Darden Entrepreneurs Help Steer Two of the ‘Most Disruptive’ Startups
By Dave Hendrick
Elizabeth Blankenship (MBA ’22), was recognized for her company By Eilly, which turns leftover textiles from luxury brands into designer clothing and accessories.
Blankenship, who won numerous awards and startup competitions during her Darden career, cited the Darden “Venture Velocity” course as key to helping her take her venture to the next level.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it?
There is a class at Darden called Venture Velocity, which is application only and only offered in the second year. However, the professor, Damon DeVito, found me within a month of getting into Darden, and jump started my education before I even started classes. In our first meeting, he challenged me to do the hardest thing first: call up the luxury brands and ask them to give me their fabrics. He does this often for two reasons: he wanted to weed out the ‘wannabes’ from the real deal entrepreneurs, and to get people to find out at the beginning whether their idea will work. If the brands said no, my venture idea was toast and I would need another one. If they said yes, then the hardest part was behind me.
Damon is a mentor in Techstars, angel investor, and the most frustrating combination of encouraging and challenging I’ve ever met. He can read through your words to understand your heart and motivation. He created Venture Velocity to be a semester long version of Techstars Mentor Madness Day, and in the process cultivated an environment that fostered both fun and real venture acceleration. The other students in Venture Velocity became my closest friends and confidants, and the fact that three of us went on to work full-time on our ventures says it all. It’s hard to turn down a consultant or IB salary, but Damon got us each to a position that made the decision easier.
Blankenship says her long-term goal with By Eilly is to end fashion trash and solve the issue of textile waste.
Another cited startup, Clarifi, is an education technology company founded by Wharton student Bryan Dinner and Darden’s Bradley Levergood (Class of 2023). The startup, which helps distraction-prone students complete homework, has raised $250,000 to date, according to the founders.
Levergood, who also cited “Venture Velocity” as a formative experience, credited the startup ecosystem at UVA with helping to flesh out the startup.
How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success?
The startup ecosystem at UVA has been incredibly helpful to Clarifi’s success. In addition to all the support I have received from my Darden classmates these past two years, we were able to participate in the Batten Institute’s Innovation Lab Accelerator this past summer. Through that program we received both financial assistance and access to many great mentors, including the program coordinator, Jason Brewster. Additionally, we were able to work alongside some truly impressive founders, both from the undergraduate program, as well as from the greater Charlottesville area.
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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