Tomorrow, the i.Lab Incubator at the University of Virginia (UVA)’s Darden School of Business will kick off its 10-week summer session, welcoming 23 entrepreneurs with high hopes for their fledgling businesses. In the mix this year: a matchmaking service for vacationers and owners of high-end vacation homes, a communication network to support development work in sub-Saharan Africa and an online recruiting platform geared specifically toward MBA students at top schools.
Darden’s i.Lab Incubator, or “i.Lab” was launched in 2010 by the school’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. A fundraising challenge championed by alumnus W. L. Lyons Brown III (MBA ’87) helped finance a new state-of-the-art facility to house the i.Lab, which opened in summer 2012. The program has since expanded to include not only Darden students but also highly qualified entrepreneurs from the larger UVA and Charlottesville communities.
The 2015 cohort will include nine ventures founded by Darden students, nine founded by members of the larger UVA community and five founded by individuals not affiliated with the university.
“This year we saw a particularly experienced group of applicants,” Philippe Sommer, director of Darden’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, said in a statement. “It will be an incredible asset to have entrepreneurs in the Incubator with deep expertise in fields such as engineering, biomedicine and education.”
Eight ventures from last year’s cohort will stay on for a second year, the largest number of returning ventures in the i.Lab’s history.
The final spot in this year’s cohort, as in previous years, was awarded to the winner of Crowdfunded Pitch Night, an event held each year as part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival, a week-long celebration named for UVA founder Thomas Jefferson. Entrepreneurs and innovators from the community present their business ideas to audience members as part of Pitch Night, and the audience votes on a winner. This year, the venture selected by the crowd was Wildrock, a startup founded by social worker Carolyn Schuyler that will transform 28 acres in a nearby community into playspace where families and groups can interact with nature.
Participants in the i.Lab benefit from a $5,000 cash grant, office space and accompanying printing and supplies, legal services, accounting expertise, mentorship from entrepreneurs in residence and other experts and networking opportunities with other local entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists.
Rachel Penny (MBA ’15) will be one of the participants in the i.Lab this summer. Her venture, called Cassimir Club, unites vacation homeowners with potential renters, making use of customized marketing services.
Another student, Sid Pailla (MBA ’15, Ph.D. ’16), hopes i.Lab will provide the support he needs to get HiComm off the ground. His startup idea is a communication platform to better connect members of sub-Saharan African communities with development workers.
Two students, Sarah Rumbaugh (MBA ’15) and Zachary Mayo (MBA ’15), are collaborating on a third venture, called RelishMBA, which is designed to help MBA students, corporate recruiters and career service offices at leading business schools streamline the recruiting process.