Darden Business Plan Competition Brigns Together Ventures From UVA Community

By Veronica McMillion

Seven finalists competed in the closing round of the second annual Darden Business Plan Competition, held in April at the UVA iLab, housed at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. The competition, open to all University of Virginia students, faculty and staff, awarded a total of $15,000 in prize money to four winning ventures.

UVA rising Third Year students Tara Raj and Garrett Allen earned the $10,000 grand prize for their concept, VotersChoice. VotersChoice is a direct polling and analytics app that connects government representatives and voters by serving as a two-way communication channel. The venture was also a semifinalist in the 2013 UVA Entrepreneurship Cup competition.

“We are very excited about the outcome of the competition, and it was certainly a humbling experience to have competed against MBA students,” said Raj, a computer science major.

Relish and LAMARCA, two ventures from the incoming 2014 i.Lab incubator class, tied for second place. Founded by Darden rising Second Year student Sarah Rumbaugh, Relish is an employment tool that provides company alerts and employer matching opportunities for MBAs, MBA recruiting companies and MBA career services. LAMARCA, created by Darden alumnae Sarah Sanchez (MBA `14) and Anika Brown (MBA `14) generates crowd-funded campaigns for luxury handbags and accessories made by independent designers. The Wire Project, also an incoming i.Lab incubator venture, placed fourth. Founded by Darden rising Second Year student Annie Medaglia, The Wire Project is a digital marketplace connecting quality freelancers to media outlets, nonprofits and businesses.

Three local entrepreneurs judged the final pitches on concept originality, value proposition and competitive advantage, among other criteria. Judges noted the quality of the concepts presented and their difficulty selecting winners.

Following the pitches, the contestants, judges and spectators gathered in the lobby of the i.Lab for a reception. “We didn’t want to have to choose between so many great ideas, and you should all be proud of making it to the final round,” said Philippe Sommer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“The Business Plan Competition helped me make valuable connections with competition judges, professors and other students,” said Rumbaugh. “The biggest benefit for me was attracting stakeholders like venture capitalists who were interested in my business.”

Rumbaugh plans to pilot launch Relish for the Darden Career Development Center this summer. With several other clients on board for the launch, she aims to have a final product to market by this time next year.

Students are encouraged to refine their business plans throughout the year by participating in three annual competitions sponsored by Darden’s Batten Institute. Participants use the competitions to evaluate and hone their plans and pitches.

In the fall, the Darden Entrepreneurial Concept Competition evaluates student concepts on their viability in the current marketplace. The Darden Effectual De-Risking Competition, held in late winter, requires students to demonstrate that they have taken steps to “de-risk” their idea using principles of effectuation. Effectuation is the method introduced by Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy, by which expert entrepreneurs build successful ventures despite unpredictable conditions. The Darden-UVA Business Plan Competition is the culmination of this path, in which students pitch their business plans to seasoned entrepreneurs.

“Participating in all three competitions enabled me to leverage customer feedback to propel my business forward,” said Rumbaugh. “Each competition demands different things and makes you look at your idea in a new way.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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.


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