Sixth Annual UVA Darden Eentrepreneurship Conference Spotlights Startup Success

By Derry Voysey Wade

From 6-7 November, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation sponsored the sixth annual Entrepreneurship Conference — “Partnering for Startup Success.” The Darden Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, a student club, organized the event held on the Darden Grounds. The conference brought together Darden students, alumni and entrepreneurs from the local community to share best practices in building businesses and purchasing existing businesses.

The Consumer Goods and Services/B2B Track Semi-Finals Competition — formerly the Concept Competition — kicked off the conference Thursday evening, 6 November, and included three teams of Darden students. The Real Monti, led by Darden Second Year MBA student Thom Morris, was named the winner of its track. The Real Monti plans to offer “local view” travel guides to international tourism destinations. Three additional Darden teams received honorable mentions in this and other tracks. Track winners advance to participate in the UVA Entrepreneurship Cup Finals to be held 21 November. The purpose of the competition is to recognize the top entrepreneurial idea from a current UVA student or team of students.

Friday, 7 November opened with the program “Successfully Scaling the Startup,” presented by Seth McGuire (MBA ’11), Darden alumnus and senior business development manager at Twitter. He offered advice from his experience working with Gnip Inc., a company that provides social media data and was acquired by Twitter. McGuire underscored the importance of flexibility for startups, as their employees rapidly adapt to major structural changes driven by growth. The session was followed by the “Startup Lifecycle,” presented by Rob Masri, founder of Cardagin Networks, and Jeff Tennery, founder and CEO of Moonlighting — both Charlottesville-based companies. Cardigan focuses on customer retention and offers customers the ability to use punch-cards and coupons from their mobile device. Moonlighting allows users to hire themselves out for jobs or find someone to perform a task.

The entrepreneur-investor panel included Chuck Cullen, general partner and CFO of Grotech Ventures, Mark Walsh, angel investor and executive chair of, and Darden alumni Jim Zuffoletti (MBA ’05),  co-founder and president of OpenQ, and Joel Selzer (MBA ’05), co-founder and CEO of ArcheMedX and chair of Ozmosis Inc. The panel shared expertise both on investing and soliciting angel and venture capital (VC).

In comparing and contrasting angel and VC investors, moderator Philippe Sommer, director of Darden’s Entrepreneurship Program and UVA i.Lab, housed at Darden, noted the shifts that have occurred in the market, which continue to redefine the roles of the two primary investor types. However, the panelists agreed that investing is “always about relationships.” Selzer advised entrepreneurs to be just as discerning about whom they take on as investors, as the investors are in whom to invest. In addition, Zuffoletti encouraged entrepreneurs to consider both potential VC investors’ expertise and personality for board membership prior to accepting an investment.

Over lunch, four speakers offered advice ranging from how to manage a tech project to how to maximize resources on a small budget.

The conference concluded with keynote speaker and UVA alumnus Robert Capon, co-founder and CEO of Adenosine Therapeutics LLC, who framed best practices for entrepreneurs striking deals. “Industry fundamentals shape the landscape and drive deal behavior,” Capon said, “but the landscape changes over time.” He used the deal-making experience of Adenosine Therapeutics, a Charlottesville-based pharmaceutical venture that has weathered many deals, as an example to advise students to learn everything about the specific industries they pursue so that they can uncover opportunities to apply entrepreneurial thinking, regardless of their roles.

“The 2014 E-conference brought together a remarkable lineup of speakers who inspired students to start their own ventures or find startups that align with their ideals and values,” said Darden Second Year MBA student Heather Hellwinkel, president of Darden’s Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club. “The conference provided a great learning and networking opportunity to the Darden community, connecting successful Darden and UVa alumni with students pursuing their entrepreneurial and venture capital passions.”

The seventh annual Entrepreneurship Conference will be held at Darden in November 2015.

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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