After a record number of applications, the University of Virginia’s iLab – a startup incubator run by the Darden School of Business’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation – welcomed 22 new ventures to its 2017 Summer Incubator program last week.
The selected startups are developing innovative ideas in a range of industries, spanning cloud computing, micro-farming, the refugee crises, medical technology and much more.
The W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab is a UVA-wide initiative that nurtures entrepreneurship throughout the University and Charlottesville community. The incubator program has been a key part of that mission, and it is continuing to expand its reach, with a 20 percent increase in applications this year and entrepreneurs including students and faculty from eight different schools across the University. Approximately one-third of the incoming class comprises ventures run by community members with no direct UVA affiliation.
The newest participants started a 10-week summer accelerator program this month. They will join a community of fellow entrepreneurs as they develop their business ideas. They also receive a $5,000 grant, office space, mentoring support, networking opportunities and access to legal, accounting and technical expertise throughout the year.
This year, i.Lab Incubator Director Jason Brewster is incorporating “effectuation” as part of the program. The result of research findings by Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy, effectuation is an accessible, flexible and powerful framework that articulates the method of decision-making expert entrepreneurs use in the face of uncertainty to build highly successful ventures. Through pre-reading and guided workshops, the incoming incubator class is becoming steeped in the effectual method.
“As the ventures arrive with a common vocabulary, they hit the ground running and are well-positioned for success,” Brewster said. “A common framework greatly accelerates their progress.”
In addition, the 2017 program includes sessions led by successful i.Lab Incubator graduates, including a field visit to hot sauce producer Mad Hatter’s new bottling plant for a session on bootstrapping and a workshop on venture funding led by three startups: Relish, which builds custom hiring platforms; Foodio, which creates online and mobile ordering apps for restaurants; and Contraline, a biotechnology company developing contraceptives.
The 2017 incubator participants include:
- Stream Sense Medical, founded by recent UVA graduates Cheng Yang, Long Di, and Longze Chen, which provides an innovative, at-home urine test device for long-term health monitoring. 2017 Darden graduate Andrew Nelson recently joined the founding team.
- The Kitchen Network, founded by community member Ian Pasquarelli, which helps food business entrepreneurs overcome financial barriers by connecting them with commercial kitchen rentals in their community.
- Exemplum Studios, founded by 2017 School of Architecture graduate Atthar Mirza, third-year engineering students Omar El-Sheikh and Collin Hansen, second-year engineering student Connor Anderson and fourth-year Arts & Sciences student Claire Poumerol, which is using new technology to tell authentic stories and to move people into action. The studio’s first project, “Impossible Courage,” uses virtual reality to tell the refugee story.
- Beanstalk Farming, founded by recent graduate Jack Ross and co-founder Michael Ross, an agriculture technology company that develops scalable, automated and sustainable vertical farms. Beanstalk farms are entirely contained, require no pesticides and dramatically reduce water usage while employing renewable power.
The i.Lab Incubator has launched numerous success stories, and several graduates are continuing to grow their ventures on a national and international stage, including:
- Green Powered Technology (GPTech), a veteran-founded company, an international energy, engineering and development assistance consulting firm. GPTech was established in the incubator in 2010 by 2011 Darden graduate Phillip S. Green with a vision to help further sustainable, innovative energy and engineering solutions globally by providing consulting services in energy engineering, international engineering and sustainable development. GPTech brings technical, financing and private sector engagement expertise in key sectors, such as energy and infrastructure, furthering U.S. private sector expansion into emerging markets and fostering private sector engagement.
- KiraKira3D, an online community that engages girls in engineering by helping them create their own products using 3-D modeling. KiraKira3D’s video lessons have reached more than 100,000 students and the company has users in more than 100 countries. Founder Suz Somersall was the inaugural winner of Darden’s Kathryne Carr Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence and was named one of Fast Company’s Top 100 Creative People for 2017. The company recently partnered with Autodesk to open the KiraKira MakerStudio in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.
- TomTom Founders Festival, an annual, weeklong festival that celebrates entrepreneurship, creativity and community building in Charlottesville and beyond. Since its inception in 2012, the festival has grown more than six times its original size, to 45,000 attendees, and has featured national-level entrepreneurs and civic leaders, including Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit; Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewery; Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
- MoBell Muscle, co-founded by Darden alumni Michael Humenansky and Monte Jones and Darden and School of Law alumnus Ross Rosenstein, which provides American-made gym equipment and training programs. MoBell Muscle’s signature product – a portable, collapsible weight-training system originally designed for troops on deployment – was awarded “Best Training System” in the Men’s Health “2016’s Product of the Year” list.
- Wildrock, a nonprofit that addresses the problem of kids spending on average seven minutes a day in outdoor play and seven hours on electronic devices. With support from more than 50 local and national groups and sponsors, Wildrock recently opened its creative and imaginative three-acre playscape to the public and has hosted hundreds of students while running programs for refugees, veterans and other community groups.