i.Lab Startups in Focus: 1Degree and 1787fp
By Dave Hendrick
The summer of 2016 marked another successful session for the i.Lab at UVA Incubator, with 23 ventures graduating from the 10-week program.
Two promising app-based startups emerged from the summer program, energized by the opportunity before them and with their respective founders eager to see their apps take up residence on smartphones around the world.
University of Virginia Darden School of Business students Max Huc (Class of 2017) and Sam Boochever (Class of 2017) had an idea that seemed can’t miss: an app that would combine consumer interest in celebrity culture with live video chatting — all with a philanthropic focus.
They just needed time to work on it.
The pair sacrificed social lives and networking opportunities to devise their 1Degree app during the famously intense first year at Darden, and were counting on summer to help fully flesh out their vision, even if that meant foregoing the traditional internship that most students parlay into the first job of their post-Darden careers.
Although the i.Lab Incubator program, with its stipend, access to mentors and focused entrepreneurial training was a natural choice, spending the summer in Charlottesville, Virginia, did not seem ideal for a company whose business could be more easily built closer to the sorts of celebrities and high-profile public figures — what the founders call “Influencers” — they hoped to introduce to the platform.
So, in a historic first, Huc and Boochever became the first incubator participants to be based outside of Charlottesville, working in Los Angeles and participating with their cohort via a “Virtual i.Lab.”
“The nature of the business dictated that we needed to be outside of Charlottesville to have the best chance of success,” said Boochever. “What they did this summer for us really filled that gap, which I thought was pretty monumental in terms of the future of entrepreneurship at Darden.”
The duo, who catalogued their entrepreneurial journey in depth in a recent blog post, said the financial and professional support of the i.Lab helped make the company a reality, with 1Degree successfully launching in late July.
The launched app remains remarkably similar to the vision the duo hatched shortly after starting at Darden, allowing users to bid for the opportunity to chat directly with a growing list of Influencers who have signed up with the company. After the chat, the Influencer can donate the proceeds of the auction and message the user if they would like to continue the conversation.
Huc and Boochever are now actively seeking a round of funding to ramp up their business, and understand the demands of a growing company will create a difficult balance with second year coursework.
“It’s going to be hard,” Boochever said. “In no way are we slowing down on the business side of things and it will be a challenge — but we learned that last year. It’s just a matter of priorities.”
The pair give Darden credit for supporting their entrepreneurial bent, whether that meant placing them in the more geographically advantageous Los Angeles area or allowing them to audit a second year entrepreneurship class as First Year students.
“They took a shot on us, and I don’t know that that would necessarily be the case at a lot of other schools,” Huc said. “I definitely think that it’s really exciting for the future of entrepreneurship at UVA given that you have people who would like to grow with you, and as long as you are doing the things you need to do, they are there to support it and bolster you in any way they can.”
Added Boochever, “We’re investing in the right programs and we’re making a lot of changes for the better and I think the Virtual i.Lab is very emblematic of that.”
Executive MBA (EMBA) student Jean Borno (Class of 2017) works with high-net-worth individuals as a well-known financial planner in Washington, D.C.
His startup, however, aims to democratize the world of money management, ideally attracting the client who doesn’t have a $1 million stock portfolio — or any portfolio at all.
Borno envisions 1787fp as an app-based platform that allows consumers to track and manage a budget, manage investments and make payments. Although various platforms offer some variation of each service, Borno says bringing all three into a single platform offers a compelling value proposition.
Borno spent his summer in the i.Lab Incubator, working hard on the development of the app, and he plans to release a beta version in early fall.
“The i.Lab was instrumental in my making progress,” Borno said, crediting a series of mentors with honing his pitch and approach to releasing the product.
When first devising the app, Borno said his inclination was to get the platform to market as soon as possible. Time spent with mentors at Darden and the i.Lab convinced him to take a more measured approach to introducing 1787fp and focus on getting the software right.
“We’re now going to use a beta launch to ramp up users and gather great feedback before releasing,” Borno said.
As an EMBA student, Borno juggles his Darden coursework with his full-time job, meaning finding time to execute on the app has not been easy. Still, Borno said the first year at Darden proved to be a critical complement to the development of his platform.
“It’s been very hard, but it’s been very timely,” Borno said of the first-year course load. “The courses in the EMBA program have helped clarify what I need to do to help launch the business. Everything has come together.”
Mastering financial forecasting and modeling has been key, for instance, as have the core accounting and financial management courses. Borno also credits management communication coursework with Professor Lili Powell for helping him understand the power of effective communication to turn ideas into action. In Professor Raj Venkatesan’s marketing class, Borno said he learned how to calculate the client lifetime value, which is crucial when dealing with angel investors and venture capital firms.
As he plots the app’s imminent launch, Borno is also looking toward his second year for additional skill-building — planning courses in M&A, negotiations and management communications, for instance, all in the service of taking his i.Lab venture to the next level.
“It’s a big goal and we may not get there, but our aspiration is to build one of the premier global financial services firms,” Borno said. “But for right now, we are laser-focused on building a financial app that customers will love and use multiple times a week.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. 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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