more affordable. They want to open the first of “hopefully” 10 offices in the next 10 years later this year in Smyrna.

Contact Jeff Neiburg at (302)-983-6772, jneiburg@delawareonline.com, or on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.

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