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Immersive team competition features five interdisciplinary Metro State students

Posted January 7, 2022

Throughout the past week, student participants from six universities in the U.S. and Caribbean have been meeting with Miami entrepreneurs who have been sharing their wisdom. The USTART program is an immersive virtual experience that puts the participant at the center of the entrepreneurship experience, providing a toolkit of readily actionable skills and knowledge needed to launch a new venture and a firm appreciation for the process of business venturing.

Metro State has the largest cohort of participants with five students from the areas of business economics; art/gender studies; biology; nursing; and entrepreneurship. Students Tiffany Dolomengi, Jaye Sinkfield, Shaneek Harris, Chidera Ezeh, and Stephine Holloway are the inaugural Metro State trailblazer USTART participants.

The format is a learning immersion environment Jan. 3–8 that features leaders from University of Miami and the Miami business community, Metro State administrators President Virginia Arthur, Provost Amy Gort, Dean Rassule Hadidi, and Dr. Denise E. Williams.

The weeklong program consists of ideation sessions based on interests, and pitch concepts to other students until official teams are formed. The outcome is a business plan pitch which will be evaluated using rubric measures to determine the winning teams. Learning content includes the basics of entrepreneurship: well-being (with physicians and scholars); entrepreneurship fundamentals; innovative mindset; social impact topics (public health inequities, environmental justice etc.); venture financing; business models/plans; marketing; financial management; legal; technology; research and strategy; product development; pitch proficiency. All activities are reinforced through real world dialogues with entrepreneurs and business leaders. At every step of the way, the teams refine their ideas, nature new relationships and access professional mentors to build a valuable network. 

The final event is a team pitch presentation on Saturday, Jan. 8 followed by the awards ceremony. The event was sponsored by multiple donors representing corporate leaders in the Miami community. First prize is $5,000 for the winning team with a targeted total prize budget of $10,000.

The program is focused on building capacity and social mobility for African American students nationally. University of Miami USTART program launched the new program called USTART @Miami Herbert Residency Week. While their donor targeted HBCU universities, Metro State was invited to participate and submit applicants based on our historical commitment to the underserved student population.

With the assistance of the Metro State network, Dr. Williams issued a flyer invitation across the university and in one day received 45 expressions of interest. A Zoom information session was held immediately with seven applicants submitting and being accepted as ranked highly in their applicant pool. Five students with interdisciplinary majors are currently engaged in the learning community and competition.

Two “superstar” African American alumni entrepreneurs were invited to participate in the "lunch and learn" session to share their experiences with the University of Miami's USTART entrepreneurship bootcamp and team competition program on Friday, Jan. 7. Alumna Tameka Jones, owner of LipEsteem ( and a winner of Deluxe's Small Business Revolution program and Lutunji Abram, owner of Lutunji Palate ( gourmet pies spoke on the panel moderated by Dr. Williams.

Additionally, Abram worked with the COM entrepreneurship program in spring 2021 as a participant in the Innovator Success Stories video series, in which 12 Twin Cities women business owners were interviewed. The videos will be used in spring 2022.  Abram also mentored a Metro State student who is interested in a similar business.

The event is supported by cross functional faculty at University of Miami and entrepreneurs. Additionally, Metro State has had strong impact as a collaborative program facilitator with contributions made: Innovative mindset course training; innovative mindset reflection journals; Ideation generation exercises; and facilitating engagement of Twin Cities entrepreneur participation.