Startup Stories: Ventures Develop Direction and Build Their Story in i.Lab Incubator
By Jay Hodgkins
Founders of more than 20 startups have been hard at work this summer in the intensive, 10-week i.Lab Incubator, an annual program housed at the W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab and operated by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business‘ Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Progress comes fast and furious for many of the young ventures, and pivots in strategy are often the rule rather than the exception as founders glean new insights from their fellow entrepreneurs and an entrepreneurial ecosystem of support provided through the i.Lab.
The i.Lab has been documenting those pivots and moments of progress through its blog throughout the summer, and will continue to do so in the weeks ahead. Some of the highlights include blogs on how Maximiliano A. Isa Pavia (MBA ’17) discovered his entrepreneurial side before launching a platform to help Argentinians compare credit options, Darden Professor June West‘s presentation on “pitching from the stakeholder perspective,” and why the founders of StreamSense Medical see potential for biomarker businesses to have a major impact improving health care.
On Embracing Uncharted Territory with BestCredit.com
In January 2015, [Isa Pavia] conceived of what is now BestCredit.com, a platform to help Argentinians compare financial programs and credit options.
“I discovered that in Argentina, when people need credit, they usually go to their own bank. If they want to change [or want other options], it’s not easy to compare offers from different banks.” Additionally, the concept of a credit score isn’t a prominent one in Argentina, so would-be customers have no real gauge to anticipate whether or not they’ll qualify for different lines of credit.
After coming to the States to begin business school in the late summer of 2015, Isa Pavia came across a few American sites for comparing and evaluating personal borrowing options – uncharted territory for the Argentinian market. While he knew that e-commerce was relatively new in Argentina, and that Argentinians placed a lot of weight on cultivating personal relationships alongside business transactions, he believed that if he could transcend those barriers – through more personalized features such as an online chat function – he could bring an incredibly valuable tool to his home country.
Pitching from the Stakeholder Perspective with June West
In her recent workshop on “Pitching from the Stakeholder Perspective,” West narrowed in on the ways – both overt and otherwise – that founders and startup employees establish their brand in the minds of listeners with each moment of communication. She emphasized how crucial it is to build credibility in every setting, whether you’re giving a formal pitch or answering impromptu questions from your seatmate on an airplane. Ultimately, every question can be distilled down to some notion of “why” – people want to understand why you and why this idea, and they want to be a part of your story.
“This is no time to be bashful, people,” West enthusiastically told the rapt cohort. Your credibility comes from your expertise, rank, fairness, objectivity, goodwill, and image/appearance. So she cautioned the founders to avoid “shrinking violet” syndrome and instead find ways to appear confident, clarify their message, and cultivate a leadership presence. Additionally, the business’s core messaging must filter down through all ranks of the organization. According to West, small businesses often don’t spend enough time early on thinking about their corporate values. Then, when they grow, they experience problems because they haven’t established their “VABE” (values, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations).
StreamSense Medical On the Potential of Biomarker Businesses to Create Big Impact
They say that building a successful business takes plenty of “blood, sweat, and tears,” and that sentiment couldn’t be truer for StreamSense Medical CEO Cheng Yang. But, given the nature of his business, he’d probably tack on “urine” to the end of that phrase. Old adages aside, these substances fall under the category of bodily fluids containing important “biomarkers,” which help medical professionals see and monitor potential health issues – and Yang, a recent Chemistry PhD graduate from UVA, sees the potential for big business.
StreamSense Medical’s first product-in-development, UrineSmart, will soon position his startup squarely in the company of some savvy heavy-hitters who are also exploring the biomarker space. “Google X is working on a product to help [monitor glucose levels] using tears, Harvard is working on a sensor to detect biomarkers via sweat, and we are the urine guys,” Cheng says with a laugh. For those of us less familiar with cutting-edge science and medical developments (myself very much included), UrineSmart will be an at-home urine test device that uses electrochemistry technology developed by Yang and colleagues Long Di (CTO) and Longze Chen (CIO) as a pre-diagnostic tool measuring important biomarkers and bio-indicators. The device will sit directly in a user’s toilet and will take account of humidity, temperature, ph, and other factors to help them monitor important measurements such as present levels of uric acid, a substance closely related to kidney stones.
Recently, Yang and his team have begun to envision many potential markets for this product – from nursing homes and hospitals to insurance companies and even health-conscious individuals.
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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