Darden Students Shine at UVA Entrepreneurship Cup
By Molly Mitchell
Several University of Virginia Darden School of Business students earned accolades for their accomplishments at the Launch Competition, the last stage of the 2023 UVA Entrepreneurship Cup. The final round of the competition, now in its 15th year, was hosted by the Darden Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology at the CODE Building on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. In attendance were 150 spectators who watched the culmination of the University-wide program, which includes three annual competitions with related workshops and events.
Rooney Lee and Xinyi Jiang (Class of 2023) took second place, winning $15,000 for their venture NewSublease.com, a hassle-free platform helping MBA students, law students and other traveling professionals facilitate subleasing and unlock affordable mid-term housing options. They have partnered with more than 20 colleges and universities to date and matched hundreds of professionals and students with reliable short-term housing.
“Thanks to the eCup, we were able to evaluate our business based on the judging criteria, which helped us gather feedback from users and mentors proactively and shape our vision,” said Lee. “However, the most exciting part of eCup was being a part of the entrepreneurial community at UVA. It felt like a festival, where we could connect with other like-minded individuals and share our experiences.”
Bradley Levergood and Maya Singh (Class of 2023) made it as finalists with their venture Clarifi, a research-backed software-as-a-service company that empowers students with ADHD to reach their desired educational outcomes. The application also helps students condense their work into manageable 25-minute pieces and motivates them through in-app gamification and tangible rewards.
Darshan Savalia and Ronil Diyora (Class of 2024) were also finalists for their venture Skinzy, an app that provides free AI-based diagnosis of skin diseases using just skin images. Their platform leverages AI technology and dermatologists to improve access, availability, and infrastructure utilization, ensuring affordable care.
Judges Brett Brohl (MBA ’09), managing partner at Bread and Butter Ventures; Kevin Eisenfrats (SEAS ’15), CEO and co-founder of Contraline; and Lorraine Ma, co-founder of Whitebalance, met with each of the ten finalists in 20-minute sessions to judge their pitches and offer advice. Attendees at the evening event witnessed a shortened version of the process with a one-minute pitch from each finalist and brief comments from the judges.
Brohl was impressed by all ten. “What stood out across the competition was the quality of the founders. The winners of the competition were smart and well prepared, passionate about the problems they were solving and through their questions and interest in feedback, demonstrated their intellectual curiosity.”
Ashtiani wins Carr Award
The Kathryne Carr Award was awarded at the event to Emily Ashtiani (MBA ’22), founder of Earnestly, which she grew in Darden’s i.Lab Incubator.
“I feel so honored and incredibly grateful,” Ashtiani said. “This award is not just a recognition of my effort, but also a recognition for all the encouragement and support I’ve received along the way. I’ve learned that nothing significant gets done alone. It takes a community and to me, that’s what Darden is all about.”
The award, which includes a grant of $25,000, is presented annually by The W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab at UVA, an initiative of the Batten Institute. The i.Lab Incubator provides a goal-oriented, guided-learning program for student founders of innovative ventures.
The honor is named for Kathryne “Kathy” Carr, the first director of the i.Lab Incubator program. It is awarded to the i.Lab founder who best represents Carr’s commitment to community and entrepreneurial excellence, as well as her inspired generosity, passion, perseverance and moxie.
“Emily has considerable determination and moxie to see Earnestly succeed,” said Jason Brewster, Director of Venture Programs at the Batten Institute. “Throughout the program and leading up to the award, Emily has worked closely with several i.Lab ventures to source products for corporate gifts and design unique packaging. We anticipate Emily will continue to have a significant influence on the incubator.”
“The Batten Institute is proud of Darden’s presence in the E-Cup, an important event for the entire UVA community, both in terms of performance of the teams and in administering the program itself,” said the institute’s Executive Director Omar Garriott. “And presenting the Kathryne Carr Award at the same event for the first time recognizes the full journey we seek to enable for student ventures—funding for promising ideas which are incubated intensively over the summer.”
Ashtiani emphasized the “strong network of early supporters and a community” she found at Darden, key mentors who helped her through the i.Lab and her fellow women founders in the KPI Club. “We still meet bi-weekly to discuss obstacles and challenges we’re facing for the week ahead and help each other overcome hurdles,” she said of the club. “We keep each other accountable to meet our goals. It’s really uplifting.”
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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