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Uber to invest $25,000 in University of Maryland student startups

University of Maryland students might pay for an Uber ride home after a night out in College Park. Now, Uber's investing in Maryland's students.

The company will invest $25,000 over the next two years in student-run startups at the University of Maryland, College Park, one of only three college partnerships for the San Francisco-based ride-share company, the university announced Sunday.

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Students at the university's "Startup Shell," a collaborative space and technology incubator, may compete in business competitions for potential investor grants from Uber, the university said.

The partnership will also include mentoring opportunities and the creation of an "innovation council," which will include students, faculty and staff, for crowdsourcing and development.

"The spirit of collaboration and entrepreneurship being fostered at the University of Maryland, especially student-led and driven, is truly something special," Uber D.C. general manager Zuhairah Washington said in a statement.

The university expects the partnership to add to its portfolio of entrepreneurship- and technology-focused offerings, including the recent record-setting $31 million donation by alumnus Brendan Iribe for a computer science and innovation center and an expected $155 million Cole Field House renovation, to create a Terrapin Performance Center and Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The university said it hopes the Uber partnership will reinforce the school's commitment to position itself as "one of the most innovative research institutions in the country."

"The University of Maryland's mantra of pursuing fearless ideas is a great complement to Uber's fearless approach to problem solving in the 21st century," the university said in the statement.

The rideshare company's rapid growth into more than 300 cities across the U.S. and internationally has faced pushback from traditional taxi services and regulators alike.

The Maryland Public Service Commission, which is reviewing new regulations for companies like Uber and competitor Lyft, announced a deal last month to allow Uber's more upscale sedan and SUV services to continue operating in the state. The more popular UberX service could still be subject to any broader regulations adopted by the commission.

The company last month announced plans to create 5,000 new driver jobs in Maryland, including about 500 in Baltimore, part of roughly 50,000 it plans to add in East Coast cities where it operates. Uber drivers operate as independent contractors, and many of them work part-time.

Ken Ulman, the former Democratic Howard County executive and former candidate for lieutenant governor, who now works as an economic development consultant at U-Md., said the university was "honored" when Uber approached it about the idea.

"We've got — truly — one of the greatest research universities in the country," he said. "And our success is linked to the success of College Park. ... We're always working hard to foster relationships with innovative companies."

The company supplements campus transportation at the University of Southern California and helps fund a research facility focusing on self-driving cars at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"That really got our attention," he said. "They've showed they're interested in partnering with universities and creating jobs."

Ulman said the University of Maryland isn't concerned with how the company's investment in the state's flagship university is perceived in light of the state's ridesharing regulation debate.

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"How that plays out in Annapolis and anywhere else is not really our focus," Ulman said. "We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us."

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