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Darden School Announces Winners of the U.Va. i.Lab Sustainability Pitch Night

A Charlottesville High School student and a plan to insulate buildings with hemp-based materials took top honors at the University of Virginia Darden School of Businessfirst sustainability innovation pitch night competition.

The event, held late January in the W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Laboratory (i.Lab) on Darden’s Grounds, drew a standing-room-only crowd. Six participants pitched their best ideas for incorporating sustainability into their ventures or community organizations.

Like the hit ABC network show “Shark Tank” that features contestants who pitch their business ideas to potential investors, the i.Lab contestants pitched their big ideas on creating value for people while meeting environmental challenges to the crowd.

The “People’s Choice” winner for the evening was Anna Perry, a Charlottesville High School senior who shared her progress and vision for composting in area K-12 schools. She also received the “Most Feasible Idea” award.

The night’s “Overall Winner,” Joni Lane of Boston Architectural College, triumphed with her idea to insulate buildings with hemp-based materials.

Other participants included:

  • Matthew Slaats for Bridge Progressive Art Initiative
  • Joe Rinkevich for SciVera
  • Kelly Love for Branch Basics, an i.Lab Incubator company
  • Darden second-year student Edem Seshie for the Darden Social Impact Venture Fund

Presenters had five minutes or less, using five PowerPoint slides or fewer, to convince the audience that they had the winning vision for a socially and/or environmentally responsible operation. Lane, the “Overall Winner,” will receive complimentary mentoring from Philippe Sommer, director of Darden’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the i.Lab.

Kathryne Carr, director of the i.Lab Incubator and venture mentor, welcomed the attendees, and local business owner and 1993 Darden alumnus Toan Nguyen gave out the awards.

“We were delighted to host the first Sustainability Innovation Pitch Night at the i.Lab, which is a resource for the entire U.Va., Charlottesville and central Virginia communities,” Carr said. “Having a full house for Pitch Night was a great way to connect with new visitors and participants.”

Along with the i.Lab, Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation sponsored the event in conjunction with the Better Business Challenge, an initiative led by Better World Betty and the Local Energy Alliance Program, with key partners including Darden, the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the Chamber of Commerce.

“This is an effort to effect change in the community one step at a time,” said Erika Herz, associate director of sustainability programs at Darden. “Events like this one will help businesses and individuals take steps toward sustainability that they can implement into their personal and professional lives.”

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