June 24, 2011 — Twelve new businesses are being nurtured this summer at the University of Virginia.
The Darden School of Business and its Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Batten Institute invited the start-ups to the Darden Business Incubator, a program that supports MBA students who are developing promising, early-stage business ventures.
The Darden Business Incubator supplies each entrepreneur with more than $13,000 to support development and cover expenses. New in this year's program is a series of pre-incubator workshops, including a legal clinic developed through a partnership with the U.Va. School of Law and the Woods Rogers law firm to provide free legal services to new ventures.
"This year's group of 12 companies admitted to the incubator is one of the strongest groups to date, both in the novelty of concepts being advanced and the commitment to taking an 'effectual' approach to starting businesses," said Philippe Sommer, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. "There have been a number of highly successful companies that have emerged from our incubator and, by working closely with this year's terrific group of participants on the process of new venture development, we'll continue to improve their potential for future entrepreneurial success."
The incubator also provides physical office space and expert advice from the legal, marketing and technology communities, as well as assistance in finding third-party investment support – all within the framework of a community of fellow entrepreneurs over the course of a year.
Among the many success stories from previous years in the Darden Business Incubator is Husk Power Systems, [link to: http://huskpowersystems.com/] a venture co-founded by 2009 Darden alumni Chip Ransler and Manoj Sinha, which provides electricity to rural India. It received the prestigious 2011 Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy in the international category.
While each venture must involve a Darden student or recent graduate, the incubator is also open to members of the wider U.Va. community who are interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial business idea. Projects are selected for the commitment of the principals, the persuasiveness of the business concept and the research behind it.
Another addition this year is the "E*Tech Mash-Up," in which aspiring entrepreneurs presented their ventures before technical experts and received advice concerning the practicality, requirements, scope, difficulty and implementation of their ideas. Quick pitches were followed by the opportunity to break out into smaller groups at this event, which was organized by the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council and the Neon Guild, a regional association of technology professionals.
Incubator students also developed knowledge about creating websites from current and former Darden students, and they pitched their ventures to alumni to ask for non-monetary support such as customer contacts, strategic partnerships, key personnel and expertise.
The participants in this year's incubator are:
• Abt Labs, founded by second-year Darden student Kevin Abt, which will create a line of "smart" sporting goods and apparel that measure athletic performance. The initial line of products will have embedded sensors and accompanying software to accurately measure and analyze speed, movement, trajectory and rotation. The product is intended as a training tool to help athletes, coaches and evaluators accurately capture, analyze and catalog performance through a flexible set of metrics applicable to the specific sport.
• Buy Time, founded by 2011 alumni Matt Parker and Stefan Talman with second-year Darden student Teddy Jones, which sells "fare freezes" that allow customers to lock in airfare rates for a period of time through partnerships with large online travel agencies.
• DealStage, created by second-year Darden student Greg Herrington, a software productivity tool for law firms to assist them with closing deals between multiple law firms and client firms in a more transparent and less costly manner.
• Groundswell, founded by second-year Darden student Jacqueline Wilde, which focuses on helping people to live healthier and happier lives through active living, nutrition education and holistic health offerings. One such offering is Pop-Up Yoga, which offers yoga classes in public spaces and partners with local businesses to leverage open spaces for yoga classes.
• Music Project, founded by 2011 graduate Carlos Camacho, a social media-based fan relationship management platform for professional musicians. The Music Project platform offers to fans free listening and sharing of digital music and to musicians powerful analytics about their fan base along with an innovative social media engagement space that assists in creating income opportunities.
• NOMUDA Games, winner of the 2011 Darden Business Plan Competition, a pioneering story-based episodic game for mobile platforms founded by Joe Chard, a 2011 Darden grad. It employs vivid, imaginative environments to explore and addictive, touch-based puzzles embedded in the environment to pace the storytelling experience.
• Stylher, founded by 2011 alumnae Emily DeSancti and Leila Ledsinger, an online clothing and accessories recommendation system offered free of charge that combines a user's body dimensions with personal style preferences and budget to customize recommendations about where to shop and what to buy. Stylher's mission is twofold: to simplify the process of finding clothes that fit well and look good, and to help retailers improve online conversions and reduce returns by recommending customers who fit their sizing and designs.
• SynkMonkey, founded by 2011 alums Hunter Murchison and Jay Subhash, a mobile app that allows users to easily schedule meetings and appointments via rich text messages with integrated date/time and mapping technology, while auto-populating a calendar with the meeting details. SynkMonkey will collect data about what a user's future plans are, thus enabling the company to deliver highly targeted and relevant ads, coupons or other services.
• Tee Gee, founded by Darden second-year student Tom Giedgow, a toy development company whose next project is an interactive stuffed animal that "grows" with the child to provide age-appropriate stories, games and conversations.
• The Third Space, founded by Trevor Thomas, a 2011 graduate, intended to be an "interactive art house lounge" located in Los Angeles International Airport. In partnership with local university studio art programs, The Third Space concept calls for student artwork on exhibit as well as for sale, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snacks and access to vintage and modern video games.
• Travel Gems, founded by 2011 alumna Brianne Warner, an online, personalized travel guide. Users input information about their favorite sites in cities they have visited and Travel Gems applies the information to create a travel guide for cities the users want to visit in the future.
• Validate Contract, founded by 2011 alumnus Kyle Hawke, provides a software platform that estimates a project's length or cost using a prediction market run by either an organization's employees or a diverse network of third-party experts.