An interview with Justin Searles: Founder of VentureBoard and the UMD Startup Shell

Justin Searles graduated from UMD in 2008 with a B.S. in Computer Science. During his time at UMD he founded the UMD Startup Shell, a student startup accelerator, with fellow Computer Science department students Eric Rosenberg and Deonna Hodges. Most recently, Justin founded VentureBoard, a web platform that allows startup founders to build their teams, stay organized and motivated and leverage a variety of tools such as Google docs, Heroku, and Justin co-founded VentureBoard with UMD students Avi Eisenberger and Scott Block. Computer Science department Staff Writer Elissa Redmiles caught up with Justin in December 2013, find the interview @


ER:Why did you decide to start VentureBoard?
JS: We wanted to start VentureBoard because we noticed how the university entrepreneurship programs were struggling using lots of different tools to manage programs. We saw that the faculty and instructors were getting overwhelmed by an unnecessary amount of work. I was a frequenter of the Dingman Center, when I was there they would tell me to do things using Google docs, email, and surveys – all this stuff that seemed redundant. We thought that there should be a seamless solution. In April 2012 we started hacking out a solution.


ER:Where is VentureBoard going now?

JS: We want to make student entrepreneurs lives easy by building out features for productivity such as link aggregators and the ability to organize ideas across business model canvas. There’s still a lot more that we want to do. However, before we can work on VenuterBoard full time, we need to raise more money to consistently pay a full time developer. Right now, we’re in the process of deciding whether to go out and raise money to hire a senior developer or keep bootstrapping it and working when we can.


ER:How did you get into entreprenurship?
JS: Honestly? I got into entrepreneurship because I needed money. In 2008 my parents lost a lot of money along with rest of country, I needed to figure out how to pay tuition. I was always very attracted to doing my own thing, and startups embody that. Around 2008-2009, I joined Sponto a mobile application for real time party detection. Sponto is a mobile, location-based, social networking platform that allows college students to publish and dynamically detect parties. I worked at Sponto for 2.5 years. I started as a gorilla marketer and transitioned into a development role working with Android, ASP, .Net and C Sharp.


ER:When you’re not working on VentureBoard, what is your full time job?

JS: I’ve been working as a full time software engineer with Spinnakr, a big data website analytics company. I love Spinnakr and will probably stay there for a while.


ER:Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs at UMD?

JS: Go hang out at the Startup Shell, which is run by students, for students, who love technology and entrepreneurship. So, if you want to meet other students, go over there. There are tons of brilliant kids working on random things; some of them are making incredible stuff. Also, do not to dismiss the great UMD entrepreneurship programs. Get involved with the Dingman Center, MTech, and the Academy of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Also, don’t be afraid of failing because it happens all the time.

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