The University of Virginia is teaming up with the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County to form a Central Virginia business accelerator this fall.
The Catalyst Accelerator Program, designed to support local entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business development, will accept applications this summer for its inaugural cohort. Developed through a collaboration among the University of Virginia, Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, the program will provide dedicated staff, workspace, advisers, programming and $20,000 grants to support high-potential, scalable startups in the region. Space will be available for the selected entrepreneurs on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and at another location in the county.
“Catalyst is open to the community-at-large,” said David Touve, senior director of the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UVA’s Darden School of Business and the program lead for Catalyst. “The program is the result of a compelling partnership among both public and private stakeholders, collaborating to leverage a broad portfolio of resources to support innovators in the region.”
Catalyst is funded with a $475,000, two-year grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia Growth & Opportunity Initiative Region 9 Council. The city, county and the University are matching the state money collectively.
“We are excited to work alongside the other stakeholders in this program to nurture the talent and ideas in our region.” Touve said.
The University’s proposed “Great and Good” strategic plan calls on UVA to forge partnerships with government and the private sector, making it easier for innovators to commercialize their ideas and discoveries.
“Accelerators act as the glue between entrepreneurs, investors and mentors,” said Denise Hubbard, program director for the University’s Office of Economic Development, which is also supporting the program. “We want to speed up the process for nascent ventures to become viable businesses.”
Between fall 2019 and spring 2021, Catalyst will select and directly support 20 early stage companies operating in the region, with a particular focus on teams developing scalable products or services with high-growth potential.
Each team selected will also go through a nine-month program on business development and management and have access to more than $50,000 worth of in-kind resources. Each team will also be connected to a local business founder as an adviser. Teams need not be affiliated with the University to participate.
Catalyst will collaborate with local and regional organizations to offer a monthly portfolio of programming and networking events open to the broader community, creating connections that might not otherwise occur.
Additionally, Catalyst is taking a more networked and open approach to the role that high-growth accelerator programs can play in their communities. Organizations collaborating with Catalyst include: the Community Investment Collaborative, CvilleBioHub, Charlottesville’s Business and Innovation Council, Small Business Development Center, the UVA Office of Economic Development, UVA Licensing & Ventures Group, Charlottesville Angel Network and others.
“The Catalyst Accelerator project, which leverages resources from GO Virginia, regional economic development partners, the University of Virginia, nonprofits and the private sector, represents a new economic development model that is broader than business attraction,” Pace Lochte, UVA’s assistant vice president for economic development, said. “We are excited to be part of this new dynamic in cultivating an entrepreneurial ecosystem that provides value to early stage companies.”
The program will provide internship and project-based learning opportunities for students, offering work experience with small, high-potential companies. Catalyst is collaborating with UVA’s Career Center, connecting startups with students developing in-demand skills such as data analytics, digital marketing, software development and design.
“Recognizing the startup ecosystem’s need for qualified talent, Catalyst draws students into the community through two pathways: as interns – in partnership with the UVA Career Center – with companies in the accelerator program, and through courses in which student teams will work on projects linked to the accelerator,” Touve said. “Both of these pathways provide ways for students to learn in engaging and innovative ways.”
Visiting business founders- and investors-in-residence alongside industry experts are a core component of the Catalyst program. Through this approach, the program also provides UVA alumni with a meaningful opportunity to connect with, and contribute to, not only the University, but also the larger regional community.
The applications for Catalyst will open on Aug. 1, with a deadline on Aug. 23. Formal programming for the accelerator will begin in September, when an initial batch of startups will be selected. A second window for selection will open later in the fall.
More information about the Catalyst accelerator, including the criteria for applying to the program, can be found online.