A New Crop of Startups Enters the i.Lab Incubator
By Amy Halliday
The W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is welcoming a diverse cohort of ventures into the 2015 i.Lab Incubator program, a U.Va.-wide initiative that supports early-stage businesses from the University and the greater Charlottesville community.
The 23 ventures in the 2015 class, chosen by an 11-member selection committee, include nine founded by Darden students, nine founded by U.Va. students or faculty members, and five founded by individuals unaffiliated with the University. “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 keep exploring the market for their offerings.”
As in previous years, the final spot in the program went 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, entrepreneurs and innovators presented their business ideas to audience members, who voted on a winner. This year’s winner, Wildrock, is a venture founded by social worker Carolyn Schuyler to transform 28 acres in Crozet, west of Charlottesville, into a play space where families and groups can interact with nature. 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 ten-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 U.Va. 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 U.Va. 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 U.Va.’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:
Dream Power, created by 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 U.Va. 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 U.Va., the Provost’s Office, and U.Va. Innovation. The expanded incubator program now serves as a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation education for all schools at U.Va. and for the Charlottesville community.
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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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia