Darden 1776 Partnership Taps the DC Startup Scene
A new partnership between the Darden School and 1776, a
Washington, D.C.-based hub for start-ups, will give students and alumni more opportunities to connect with one another and with the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the nation’s capital.
1776, which opened in January 2013, offers workspace for young companies, an incubator program, mentoring, access to resources, and a full slate of networking and educational events. Darden now rents space in the facility, which is available to all students and alumni, and is planning several events there in the coming months.
So far, 1776 is attracting not just entrepreneurs but also investors and others looking for deals. A couple of venture capital firms and corporations, including Microsoft, have a presence in the space. American University is also affiliated with 1776.
“Physical spaces help people connect,” says Philippe Sommer, the director of Darden’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “Virtual spaces, like chat rooms, just aren’t the same.” 1776, he hopes, will be a gathering place for members of the Darden community who either live in the district or are just passing through. “Instead of sitting alone in a room, people will have a place where they can go, a place where they can talk to other people doing similar kinds of work.”
Jenny Schretter, the D.C.-based founder of jewelry company KOLTON.J, a consultant to start-ups, and a student in Darden’s executive MBA program, immediately saw in 1776 an opportunity to bring together various members of the Darden community. “Students and alumni in the DC area often want to be involved in Darden boot camps and pitch nights, but it can be difficult for us to make it down to Charlottesville,” she says. “There’s a hunger for involvement and a genuine interest in building relationships.”
Schretter and fellow students Brian Carruth and Varun Solan have been instrumental in getting the Darden-1776 partnership off the ground. A kickoff event in March 2014 that they helped plan drew approximately 120 people.
“The DC area is in Darden’s backyard, and it has one of the largest concentrations of Darden alumni in the country,” says Stephanie Bennett (MBA ’09), who is working with other leaders in Darden’s DC and Baltimore alumni chapter to plan programs at 1776. “Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and scary,” says Bennett, a financial advisor whose clients include small-business owners. “1776 provides access to such great resources and a support system. Alumni are very enthusiastic about the partnership.”
In addition to giving Darden students and alumni a landing space in DC, the partnership with 1776 also helps them get plugged into what has become a vibrant start-up scene. “It used to be that most new ventures in DC were spun out from government work,” Sommer notes. “But that’s no longer the case. The entrepreneurial ecosystem has grown to the point where there’s now a critical mass of ventures not related to the government. 1776 is a visible sign of that.” Schretter says that she has observed a proliferation of tech and telecommunications start-ups in particular.
The first Darden-sponsored event at 1776, “The ABCs of Today’s Fundraising: Angels, Bootstraps and Crowds,” was held on 1 May. The event, which was open to the entire 1776 community, included one-on-one mentoring sessions with experienced investors and entrepreneurs. Future events include a pitch night with ventures from UVA’s i.Lab Incubator and a panel discussion about the different types of skills founders need as their ventures grow.
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