maroon wave
SU Entrepreneurship Competitions winners presentation

Tacos Del Mar Wins 2023 SU Entrepreneurship Competitions

SALISBURY, MD---For the second time in 36 years, tacos won the day at Salisbury University’s annual student Entrepreneurship Competitions.

On the eve of Cinco de Mayo, judges voted the student business plan for Tacos Del Mar, a Mexican-inspired catering company, as the best out of 59 entries in the 2023 contest — the most in SU history.

The proposal echoed one of the competition’s earliest winners, Peter Engler, whose entry in 1989 led to the establishment of Nacho Pete’s a popular fast-casual Mexican restaurant in Salisbury in the 1990s.

The six SU students who established Tacos Del Mar hope the $17,000 prize package they won through this year’s competition find similar success. It included the $15,000 Richard A. Bernstein Achievement Award for Excellence, named in honor of the competition’s founder and sponsored by LWRC International and Rommel Chesapeake, as well as the Taustin Group Award, representing $1,000 in business plan consultation services, and $1,000 through the event’s “Invest in My Idea” poster session round.

The business is the brainchild of Thomas Zinzi Jr. of Clarksburg, MD, who sought an alternative for affordable late-night dining in Salisbury. Creating a menu using traditional family recipes, he spent several weeks catering off-campus student events and fulfilling individual delivery orders before recruiting the help of friends from SU. Their low prices, they noted, offer an advantage over more traditional take-out providers.

“Our competition, obviously, is Taco Bell, Cookout and Royal Farms,” said presenter Robert Turner of Queen Anne, MD, listing restaurants near campus that attract hungry students after most others have closed.

Catering to the late teens and early 20s market, the business partners advertise via the TikTok app and are even considering branching out into merchandise, such as T-shirts and stickers featuring the company’s logo.

With a company mission that also includes philanthropy, they also have partnered with and support the EVAN Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of and providing support for those affected by childhood cancers. Zinzi has a close connection to the foundation: It was founded in memory of a family friend who passed away from neuroblastoma.

Along with Zinzi and Turner, the winning group included students Walter Arias of Pasadena, MD; Sammuel Batis of Clarksburg, MD; Michalec “Mitch” Milauskas of Brunswick, MD; and Christian O’Hern of Sykesville, MD.

Second place went to Giddy Cup Coffee, a mobile coffee business with an equestrian theme proposed by Chloe Dize of Eden, MD. She earned $5,000 in cash from Maryland Capital Enterprises, plus $5,000 in services from SU’s Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network (BEACON), and $1,000 from the “Invest in My Idea” round for a total prize package of $11,000.

Michael Peters of Red Bank, NJ, and Harvey Simon of Fallston, MD, came in third with their plan for Offshore Fin Co., specializing in 3-D-printed surfboard fins. Their idea netted $5,000 in cash from Pohanka Automotive Group and $1,000 from the “Invest in My Idea” round, as well as the Concept Conqueror Award for best prototype, sponsored by SU’s Dave and Patsy Rommel Center for Entrepreneurship, for a total prize package of $6,666.

Four businesses, including those placing first, second and third in the Bernstein Award competition, vied in the day’s “Gull Cage” round, pitching their ideas to judges in an environment similar to the hit ABC-TV show Shark Tank. First place in that round was Anatomy Aid, an online anatomy and physiology study program proposed by Brian Hufford of Silver Spring, MD. He took home $2,500 in cash from that round, plus $1,000 from the “Invest in My Idea” round for a total prize package of $3,500.

In addition to the four finalists, 11 other business plans received $1,000 each during the “Invest in My Idea” round.

Through collaborations with other institutions, winners in this round included students not only from SU, but from the University of Maryland Global Campus and Wor-Wic Community College. Participants from these institutions had the opportunity to participate in SU-sponsored workshops prior to the competition and to work with SU-affiliated entrepreneurship consultants.

Cash awards for the “Invest in My Idea” round were provided by judges and supporters of the competition. Recipients included:

  • Broke Fisherman (sea salt scrub) – Kellen Catrino, Ocean City, MD
  • CC Collective (3-D virtual fashion animations) – Christopher Clark, Glen Burnie, MD
  • Glow Golf (miniature golf entertainment center) – Robert Howatt, Salisbury (also received the City of Salisbury Mayor’s Award [$3,000 in cash and $2,000 in services] and the $1,000 Salisbury Wicomico Economic Development Award)
  • Golf Buddies (golfing partner and course condition app) – Nicholas Wood, Rockville, MD
  • Halal Zone (Halal product finder app) – Mansoureh Nikfarjam, Salisbury
  • Mela (premium spice company) – Muhammad Abdullah, Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan; Sarah Chambers, Fruitland, MD; and Razeen Shahid, Salisbury (also received two Rommel Center Concept Conqueror awards for social impact and disruptive design [$1,334 total]; the $1,000 Directors Award for cross-collaboration between two or more SU schools; the Taustin Group Award [$500 in cash plus $1,000 in services]; and the $250 Diversity Award)
  • OC Tastings (boat tours featuring local beverages and cuisine) – Allison Jones, Bishopville, MD (also received the $250 Diversity Award)
  • Open Door Productions (clothing marketing through near-field communication technology) – Daniel Gale (UMGC), LaPlata, MD; and George Southworth, Hughesville, MD (also received the SU Veterans Services Award [$550 in cash and $750 in services])
  • Special A Collections (eyelash extensions) – Adaora Lee, Laurel, MD
  • The SOUL (gym and wellness center for people with disabilities) – Lauren Gartrell, Severn, MD (also won the $250 Diversity Award)
  • Young Destination (youth transportation and care services) – Ayannah Sears (Wor-Wic; also won the $250 Diversity Award), Salisbury

Participants also won door prizes donated by KindSBY and companies including Beach Um, FunFull, Roadie Joe’s, Rommel’s Ace Hardware, Southbound Alley, Specific Gravity, Taustin Group and Ugly Pie.

Many competitors, like the Mela team, represented SU academic schools and colleges beyond SU’s Franklin P. Perdue School of Business. Judges praised the students’ efforts and encouraged all of them — including the winners — to take advantage of the Delmarva Peninsula’s economic ecosystem, including tools available at SU, to better their ideas, products and services.

These include the Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Hub in Perdue Hall, where the competition took place, and the Rommel Center for Entrepreneurship at SU Downtown. Through these resources, members of the University’s Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) offer student-to-student business plan and coaching services.

Participants also receive training and support from BEACON, whose director, John Hickman noted that it’s not always the outcome, but the experience, that matters most.

“You went out there. You saw an issue. You came up with a solution,” he told this year’s competitors. “When you go out into your career, that’s what you’re going to be hired for. When you do this full-time for your job, whether you start a business or not, that same thought process will allow you to find innovation in everything you do.”

“You have a really bright future,” added judge Jarred Bernstein ’06, LWRC International logistics manager and son of the Bernstein Award’s namesake.

The day ended on a bittersweet note, with the announcement that William Burke, who has been associated with the competition since 2000 and, in 2013, led the charge to re-envision it as a multi-round event with an annual prize pool of up to $100,000, will step down as SU’s executive director of entrepreneurship. (He will continue to serve as a professor of practice in the Information and Decision Sciences Department.)

For his decades of dedication, Dr. Christy Weer, dean of the Perdue School, presented him with the school’s inaugural Entrepreneurship Excellence and Outstanding Leadership Award.

“If you’ve been here a day or you’ve been here 30 years, you know entrepreneurship is Bill Burke,” she said, adding that his legacy stands with the thousands of students — including this year’s record 105 — who have participated in SU’s Entrepreneurship Competitions, the second-oldest program of kind in the nation.

Burke downplayed the attention.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about all the people who have kept this running throughout the years. We could not have done this without our donors and our sponsors, and we couldn’t have done it without our students.”

For more information about SU’s Entrepreneurship Competitions, visit the program's webpage.

Learn more about SU and opportunities to Make Tomorrow Yours at the SU website.