In our newest blog series, “Ignite Entrepreneurship,” we profile local entrepreneurs to learn more about what “ignited” their success, and also gain insights about being an entrepreneur in Charles County. For the first blog of this series, we sat down with Thomas Luginbill, director of the College of Southern Maryland’s newly-established Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute (EII). In this position, Luginbill has garnered recognition and additional funding for the EII.
Luginbill is widely known throughout the Charles County community, and like all true entrepreneurs, he wears many hats. He is not only the director of the CSM’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute, but also works as the chairman of Grey Matter, executive vice president of 42 Winks Productions, and also mentors people throughout the community.
Charles County Economic Development Department (EDD): What is your background and how did you end up as director of the EII?
Thomas Luginbill (TL): After helping start a number of non-profits during my undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware, I started looking for innovative ways to give back to the community. While I had a successful history of starting businesses and a deep interest in the financial sector, I graduated college during the 2008 financial collapse, so I started looking for unorthodox avenues for my professional life. After a stint in solar contracting (which I call my “school of hard knocks”), I felt comfortable with the basics of entrepreneurship, and returned to complete my master’s degree with an understanding of the “ups and downs” associated with being an entrepreneur.
Through the various connections I made over the coming months and years, I found myself being put forward as the director of the EII, and have been fortunate enough to work alongside a group of extremely dedicated, talented entrepreneurs at the Institute, who are working on a myriad of new and innovative ways to contribute back to the community.
EDD: What inspired you to start your own business?
TL: It’s never been about the money – nor should it be. It’s always been about helping people (whether that means others in the Charles County community, your university or at grad school). I truly believe that every person has an obligation to share, give back, and help others in the community find what they’re good at.
EDD: What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own business in Charles County?
TL: First: If you have an idea you feel passionate about, you should go for it. There’s nothing you can read in a book or learn in a classroom that can fully prepare you for starting a business.
Second: Use your network – whether it’s your colleagues in the industry, your family or even your friends. Use them not only as your support system, but as your own way of business development – they care about you so they’re going to want to help you. People want to help you. There’s an allusion that people saying “no” to you is the worst thing that can happen.
Third: Once you’re up and running, it’s going to be a roller coaster. Some days it feels manic, some days it feels like the greatest day. But it’s all worth it. Even if you’re feeling down, there’s always going to be hope for a better day – keep putting your best foot forward, and I guarantee that things will get better.
EDD: In your opinion, what is the most important trait or characteristic an entrepreneur needs to succeed?
TL: Optimism. Even if you say things that are critical or cynical from time to time, to be an entrepreneur you have to be an optimist at heart. After all, you’re trying to make something from nothing and create something out of thin air. It’s truly an art in that sense.
EDD: Does the EII have any news/updates that you would like to share?
TL: The EII will soon launch a new facility called the Velocity Center. Located in Indian Head, the facility will have the look and feel of a military lab, but with space for students and local contractors to all work side-by-side. It will be a center for students, contractors and scientists to use as their home base, where we hope to garner a natural overflow of ideas between different residents working on their projects at the site. Local state legislators recently passed a budget to fund our operating expenses and we plan to open our doors in the coming months.