Student Spotlight: Ope Thomas

New app solves your parking problems at UB.

By Zachary Nelson

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Ope Thomas

Ope Thomas had a problem. When he started at UB, he encountered the same frustration time and time again. Ope lamented, “When I moved here, it was hard to find parking… and if I could find parking, I’d get a ticket.” The frustration festered until he decided to build the first prototype of his real time, street parking app. 39 prototypes later, students of UB are presented with Roadi, the Apple certified mobile application with the slogan, “Helping you park when it matters.”

Many readers have probably seen Roadi’s white booth set up in the foyers of the Student Center and the Merrick School of Business. This month marks the app’s formal introduction to the general population. The most exciting part is that UB students can start using this app on their way to school right now. I already have.

Several months ago, I approached the school with Roadi at my side. To be honest, I was somewhat skeptical that parking was going to be available at the promised location. After all, how could the app possibly know this information? As I turned the corner, I was surprised to find a convenient parking spot, just where Roadi had predicted. Just incredible – and perhaps a little spooky too.

Ope describes Roadi as a, “Mobile application that allows you to know when another user is leaving a parking space – where the best streets are to find parking at the time that you are looking.” Readers may be wondering, “How does the app know where to find the best parking?” Accuracy is insured by combining three layers of data into a cohesive whole: field research, user generated information, and large, publicly available, data files.

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Solid blue lines on the map show the best places to find street parking.

This app exists entirely because of the time and energy invested into the project by the CEO. In our interview, Ope described the 40+ hours he invests into Roadi every week while talking a full course load at UB. He is a member of the Entrepreneurship Fellows Program. This program, directed by Dr. David Lingelbach coaches a select cohort of students to create innovative, scalable business in Baltimore and beyond. Ope is thankful to be a part of this program as it provides the necessary support and encouragement which are so essential for aspiring entrepreneurs. He is also thankful to be a student at a university that hosts frequent business pitch competitions and networking opportunities.

If any of our readers are interested in being a part of the Roadi movement, Ope

 invites you to download his free app on the App Store or Google Play. In addition, Ope is always looking for people to get involved in Roadi’s next steps. Any creative ideas and feedback can be directed to his personal email: ope@goroadi.com.
Photos Courtesy of Ope Thomas.

“Unleash the Beach” looking to get off the leash

Last year, Joe Napoli, now a senior Business Entrepreneurship major in the Merrick School of Business, was named a winner in the “Rise to the Challenge” business pitch competition in the “Undergraduate Student – New Business Idea” category. Napoli’s idea was “Unleash the Beach,” a kennel for pet owners vacationing in resort areas like Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach on the Delmarva Peninsula, but are staying in condos that don’t allow pets. However, after Napoli found what he thought would be a good location just outside Ocean City, “Unleash the Beach” is still looking to get off the leash after Napoli went to visit the site and meet the property owner during his vacation at the beach this past summer.

“The property owner had some other business, so he didn’t show up at the scheduled time, so I inspected the property a little closer, and realized it was rather dilapidated on the inside, and I decided that I needed to take a look at another location,” Napoli said. He felt that the building just off U.S. Route 50 was going to need a lot of work to get it up to satisfactory condition, and decided it would be more worthwhile to find another property. Napoli thinks he may have found another possible location not too far away.

“Currently I’m taking a look around Bishopville, looking towards the upper Ocean City area. There are a lot of condos up there, and I feel that those people would really appreciate a good kennel business where they could bring their pets along,” Napoli said. He hasn’t found a suitable location in the Delaware resort area, but plans on opening one kennel in the Ocean City area, and then opening up another kennel either in the north end of Ocean City or near Rehoboth.

The famous saying in buying and selling real estate is “Location, Location, Location.” Napoli says he’s finding that to be very important as he tries to launch his startup.

“Location is everything when you’re setting up a business. Looking at a high-visibility area, as my previous property was around Route 50, I’m thinking that word of mouth and a good startup campaign, once we get started in a nice, visible area, will really bring people in,” Napoli said.

As part of his work on launching “Unleash the Beach,” Napoli has been surveying the Delmarva kennel market. This means looking into how much capacity kennels have for vacationers’ pets, and how much they charge on a nightly basis.

“I’ve been visiting other kennels in the area, and seeing their accommodations and how many pets they can hold,” Napoli said. “I’m thinking about expanding the number up from I proposed during the ‘Rise to the Challenge’ competition.” He’d initially proposed a kennel with space for 25 to 30 pets, but he’s found that many kennels at the Delmarva beaches have capacities of 50 to 60 pets, and are charging pet owners $50 a night. He also plans to offer a webcam service that will allow pet owners to check in on their pets.

For aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to start new businesses, it’s important to make good use available resources, and taking advantage of available resources. Napoli says it’s critically important to learn your marketplace.

“If there isn’t a market for your business, you’re dead in the water before you get started,” Napoli said, adding that business owners and mentors with SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) have been very willing to provide him with information and advice as he looks to start his own business.

“The kennel owners I’ve talked to and the other entrepreneurs with SCORE have really been helpful with getting my business off the ground,” Napoli said. “They’re very forthcoming with information.” He encourages aspiring student entrepreneurs at UB to just ask for help and use the resources that are available within the university.

Business Admin. Major To Bring Luxury Pet Housing to Delmarva

By Andrew R. Koch

Ocean City, Maryland and “The Nation’s Summer Capital,” Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, are two of the most popular beach resorts in the entire Mid-Atlantic. Every year, more than eight million people visit the two resorts. The majority of those visitors come to have fun in the sun, sand and surf between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. However, one of those visitors has encountered problems when trying to travel with his pets.

Joseph Napoli is a Business Administration major in the Merrick School of Business. He’ll be a senior in the fall. He explained that while he and his family have a timeshare condominium in Ocean City, they have a hard time finding someplace where their dog and cat can stay while they spend a week at their condo.

“Every year, it’s sort of a rush to try to find the right sort of kennel that’ll treat the pets well, aren’t going to shove them in like a shoebox in the back room,” Napoli said. He explained that most of the condos in Ocean City don’t allow pets to stay with their owners.

“So I was thinking how nice it would be to have a kennel really close by so that people could check their pets in and out while they’re staying there,” Napoli said. “They don’t have any pets in the city, and I know from experience and from talking to people that it’s a service that people are looking for.” That’s when he got the idea of opening up kennels near Ocean City and Rehoboth for pet owners who come to vacation in those areas.

Napoli presented his idea to the Professional Development Institute in the Career and Professional Development Center. One of the institute’s mentors told him that his idea had a lot of potential, and encouraged him to enter the annual “Rise to the Challenge” competition, where students pitch their ideas for both new and existing businesses to a panel of business school professors. Contestants were coached by bank officers and entrepreneurs. The competition was held in the University of Baltimore’s Learning Commons Town Hall on April 16 in front of an audience of nearly 200 people. Napoli’s idea, “Unleash the Beach,” was announced as the winner in the “Undergraduate Student – New Business Idea” category on April 22. He was one of seven winners in the competition, and will receive $500 in cash and $1,200 in in-kind services to help him get “Unleash the Beach” up and running. Napoli says he’s looking to open for the summer of 2016.

“The Small Business Center’s been supporting me,” Napoli said. “I’m in contact with SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), who are helping me secure capital and asking around.” Napoli says he’s still looking for capital as well as a suitable location near Rehoboth. Meanwhile, he’s been in contact with a realtor from the Ocean City area, and later this month, when he goes to vacation at his family’s condo, he’ll meet with the realtor to scout out possible locations. He says he’s looking for a location just off the Ocean City Expressway (Maryland Route 90) in the Ocean Pines area.

“Unleash the Beach” will offer pet grooming, one-on-one play sessions, and on-call veterinarian services. Each pet will get its own room, and owners will be able to check in on them via webcams that will be connected to the “Unleash the Beach” website. Pictures of the animals will be posted on the business’ social media sites. Napoli says this will allow pet owners to feel assured that their pets are happy and safe while they’re vacationing, and if they can always come in to check up on their pets, and even spend a day with them.

UB student nominated for University Systems of Maryland Board of Regents

The University of Baltimore may soon be well represented on the state University System’s executive board.

Student Government Association President, Sydney Comitz
Student Government Association President, Sydney Comitz Photo courtesy of Sydney Comitz for the UB Post

Sydney Comitz, a senior in the Merrick School of Business and an early-entry student in the School of Law, has been nominated by Gov. Larry Hogan to be the student representative on the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland.

The University announced Comitz’s nomination on Feb. 26. Comitz will be graduating in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, and is planning to complete her Juris Doctorate in the School of Law in 2017. She’s also the President of the Student Government Association. Comitz said that if she’s confirmed by the full Maryland State Senate, it means she’d be representing all college students in Maryland, not just those of the University of Baltimore.

“Technically, this means that I’m going to be representing 100,000 students in the state of Maryland,”

Comitz said. “Personally, it means that I’m going to have to extend my work beyond UB to encompass all of the other students and remember the diverse student populations within our entire state, and not just the school that I love.”

Comitz said that on a professional level, this opportunity would give her a chance to strengthen the student voice on a statewide platform, including being a voice for first-time and first-generation college students. She feels that often times, those students who lack the most resources are the last ones to get a chance to say what they need.

Comitz had to go through an extensive process to become a nominee for Student Representative on the Board of Regents, starting with the University System’s Student Council.

“You meet with the students, and there’s a student representative from each of the 14 institutions on the council. They do a round of interviews, and they rank the candidates, one through three,” Comitz explained.

She was the top student pick, and then got a chance to interview for the nomination with University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan. Chancellor Kirwan then recommended Comitz to Gov. Hogan, who then made his choice based on who got the Student Council’s vote and the Chancellor’s recommendation.

“He’s really trusting the student voice, in this case,” Comitz said.

She feels that she fits the bill for representing a diverse group of students, and giving a voice to graduate students.

“Sometimes we often feel that graduate students are pushed to the side and not favored over undergraduate students. I feel like I am so many different categories that I would do a great job of being representative for all of these populations,” Comitz said.

She wants to advocate for additional protections for interns from sexual harassment, and free textbooks for students.

“So far, we’ve done a pilot program which uses open-source textbooks, and we’ll have saved by December 2015 students over $1 million in textbook costs,” Comitz said.

She explained that open-source textbooks are textbooks that are online and can be edited by professors to provide the most up-to- date information. That distinguishes the textbooks from Wikipedia, where posts can be edited by anyone, and often have inaccurate information in them. Comitz says students at some universities, such as Towson, can then print off the books and get them bound in the library for a nominal charge.

The State Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee reported favorably on Comitz’s nomination in its March 5th report. As of press time, it’s unknown when the Senate will vote on Gov. Hogan’s nominations for the Board of Regents.

UB Finance professor: don’t get too excited about falling gas prices

Many of us will be traveling to spend time and share special moments with friends and family this holiday season. While this year we’ll be experiencing less pain at the pump to go on our holiday travels, a professor in the Merrick School of Business says we shouldn’t be getting too excited about the drop in oil and gas prices.

In the Oct. 20 edition of The Baltimore Sun, Professor of Finance Steve Isberg said that while the decrease in gas prices is good for consumers, costs for other products such as food have continued to rise while salaries continue to remain mostly flat.

“I love it when I can fill up my tank for $60 instead of $75, but I don’t know if I’m going to jump for joy,” Isberg told The Sun. As of Nov. 14, the average price for regular unleaded in the greater Baltimore area was $2.88 a gallon, slightly lower than the Maryland state average of $2.90. That was down nearly 27 cents from a month earlier, and down 32 cents from a year earlier. Isberg says the current decrease in gas prices both in Maryland and across the country is part of a cyclical pattern.

“They’ve been ranging from a high of about $3.70 a gallon, and they’ve dropped to about $3.10 a gallon,” Isberg said while describing a line graph showing weekly average retail gas prices in the U.S. between mid- October 2012 and mid-September of this year. “They’ve been behaving within that range for the last two years.” In the chart, gas prices fell into the $3.10s in November of last year, and then went up over $3.60 a gallon during this spring and early summer before starting their current downward trend in July.”

“There are seasonal patterns. It’s usually high in the summer months, so if you take a look at any of the summer months, you’ll see that the gasoline prices are reasonably high,” Isberg said, referring to line graphs that showed average weekly gas prices over the last four, 14 and 24 years. “So, here again, reasonably high in the summer of 2014, and they typically do come down in the fall. So the fact that they’ve come down in the fall isn’t very much to get too excited about in and of itself.”

In the fall, oil refineries switch blends and start producing what’s known as the “winter blend” of gasoline, which is cheaper than the blend that’s produced for the summer. Isberg said that those seasonal patterns still showed themselves over the long-term, even as gas prices started rising through the 2000s.

“You can see that in the ’90s, from ’91 until about 2000, the prices are fairly stable, and varied within a very narrow range,” Isberg said.

The graph showed prices that were generally between $1 and $1.30 a gallon, and even dipping below a dollar a gallon in early 1999. Isberg said there was an increase in gas prices in 2000 and 2001 up to between $1.40 and $1.70, but then dropped back to just over $1 a gallon, and stabilized there. Then gas prices began trending upward.

“And then they steadily rose throughout that period from about 2002 to 2007 or so,” Isberg said. “You can still see the seasonal patterns, but you had a steady increase, and then when the bottom dropped out of the credit markets, at the same time the bottom dropped out of the commodity markets as well, particularly oil.”

In January 2008, gas was averaging over $4 a gallon; a year later, in the midst of the recession, gas had fallen to around $1.60 a gallon. Isberg says gas prices have been fairly stable since 2011, outside of the seasonal highs and lows.

“Usually you get a little spike up in the spring and again in the summer, so it very well could be that you see this turn back up,” Isberg said.

Refineries usually shut down during the spring for maintenance, and then prepare to make the switch to start producing the summer blend, which leads to gas prices rising annually during the spring and into the summer travel season.

“What would really excite me would be if we started to see this long-term trend start to decline, so if we continue to see these prices fall, and then get down into the low $2 range, which is where they were after the market dropped, and the $1.50 range where they were right around the turn of the (21st) century, that would be something to be a little bit more excited about,” Isberg said.

Crude oil prices have fallen from around $103 a barrel in late June to between $75 and $80 a barrel five months later. However, while the overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) annual inflation rate is at 2.36 percent since the beginning of 2000, with CPIs for transportation, housing and food also sitting between two and three percent, the CPI inflation rate for fuel stands at 5.31 percent, nearly double the 2.95 percent inflation rate for rental housing. The CPI with food and energy has gone up by nearly 40 percent since the beginning of 2000. Even without food and energy, the CPI has still gone up by more than 25 percent during that same time.

Business school begins new school year with new dean

By Andrew Koch

Murray Dalziel (pronounced D-L) was announced as the new Dean of the business school on June 3 and he officially took over as Dean in August. Prior to coming to the UB, Dalziel had been the director of the Management School at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom since 2007. According to the University of Baltimore’s University Relations Office, while at Liverpool, Dalziel helped increase the university’s enrollment, launch new programs ,and increase its teaching standards. One of his accomplishments was developing new management programs at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, China, as well as other programs for when Liverpool opened a campus in London.

Prior to restarting his career in academia, Dean Dalziel worked for the Hay Group, an international consulting firm, from 1988 to 2007. During that time, he eventually became the company’s managing director for North America and Europe. From 1972 to 1988, Dalziel was with another consulting firm, McBer and Company, where he would become both an Executive Vice President and a Senior Vice President within the company. He was also a teaching fellow and tutor at Harvard University from 1972 to 1976, and received a Doctorate in Sociology from Harvard in 1979. Prior to teaching at Harvard, Dalziel graduated from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1972 with an M.A. in Sociology. One thing he says he was very much involved in while at Liverpool was online education.

“That was a very key component of my operation,” Dalziel said, adding that he also brought his management and client experience into the classroom. He feels it was the mission of the UB, to make a higher education accessible to everyone, that attracted him. He said the major business schools that get a lot of publicity are, in his view, only educating “elites.”

“That’s a good mission to have,” Dalziel said, “but … if you’ve ever looked around the world of business, it’s not populated by elites. It’s populated by people who actually get work done.”

As for the direction he’d like to take the Merrick School of Business in during his tenure as Dean, Dalziel said that’s something he wants to collaborate on with both students and faculty.

“In my first 90 days, I’m not going to come up with this defined vision or this defined strategy because that’s something we’re going to work on together,” Dalziel said.” So I’m going to be doing a lot of learning. I’m talking to everybody … and I want to talk to students as well. I want to really understand the students that we have.”

He added that he likes to think of students not as consumers of education, but as partners in it. He wants to know what it’ll take so that when faculty are at professional gatherings in the future, and they say they work at the Merrick School of Business, their colleagues will say “Wow!”

On Aug. 8, the UB announced that the online MBA run in partnership with Towson University had been named one of the 30 best online MBA programs in the country. Dean Dalziel said he’s pleased to see increasing enrollment in the program, and he really likes the direction the program’s going in.

“I think it’s got a very powerful proposition for students … it’s very consistent with what is going on in other industries,” Dalziel said, adding that it gives students, especially those who work full-time, more choice and flexibility about how they want to construct their MBA programs, while still teaching them the basics at the same time.

In addition to his career in higher education, Dalziel continues to be an investor in startup entrepreneurial ventures in the Northeast, especially in the Philadelphia area.