Darden Connect: Batten Institute Offers New Immersion Program in Major Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

By Robyn Swift

The University of Virginia Darden School of BusinessBatten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has launched Darden Connect, a new immersion program custom-tailored for MBAs interested in understanding today’s fast-paced venture environment. Connect is a selective, multiday program offered to Darden MBA students that enables participants to learn firsthand about early stage ventures and make essential connections with leaders in the field. The program launched in November 2018 as a pilot.

“Connect fundamentally reshaped how I’m approaching my summer internship search and post-Darden career plans in the best way,” said Stephanie Hepp (Class of 2020). “People we met during the program were incredibly candid and transparent, giving a more honest view of the startup world and what part of the ecosystem might be best for me and my career.”

Following her Connect experience, Hepp was accepted into Darden’s new Mayo Alternative Investment Fellowship and will spend her summer working for Sands Capital Ventures in Arlington, Virginia.

Darden Connect: San Francisco Bay Area

The inaugural Darden Connect in the Bay Area introduced a cohort of 10 Darden MBAs to key players in the world’s epicenter for innovation, technology and venture capital. Spending three days in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, where the Batten Institute maintains a full-time staff presence, the students participated in a highly curated venture-immersion experience. Visiting over a dozen early stage companies and venture capital firms, they met directly with founders, CEOs and investors, including private networking dinners with UVA alumni active in venture capital and entrepreneurship.

“As someone coming from a big company and trying to meet people and learn about VC and entrepreneurship, a program like Connect was invaluable,” said Zach Lynch (MBA/MSDS Class of 2020), a dual-degree candidate also pursuing a master’s in data science with UVA’s Data Science Institute. “Back-to-back sessions with people to learn from and reach out to in the future provides a network I never would have accessed without this trip.”

Lynch has since been accepted into the Batten Institute’s 2019 Technology Venture Fellows program, where he will be sponsored by Jonathan Ebinger (MBA ’93), general partner of BlueRun Ventures and work for Kabbage in Atlanta.

For Cameron Brock (Class of 2020), founder of Brock Endeavors, the opportunity to hear from both the founder and funder perspectives made Connect a meaningful experience, particularly meeting Jeff Yasuda, CEO of Feed.FM, a KEC Ventures portfolio company backed by Jeff Parkinson (MBA ’10). “To hear a founder like Jeff Yasuda speak honestly about his mistakes, about the do’s and don’ts of startups, and how to ‘know thy investor,’ alongside conversations with impressive Silicon Valley investors from Radar Partners, Costanoa Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners, was truly extraordinary. It was invaluable for an entrepreneur like me.”

Darden Connect: Austin

Building on the success of Darden Connect in the Bay Area, the Batten Institute expanded the program to other cities, including Austin, Texas, in March. Currently rated the No. 1 metro area in America to start a business, Austin is a fast-growing, vibrant venture ecosystem and the top-ranked place for women entrepreneurs.

Coinciding with the annual SXSW Conference, 11 Darden MBAs spent two days in the Connect program visiting local Austin startups, from Gold Rush Vinyl to Bypass Mobile, as well as investors at Next Coast Ventures and Mithril Capital Management. Students met with both founders and investors, even attending a local Austin UVA Club event where they were able to network with the broader University alumni community in Texas.

One of the highlights of the program was the visit to Mithril, where Managing Director Paul Leggett (MBA ’04) addressed the group alongside Darden classmates T.R. Harrington, founder of Darwin Marketing, and Matt Reintjes, CEO and president of YETI.

Harrington and Leggett expressed their feelings of kinship with the students in their pursuit of career opportunities considered off the beaten path at Darden. “Sometimes you find yourself making a decision that everyone around you thinks is wrong, but you know to your core that it is right for you,” said Harrington.

“The key is to follow your own path, one that aligns your optimization of resources and time with your principles,” Leggett added. “That journey isn’t always easy and it takes courage. You may feel different at times as we all do, but have the conviction to move forward decisively when all of your experience and knowledge suggest your plan ahead is different but not wrong.”

The three alumni also touched on talent being a foundation for success with any company and a key investment. “We look for competence, confidence, humility and creativity” said Reintjes. “Talent is key.”

“The wealth of knowledge between Paul, Matt and T.R. was awe-inspiring,” said Cara Jankowski (Class of 2020). “The true Darden pride was awesome to see. Hearing their advice about navigating the space throughout their careers and their paths getting there was something I will carry with me moving forward.”

Jankowski, also a Batten Institute 2019 Technology Venture Fellow, will spend her summer in Austin working for Bright Health through her TVF sponsor, Adair Newhall (MBA ’09) of Greenspring Associates.

“As someone who is interested in both early stage companies and VC, Darden Connect was truly the best of both worlds,” Jankowski said. “In San Francisco and Austin, we were able to talk to entrepreneurs about their personal journeys and businesses, as well as hear from VCs about their investment strategies, industries and areas of focus. I couldn’t recommend this program more for anyone interested in startups, building your own company or VC — or all three.”

Darden is experiencing growing interest from top prospective MBA students who are looking to pursue historically nontraditional MBA career paths into the venture space, during or immediately after business school. As Darden’s Batten Institute continues to deliver on its mission to provide the world’s best educational experience in entrepreneurship and innovation, the institute plans to continue expanding Connect to additional markets in the 2019–20 academic year, such as New York, Atlanta and Denver/Boulder.

Robyn Swift is based in San Francisco and serves as director of West Coast Initiatives for Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. For more information about Darden Connect, please contact Swift at SwiftR@darden.virginia.edu

Read below for a list of Darden Connect speakers and hosts during the Bay Area and Austin programs.

San Francisco Bay Area

Andy Bugas (MBA ’86), Radar Partners
David Burke, Makena Capital Management
Jeff Cleary, Cleary Bikes
Ed Colloton, Bessemer Venture Partners
Kevin Compton, Radar Partners
Jonathan Ebinger (MBA ’93), BlueRun Ventures
Sean Foote (MBA ’93), Co=Creation=Capital
Cathy Friedman (MBA ’86), GRAIL Inc.
Jackie Glynn (MBA ’93), Glynn Capital Management
John Glynn, Glynn Capital Management
Whitney Hagan (MBA ’18), VSCO
Matt Kaness (MBA ’02)
Tiffany Lee (MBA ’16), EverAI
Doug Mackenzie, Radar Partners
Jerry Nemorin (MBA ’08), LendStreet Financial
Charlie O’Connell (MBA ’08), Frisco Brandy
Robert Pollak, SV Angel
Meaghan Rose, Rocksbox
Jim Schinella (MBA ’93), UJet
Mark Selcow, Costanoa Ventures
John Shaughnessy (MBA ’07), LiveRamp
Katy Shields, VSCO
Michael Walton, EverAI
David Wehrs, Bessemer Venture Partners
Emily Westerhold, VSCO
Jeff Yasuda, Feed.FM


Melissa Bridgeford, Stylust
Aneesh Dhawan, PurPics
Ricky Garcia, Next Coast Ventures
T.R. Harrington (MBA ’04), Darwin Marketing
Caren Kelleher, Gold Rush Vinyl
John Kingsbury, Mithril Capital Management
Paul Leggett (MBA ’04), Mithril Capital Management
Brandon Lloyd, Bypass Mobile
Dagney Pruner, Next Coast Ventures
Matt Reintjes (MBA ’04), YETI

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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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