UVA i.Lab Business Incubator Cohort Makes Final Pitch

19 August 2015

By Jay Hodgkins

The W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business wrapped up its 2015 i.Lab Incubator program this month, but not before the cohort’s participants had one last chance to pitch their companies on the start-up incubator’s last day.

During the final pitch event on 5 August, 20 of the 23 i.Lab Incubator participants pitched their start-up ventures for three minutes, showcasing how much progress they had made during the intensive 10-week program. The participants rolled off points of distinction and competitive advantages for their start-ups, integrated compelling visuals into their pitches, showed off brand new websites and smoothly worked in their “asks” of the audience. Many had their pitches nailed down to within seconds of the three-minute pitch limit.

It was a marked change compared to the very first day of the incubator when the same participants made their opening pitches and many had nothing more than a big idea to share with the crowd.

The Charlottesville Newsplex broadcast news station, through its Finding Charlottesville series, documented the progress of 2015 i.Lab Incubator start-ups and that of past i.Lab ventures that are still making a big impact in the community. Each of the six i.Lab segments are available online at the Newsplex website:

Between their first and final pitches, the incubator participants did much more than hammer out business plans and develop operations. Learning is a critical part of the program, and the 10 weeks were filled with workshops led by experts like Darden Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne covering project management and Altamar Brands Founder and CEO W.L. Lyons Brown III (MBA ’87) on branding.

Connecting the ventures with people is also an essential element. The incubator participants were provided access to a network of successful entrepreneurs who served as mentors, such as Rick Kulow, i.Lab Senior Entrepreneur in Residence and past winner of Ernst & Young’s award for Entrepreneur of the Year in Agriculture and Food. In addition, the participants work closely with each other every day to solve their shared problems.

“We take no equity in the companies, but give them some funding and lots of work,” said Philippe Sommer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the i.Lab. “But they learn more from one another and their mentors than from us. Being with other people who have been through the same experience is where they find the greatest value.”

The ventures also benefit from free legal support provided through the UVA Entrepreneurial Law Clinic.

Among the 23 ventures, eight were founded by current Darden students and recent alumni.

RelishMBA was selected to participate in a major regional start-up pitch event in Washington, D.C., in late July. Founders Sarah Rumbaugh (MBA ’15) and Zachary Mayo (MBA ’15) traveled to AOL Fishbowl Labs to pitch RelishMBA at the TechBUZZ conference, capturing the crowd’s attention by announcing that the company was already working with Fortune 500 companies like Morgan Stanley, Amazon and General Motors through a platform connecting corporate recruiters with MBA job candidates.

Other Darden student- and alumni-run ventures included 10Thoughts, founded by Jack Mara (MBA ’15); Cassimir Club, founded by Rachel Penny (MBA ’15); Dream Power, created by Alexander Bazhinov; Fit Minds, founded by Serge Eygenson (Class of 2017); HiComm, founded by Sid Pailla (MBA ’15); RealFuel, founded by Lauren Summers Nelson (MBA ’15); and $tocklife, founded by Matthew Krieg (Class of 2016) and John White (Class of 2016).

The i.Lab and the incubator are operated by Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

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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