UVA Darden Entrepreneurship Spotlight: Top Rankings and Speakers, Innovative Courses and Programs, Successful Student and Alumni Entrepreneurs

By Jay Hodgkins

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is newly minted as the No. 6 graduate entrepreneurship program for entrepreneurship in the annual ranking released by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine. It marks a steady rise of seven places since 2015, driven by the School’s robust offerings in support of entrepreneurship and innovation as well as a dramatic increase for funding for ventures started by Darden alumni.

Much of the School’s renown has grown due to the efforts of trailblazing professors such as Jeanne Liedtka and Saras Sarasvathy, pioneers in the entrepreneurial practices of design thinking and effectuation, respectively, as well as those of the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which supports faculty members, courses and students via scholarships and programs, and thought leadership at Darden.

To get a closer look at the latest resources, offerings and startup success stories highlighting entrepreneurship and innovation at the School, Darden shares this round-up of recent news.

From Successful Startups to Darden

Years ago traveling in Panama, Sophie Eckrich (Class of 2021) met women producing gorgeous textiles and fabrics but with little market for their wares. Desiring to help produce a quality product that people would actually use — and remembering a pair of cowboy boots she had bought in Guatemala a few years back, Eckrich decided to become an artisan footwear entrepreneur, launching a venture that would become Teysha.

“I found a good reception there and really just hit the ground running from Day One, learning something new every day — how to build the supply chain, how to market, how to hire people, how to run a team and how to open a store,” said Eckrich. “We were just running really fast.”

Propelled by the continued rise of e-commerce, interest in sustainable fashion and strong word of mouth, Eckrich and her team eventually built a shoe factory in Guatemala and helped connect consumers to artisan footwear products through a retail store, partner retailers like Nordstrom and Whole Foods, and through the Teysha web site.

Eckrich successfully ran the venture for seven years after graduating from college before stepping back and choosing to pursue her MBA at Darden.

In the Executive MBA program, Brian Larsen (Class of 2020) has taken a passion for animal health and built a rapidly growing supplement company. As detailed in a recent feature in The Washington Post, Larsen began working on RestoraPet after experiencing the death of a beloved childhood dog.

The company, which makes wellness supplements for dogs, cats and horses, now employs 15 people and expects to reach $10 million in revenue in 2020.

A chemist by undergraduate training, Larsen said he pursued the Executive MBA to round out his business skills. The program also led Larsen to an important investor who has helped spur the company’s recent growth.

Darden Alumna Spotlighted for ‘Most Disruptive’ MBA Startup

In its recently published list of the 22 most disruptive startups from the Class of 2019, Poets & Quants featured Trulli, a travel startup founded by Darden alumna Amanda Joseph (MBA ’19).

Joseph started Trulli while at Darden, eventually winning UVA’s  Entrepreneurship Cup competition. Billed as “Instagram-level inspiration meets Tripadvisor-level logistics,” the platform helps travelers plan trips based on recommendation from trusted friends and is aimed at MBA students and alumni.

‘Understand the Risk of Not Taking the Risk’

Case Foundation CEO, National Geographic Society Chairman and internet pioneer Jean Case headlined the inaugural Leadership Unscripted speaker series event at UVA Darden DC Metro by telling the audience that the people who change the world with their ideas are more often than not ordinary people who are willing to be fearless and act.

That sentiment is the foundation of Case’s book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthrough and Purpose.

Engaging Professor Mary Margaret Frank in a wide-ranging conversation that ranged from tips for entrepreneurs to challenges facing women founders to the importance of vulnerability and leveraging difference, Case began the discussion with a brief rundown of the five principles that shape Be Fearless.

  1. Make Big Bets, Make History
  2. Be Bold, Take Risks
  3. Make Failure Matter
  4. Reach Beyond Your Bubble
  5. Let Urgency Conquer Fear

Frank, a professor in Darden’s Accounting area, said the world of board audit committees and managing risk was central to the mindset of many in business. Case agreed, and said that even worse, the language often revolves around “mitigating risk,” which automatically frames the conversation in the context of risk avoidance. Instead, she asked attendees in the room and leaders everywhere to consider: “What’s the risk of not taking the risk?”

Darden Students Tap Into Well-Connected Network of Alumni on the West Coast

First Year students were part of a West Coast swing offered to introduce them to the thriving technology, startup and venture capital ecosystems there. Through Technology Treks to the San Francisco Bay and Seattle areas, as well as the Darden Connect program in the Bay Area, students visited dozens of companies and met over 100 Darden graduates of classes ranging from 1972 to 2019.

Organized by Darden Career Development Center Senior Director of Technology Careers Jenny Zenner (MBA ’03), the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle tech treks offer First Years a unique look inside technology companies ranging from midsize disruptors to established global giants.

Now in its second year, the Connect program offers select First Years interested in early stage companies, venture capital or launching their own ventures the chance to meet with founders and investors across a range of industries and investing stages. Connect was launched to create access to venture capital and startup sectors considered by many to be a difficult professional path for MBAs to gain a foothold.

A New Accelerator and New Online Courses to Support Entrepreneurs

Catalyst, a newly launched accelerator serving startups in Central Virginia, has announced seven local companies for its inaugural cohort, including one founded by two Class of 2020 Darden students. The new competitive accelerator supports high-potential, early stage companies in the region, and it is the result of a partnership among several regional organizations active in the local ecosystem, including Darden’s Batten Institute.

Darden is also launching an online specialization, Coding for Designers, Managers and Entrepreneurs. Registration for the Coursera-hosted, three-course specialization led by Professor Alex Cowan is currently open.

The specialization is tailored for managers, designers and entrepreneurs who are active, hands-on collaborators with developers. By the end of the three courses, learners will be able to build working software using HTML, CSS and Javascript, plus demonstrate creative confidence engaging in digital projects.

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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Darden School of Business
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