Power of Love: New Business Shows Darden Boosts More Than Just Grads (Plus #BabiesofInstagram)
By Jay Hodgkins
Brittany Schmid and Katy Doar made lifelong connections and countless memories in their two years in Charlottesville, Virginia. Only these two members of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business community weren’t students. They were part of a group every bit as essential to the Darden student experience, known around Grounds as Darden partners.
Their husbands, Mark Schmid (MBA ’17) and Will Doar (MBA ’17), completed the program and moved on to successful careers — Mark with McKinsey & Co. in Atlanta and Will with Rothschild & Co in Chicago. After leaving Charlottesville and becoming first-time mothers around the same time in spring 2018, Schmid and Doar suddenly found themselves searching to find connection to their new communities.
Their challenge led to an idea. And that idea led to a new business: The Bunny Hive — a boutique social studio located in suburban Atlanta for parents and their children offering “grownup and me” classes designed for kids ages 0 to 3 years.
In their words (and just in time for Valentine’s Day), Schmid and Doar describe how their experience supporting their loved-ones at Darden has paid off through a Darden network that was more than happy to help them turn their purpose into professional reward.
And for #babiesofinstagram fans, don’t miss the slideshow of photos from The Bunny Hive at the end of the Q&A.
Tell us about The Bunny Hive. How is it different from other services for children and parents like daycare or preschool?
The Bunny Hive offers “grownup and me” classes designed for children ages 0 to 3 years — including sensory, infant massage, music, motor development, tummy time, toddler food exploration and story time. Additionally, The Bunny Hive creates unique social opportunities for adults, such as our book club, parent socials, Brunch and Learn workshops, and more. The Bunny Hive exists to create a one-of-a-kind social and educational community for both babies and their grownups — a place where parents can be unapologetically themselves in an elevated setting, while bonding with their children and exposing them to fun and developmentally stimulating experiences.
The simplest way to understand The Bunny Hive is to think of a blend between a boutique fitness studio like Pure Barre or Soul Cycle (except, of course, for “grownup and me” classes), a coffee shop, and your best friend’s house. Grownups can be mamas, daddies, grandparents, nannies and more. The baby bunny is the true member at The Bunny Hive, and any grownup associated with the bunny’s account is welcome to attend.
At The Bunny Hive, grownups have the option to purchase individual drop-in classes, a 10-class pack, or a membership for unlimited access to our classes and events.
Tell us about how you met. How did your relationship eventually lead to founding a business together?
Our husbands, Mark Schmid (MBA ’17) and Will Doar (MBA ’17), were both in Section A, and while we all knew each other during their First Year, we didn’t become close friends until traveling abroad together on a Darden Worldwide Course in Russia during Second Year. The students spent much of their days in the course, while Darden partners were primarily on our own to explore Moscow and St. Petersburg. Navigating new cities where the majority of the population does not speak English makes for fast friendships and countless unforgettable experiences. Once we returned to Charlottesville, our friend group was inseparable.
We have stayed in close contact since Darden graduation in 2017. Despite moving to different cities, we continued to chat regularly and visit each other while we both experienced our first pregnancies. When we had our sons within a few months of each other, we found ourselves talking more than ever as we both commiserated over our lack of community and support in our new cities. Over hours and hours of talking on the phone, while caring for our newborn babies and debating our next career moves, the idea of The Bunny Hive was born.
How else did you tap into the Darden network to start your business?
Our Darden community has been a fantastic resource throughout the launch of The Bunny Hive. In addition to our husbands, who leveraged much of the expertise they developed during the program, we reached out to several other students, partners, faculty and staff while developing the business. For example, we hired Darden partner Alina Savage as our lawyer, and she has been an incredible asset in our formation. We leveraged Ware Smalley’s (MBA ’17) expertise in commercial real estate as we navigated the details of securing a commercial property and received helpful advice from alumna Kristina Loftus (MBA ’17) on her startup experience with Rhoback. It has been amazing to see how many people are willing and excited to help when you reach out. The Darden community has helped give us the confidence to launch the business, and it has been unbelievable to see what an amazing resource it has been to us as Darden partners.
How do resources like the Darden Partners Association help partners of students adjust to life in Charlottesville and become part of the Darden community?
Darden is unique in that it truly welcomes partners to be an integral part of the community. As partners, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in so much of the student experience — social gatherings, educational events and workshops, and even travel on some of the Darden Worldwide courses. When your significant other enrolls in business school, it is a life decision that immensely impacts you both. We were worried putting our own lives and careers on hold while our spouse attended business school, but our time in Charlottesville was a significant life chapter and growth opportunity. This is thanks to Darden and the opportunities, relationships and learning experiences the community offers.
What have been the biggest surprises so far?
How much work owning your own business really is! You know it’s not going to be easy, but goodness gracious. We manage it all — the business strategy, the class curriculum, our staff, private event rentals, marketing, accounting, payroll, customer service, studio cleaning and maintenance, and so much more. It often feels like 15 full-time jobs shared by two people. To be honest, there are some brutal days. However, more often there are wonderful days — days that affirm we are on to something special. We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to launch this business and provide a unique service to young families.
Do you have any advice for current and future Darden partners on engaging with the community?
Put yourself out there and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. It can be intimidating to immerse yourself in a new community, but Darden is a special place that you certainly want integrate yourself into. Attend the Darden Partners Association functions, go to every partner-friendly workshop and event on campus. Talk to the faculty and cultivate as many relationships as possible. I can promise you that you will find some lifelong friends at Darden, and maybe even a professional mentor or two.
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.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia