i.Lab Reopens with $10,000 Competition That Launches Tom Tom Fest
By H. Brevy Cannon
The newly renovated and expanded University of Virginia i.Lab, located at the Darden School of Business, was officially opened Thursday with a business pitch competition that awarded $10,000 in cash prizes and also kicked off the Tom Tom Founders Festival, a South-By-Southwest-inspired, four-day festival of innovation, presented in partnership with UVA.
The new i.Lab aims to be a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation education serving all 11 UVA schools and the local community beyond Grounds, and that pivot was underlined by the pitch competition’s 10 finalist teams including teams without any UVA ties alongside student-led teams.
The 10 finalist teams were selected from a field of more than 60 applicants. Each pitched an idea for a new business or local community project, ranging from fire hydrant mural painting, to a Jamaican restaurant, to a homemade tomato sauce business and an Internet sports TV platform.
The finalists were competing for three cash prizes: $5,000 for first place; $3,000 for second place; and $2,000 for third place.
The winning teams were selected by a vote of the audience. The pitches took place under a tent set up on the i.Lab patio, with seating for about 100, so the audience of more than 200 squeezed around the tent, filling every possible perch, and spilled over onto the nearby patio area.
For the $10 admission fee each person received a blue marble to drop in one of 10 jars labeled with each team’s name.
After the votes were cast, and the marbles counted, the winners were announced.
The $5,000 first-place check went to Darden School first-year MBA student Kenny Schulman for his “Eat. Drink. Play.” pitch to create an online way for locals to share their favorite things about a community, such as Shenandoah Joe’s coffee, the sandwiches of Bellair market, or the taco stand at the weekly City Market, none of which are easily found with current online resources like Yelp that tend to feature major corporate offerings like Starbucks coffee and Jimmy John’s sandwiches.
Along with the $5,000 check, Schulman won the opportunity to claim a spot in the i.Lab incubator program, which offers startups free office space, mentoring, business services and the opportunity to work alongside the fellow entrepreneurs who make up the rest of each year’s incubator class. This year’s incoming incubator class already includes 24 ventures. Schulman said he would decide whether to join the incubator after hearing back from all his summer job applications.
The second-prize check for $3,000 went to the City Schoolyard Garden, a nonprofit working to create gardens at the local public schools, powered by parents and teachers, students and community volunteers. The group created its first garden at Buford Middle School, and is in the process of creating gardens at six additional schools. “This $3,000 means a lot to us right now,” said program founder Linda Winecoff.
The check for $2,000 was awarded to Duylam Nguyen-Ngo, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, for his WalkBack mobile phone application that harnesses a phone’s GPS tracking functionality so college students, administrators and police can make sure students arrive home safely.
Area resident Susan Chambers received an honorable mention recognition for her proposal to create a new Jamaican restaurant in Charlottesville using family recipes from Jamaica.
“This was a nice way for UVA to merge with the community in a new and different kind of way,” said attendee Sophie Zunz, daughter of UVA history professor Olivier Zunz. Earlier in the afternoon, before the pitch competition, the opening of the W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Laboratory included formal remarks from the i.Lab’s new namesake, UVA President Teresa Sullivan, Darden School of Business Dean Bob Bruner, Batten Institute Director Mike Lenox and others speaking to a crowd of more than 200 gathered on the i.Lab’s patio.
The four-day Tom Tom Founders Festival continues through Sunday evening. Full details and schedule at www.tomtomfest.com.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia