UVA Darden School of Business Announces the 2015 i.Lab Incubator Ventures

14 April 2015

The W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business welcomes a diverse cohort of ventures to the 2015 i.Lab Incubator program, a UVA-wide initiative that supports early-stage businesses from the University and the greater Charlottesville community. The i.Lab and the incubator are operated by Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The 24 ventures in the 2015 class include 10 founded by Darden students, 10 founded by UVA students or faculty members, and four founded by individuals unaffiliated with the University. The 25th and final spot will be awarded this Thursday at Tom Tom’s Crowdfunded Pitch Night.

“This year we saw a particularly experienced group of applicants,” said Philippe Sommer, director of Darden’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “It will be an incredible asset to have entrepreneurs in the incubator with deep expertise in fields such as engineering, biomedicine and education.”

Eight ventures from the 2014 class will remain with the program for the coming year — the largest number of returning ventures in the program’s history. “These young companies have made great strides, figuring out their business models and how to manage risk,” continued Sommer. “We are all impressed by their desire to persevere and to continue exploring the market for their offerings.”

As in previous years, the final spot in the i.Lab Incubator program will be offered to the winner of the Crowdfunded Pitch Night, part of the annual Tom Tom Founders Festival, a weeklong celebration of innovation, music, art and food, named for Thomas Jefferson. At the Pitch Night event, to be held on 16 April at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, entrepreneurs and innovators will present their business ideas to audience members, who will vote on a winner. Last year’s winner, Apprenticeship Connections, is among the ventures that will spend a second year in the i.Lab Incubator program.

The ventures in the 2015 class will contribute to the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Charlottesville, home not only to a major research university but also to a robust community of startups and investors. According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, Charlottesville’s annual rate of first-round venture capital financing is nearly two and a half times higher than the national average.

The i.Lab Incubator program includes a 10-week summer accelerator, during which participants develop and refine their business ideas and participate in the community of fellow entrepreneurs. Ventures receive a $5,000 grant, office space, mentoring support, networking opportunities with local investors, and access to accounting and technological expertise. The program also includes a clinic with faculty and students from the UVA School of Law, who offer guidance on the legal aspects of new-venture creation.

Participants in the i.Lab Incubator benefit from the depth of experience of a cadre of entrepreneurs in residence, who provide one-on-one coaching and offer sessions on various aspects of the entrepreneurial process. Alex Cowan, the founder of multiple technology-based startups and the author of Starting a Tech Business, welcomed the 2015 i.Lab Incubator class on 31 March with a session on how to choose among entrepreneurial tools and approaches and how to clarify the problem a venture is attempting to solve.

For Dasha Tyshlek, a UVA undergraduate who will earn a degree in engineering this May, being part of the i.Lab Incubator will be a “personal test.” “I need to see if being an entrepreneur is right for me,” she said. “When you build a venture, you’re experimenting by making decisions and then seeing how they affect your business and yourself. In the i.Lab I’ll be going through that process with all the other entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter that they’re not in the same market I’m in — what matters is that they’re really creative.” Tyshlek’s venture, Sensibility Care, is developing products to reduce complications and promote healing among orthopedic patients.

Noah Vogelsang, who will graduate in May with a master’s degree in education from UVA’s Curry School, is also looking forward to being in a community of entrepreneurs. “There have already been a few events for entering ventures,” he said, “and I’ve come out of each one feeling rejuvenated and stronger. Being a lone entrepreneur can be pretty isolating.” Vogelsang is developing an educational technology ecosystem, called Blue Boy, to improve spoken English instruction to children in China. He will also use the Blue Boy platform in summer programs in the United States for Chinese schoolchildren. “Given the international nature of my business, I really appreciate the mentorship and the legal and financial advice the Incubator offers.”

The ventures in the 2015 cohort represent many sectors, including health care, technology, solar power, education and fashion. Among this year’s ventures:

  • AE Machines, founded by second year Darden MBA student Eric Minnick, is developing tools to help small and midsize businesses implement automation in their processes.
  • Dream Power, created by second year Darden MBA student Alexander Bazhinov, leverages renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies to deliver savings to businesses without requiring capital investment or increasing operating and maintenance costs.
  • Telehealth Management, founded by UVA engineering doctoral student Najib Ben Brahim, builds, customizes and installs scalable, proprietary business management software that helps hospitals reduce the cost of health care and serve the elderly and people in remote areas.
  • The Front Porch, created by community member Emily Robey Morrison, is a roots music school and listening space in Charlottesville that offers group lessons to students of all ages and hosts community events, workshops and master classes.

The i.Lab opened in 2010 and expanded in 2013 as a collaborative endeavor among all 11 schools at UVA, the Provost’s Office and UVA Innovation. The expanded incubator program now serves as a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation education for all schools at UVA and for the Charlottesville community. Admission to the competitive i.Lab Incubator program was determined by an 11-member selection committee, which included: Philippe Sommer, UVA Darden School of Business; W.L. Lyons Brown III, Altamar Brands; Bernie Carlson, UVA School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Kathy Carr, UVA Darden School of Business; Raul Chao, UVA Darden School of Business; David Chen, UVA Department of Biomedical Engineering; Kathleen Galvin, Charlottesville City Council; Rick Kulow, i.Lab Senior Entrepreneur in Residence; Michael Straightiff, UVA Licensing & Ventures Group; MJ Toms, UVA Darden School of Business; and Jim Zuffoletti, OpenQ.

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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Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia