UVA Launching New, Pan-University Entrepreneurship Initiative

October 24, 2023 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

The University of Virginia is launching a new, cross-University entrepreneurship initiative to advance its “Great and Good” 2030 strategic plan and to make it easier for students, faculty, staff, alumni and investors to navigate the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“I’m grateful to the many people around Grounds who have built a thriving culture of entrepreneurship at UVA, and to Mike Lenox for his leadership of this new initiative,” UVA President Jim Ryan said. “I am excited to see entrepreneurs from across the University come together, and to see the ripple effects that come from bringing more great ideas to life.”

Lenox, the Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School of Business and the newly appointed special adviser to the provost on entrepreneurship, will coordinate the initiative with Ryan, Executive Vice President and Provost Ian Baucom and others.

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“As a research university, we are committed to fostering the development of discoveries and scholarship that will enrich and improve lives. Commercialization and entrepreneurship enable us to bring this work to the world,” Baucom said. “Whether it’s through social entrepreneurship or launching a new product, the UVA Entrepreneurship Initiative will create new pathways to share the ideas of our students, faculty, and staff with our neighbors throughout the commonwealth and beyond its borders.”

The goal is to coordinate and amplify the entrepreneurship activities across UVA. The University will provide resources including developing entrepreneurship leaves for faculty; a fund to help translate technology and physical science research into marketable products; funding for programming and staff; and eventually, a central gathering space.

The initiative will also identify gaps in UVA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to ensure that students and faculty in every school have access to entrepreneurship resources and opportunities.

Farm overhead shot

AgroSpheres, launched by two UVA graduates, began testing its nontoxic pest control products at local vineyards in 2016. They have since been endorsed by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. UVA leaders say it’s a good example of successful entrepreneurship born at the University. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

The action comes at a propitious time as the University plans for the launch of the Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology. The institute will be centered on the research, development, commercialization and manufacturing of new cellular, gene and immunotherapies. 

“We’ve been on this journey for 12-plus years, supporting our students and faculty who are interested in entrepreneurship and innovation, and the time has come to think more broadly about what the University can do on a pan-University basis and how we can raise ourselves to the next level,” Lenox explained.

He said the work will strengthen the current entrepreneurial ecosystem that includes courses, centers, programs, maker spaces and other efforts. “We’re going to be creating support that catalyzes all of the schools’ and units’ existing entrepreneurship initiatives,” Lenox said.

In recent years, UVA has “had a number of significant advances,” Lenox said. “One was the transformation of our patent foundation to what we now call the Licensing & Ventures Group, which has been active in supporting faculty ventures coming out of the lab.”

Other advances include the creation of UVA’s iLab, an initiative of the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Technology at the Darden School, and the McIntire School of Commerce’s Galant Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Recent graduate in a vineyard

Sepehr Zomorodi, a 2017 UVA graduate and head of innovation at AgroSpheres, sprays a crop protection solution on grape vines at a local vineyard in Albemarle County. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

As one example of recent entrepreneurial success, Lenox pointed to a start-up venture launched just seven years ago by two then-undergraduate students at the University. Today, AgroSpheres, a company that makes environmentally safe, nontoxic pest control safe for humans and the environment, is expanding.

In May, Gov. Glenn Youngkin came to Charottesville to help celebrate the expansion, which will bring more than 50 new jobs to Albemarle County and a $25 million investment in Albemarle County.

“Agriculture technology is on the move,” Youngkin said. “These guys are leading it.”

Supporting Students

Lenox said the University wants to provide more support to students, no matter their level of interest in entrepreneurship, from “dyed-in-the-wool” entrepreneurs eager to start businesses, to those interested in entrepreneurship at some time later in their lives, to those who are simply interested in learning about technology and innovation.

There are many curricular pieces already in place, he said. He noted that the McIntire School of Commerce, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy all offer minors involving entrepreneurship.

CEO works in Charlottesville lab

AgroSpheres co-founder and CEO Payam Pourtaheri, a 2016 UVA graduate, works in the company headquarters in Charlottesville. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

At the graduate level, the University’s programs and courses include the entrepreneurship, innovation and strategy concentration within the Darden School, as well as the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic and the Patent Law and Licensing Clinic within the School of Law.

“I think the big opportunity is to catalyze networks and connections across Grounds and beyond,” Lenox said, adding that current entrepreneurship activities at the University are “rather diffuse through our Grounds, so this initiative may become a visual point of entry for people who are interested in this space.

“This has been envisioned in the strategic plan and the timing is right in terms of where we are in the development of our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. “I am excited to see this as a priority for the president and provost.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications