i.Lab at UVA Launches 2017 Incubator With 22 Ventures, New Program Innovations

Entrepreneurs / 8th June 2017

After a record number of applications, the i.Lab at UVA — an initiative of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation — is welcoming 22 new ventures to its 2017 Summer Incubator program. 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 is comprised of ventures with no direct UVA affiliation.

The incubator began 1 June with a 10-week summer accelerator. Participants 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 used by expert entrepreneurs 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,” said Brewster. “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 Mad Hatter’s new bottling plant for a session on bootstrapping and a workshop on venture funding led by Relish, Foodio and Contraline.

The 2017 incubator participants include:

  • Stream Sense Medical, founded by Cheng Yang (Col ’17), Long Di (SEAS ’16), and Longze Chen (SEAS ’15), provides an innovative, at-home urine test device for long-term health monitoring. Andrew Nelson (MBA ’17) recently joined the founding team.
  • The Kitchen Network, founded by community member Ian Pasquarelli, helps food business entrepreneurs overcome financial barriers by connecting them with commercial kitchen rentals in their community.
  • Exemplum Studios, founded by Atthar Mirza (Arch ’17), Omar El-Sheikh (SEAS ’19), Connor Anderson (SEAS ’20), Collin Hansen (SEAS ’19), and Claire Poumerol (Col ’18), is using new technology to tell authentic stories and move people into action. The studio’s first project, Impossible Courage, uses virtual reality to tell the refugee story.
  • Beanstalk Farming, founded by Jack Ross (SEAS ’17) and Michael Ross, is 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, is an international energy, engineering and development assistance consulting firm. GPTech was established in the incubator in 2010 by Phillip S. Green (MBA ’11) 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 is an online community that engages girls in engineering by helping them create their own products using 3D 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 is 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, cofounder 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 Michael Humenansky (MBA ’14) and veteran Monte Jones (MBA ’14), 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 is 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 over 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.

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