Beanstalk Wins i.Lab Kathryne Carr Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence

The W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab at UVA is pleased to announce the 2018 winner of the Kathryne Carr Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence. Beanstalk, a 2017 i.Lab company, was recognized for its strong business performance and commercial potential, its entrepreneurial community impact, and for the selfless leadership demonstrated by its founders, brothers Jack (Engr '17) and Mike Ross. Read more about Beanstalk here

Beanstalk was one of four finalists that included Babylon Micro-Farms, Nuna Med, and Brandefy. The final decision was very difficult. Each of the finalist teams are clearly dedicated to their cause, making forward progress on their ventures and are strong contributors to the community of founders on Nash drive.

The annual award, which includes a grant of at least $25,000, was created in 2016 in memory of Kathryne “Kathy” Carr — the first director of the i.Lab Incubator program. Read more about the award here

 

Fox News On Rhoback Supporting Shelter To Service Program

Jesse Walters of Fox News' "The Five" highlights Rhoback's work with American Humane's Shelter to Service Program. 

For the last four months Rhoback has been donating a portion of every sale to this great cause and will continue to do so until they raise enough funds to rescue and train a service dog for a veteran in need.  Click here for more information on Rhoback working with Shelter to Service. Click here watch the Fox News highlight. 

UVA Darden Named Among Best in U.S. For Entrepreneurship

Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine has ranked the University of Virginia Darden School of Business the No. 7 graduate business school in the U.S. for entrepreneurship.

This Top 10 recognition marks the third straight year Darden has improved in the entrepreneurship ranking, moving up from No. 11 in 2016.  Read more here. 

i.Lab alum Agrospheres Participates in House Small Business Subcommittee Meeting on High-Tech Agriculture

The hearing examined rapid development of the agricultural technology (agtech) industry driven by the private sector.  Entrepreneurs are tackling industry challenges and facilitating technology transfer from the lab to the farm to the table.  Agricultural regions are competing to be the next great innovation hub, which has spurred rural revitalization.  The discussion explored issues beyond the headlines to understand the role of small businesses and the perspective of small family farmers. Click here to watch the entire hearing. 

501 Auctions Makes Inc 5000 List of The Fastest-Growing Private Companies In America

501 Auctions is a former i.Lab company and Darden alum (MBA '12).  The company helps fund the growth of nonprofits with its easy-to-use mobile bidding software and auction management service. Additionally, it automates many of the time-consuming manual tasks associated with holding an event, and opens charities' silent auctions to supporters who otherwise could not participate. Read here for more information on 501 Auctions. 

PAKA nearing $60,000 in Kickstarter campaign- 3x their initial goal!

UPDATE 9/27: PAKA raises close to $110,000 with 26 days still left to go!

i.Lab company PAKA is not just any apparel company; they have a sustainable-impact approach dedicated to improving the lives of the Peruvian women weaving some of the softest and warmest material on earth: alpaca wool. Founder Kris Cody brings this unique material to the global market in his first ever crowdfunding campaign, and since the launch of the Kickstarter on Tuesday, September 19, PAKA has raised nearly $60,000- 3x the initial goal of $20K!  Read more about Kris Cody and PAKA here.

 The public still has 32 days left to back this campaign.  Please click here to support PAKA. 

On Embracing Uncharted Territory with BestCredit.com

In sailing, much like in entrepreneurship, one must have the ability to shift with the winds. As an avid sailor in his native Rosario, Argentina, Maximiliano A. Isa Pavia, a recent Darden School of Business graduate (2017) and founder of BestCredit.com (TuMejorCredito.com.ar), is accustomed to pivoting. A diligent worker bursting with ideas, he recalls the moment – at age 13 – that he realized he might have entrepreneurial inclinations. He needed a replacement piece for his sailboat, but the particular instrument he required was an annoying combination of attributes – simple but expensive. So he decided to make his own, and once he did, the quality construction started attracting attention from his fellow sailors.

Pretty soon, as a young teenager, Maximiliano was selling several of these pieces to members of his sailing community. While his passion for sailing continues to this day, he ultimately went on to work in the finance space – procuring a job in finance consulting after undergrad and eventually pursuing a master’s degree in the subject.

“I worked in finance, but I discovered [along the way] that I like to build things,” he tells me. So he began considering how he could build something in the finance world that would make people’s lives easier, just as he had found a means to do so in sailing. Since his younger-year realization that he enjoyed bringing ideas to fruition, he’d taken his tinkering to new levels and worked on his first startup business in 2012, which had taught him both how challenging and rewarding entrepreneurship could be. Then, in January 2015, he conceived of what is now BestCredit.com, a platform to help Argentinians compare financial programs and credit options.

Bridging Many Worlds with Exemplum Studios’ Atthar Mirza

Art can be a powerful way to bridge many of the gaps that exist in our world – bringing people together across perceived divides among cultures, genders, ages, and many more categories. These days, the same could certainly be said for technology, which connects us in astonishingly speedy ways, rendering time zones and country borders far less significant than they once were.

For Atthar Mirza, a 2017 UVA graduate of the Architecture School and Founder of Exemplum Studios – a production house focused on utilizing cutting-edge technology to tell stories – technology is simply the best mode with which to create change. While he’s always been drawn to 3D modeling, animation, and their ilk, he harbored some concerns that technology’s unstoppable march forward was actually causing us to become more isolated from each other and from the world around us. A thoughtful person with a self-avowed love of talking to people, Mirza figured that these two aspects of his personality – an interest in the humanities and a skill for technology – were bound to always remain distinct and separate. However, as someone skilled at being the bridge between two seemingly disparate groups (“I speak English with you, but I speak Urdu at home,” he tells me, just one example to illustrate the middle ground he’s “always walking” between his parents’ culture and the American culture with which he grew up), it’s no surprise that he’d ultimately find an unexpected, but graceful, way to merge the two.

Pitching from the Stakeholder Perspective with June West

June West is aware that, when you hear her speak or interact with her, there’s a lot of subtext humming just below the surface of that conversation. Not only are you evaluating her expertise – as someone who’s been in the business since 1972, starting in PR and now running her own consulting business, she’ll inevitably impress in that arena – but as a Darden School of Business Professor of Management Communications, you’re also evaluating Darden with her as a proxy. “The reason companies fail, I think, is a lot about communication,” she tells us, as an opening line.  Her communications expertise was proven out right then and there – she certainly knows how to hook a group of hungry-for-knowledge startup entrepreneurs.

In her recent workshop on “Pitching from the Stakeholder Perspective,” West narrowed in on the ways – both overt and otherwise – that founders and startup employees establish their brand in the minds of listeners with each moment of communication. She emphasized how crucial it is to build credibility in every setting, whether you’re giving a formal pitch or answering impromptu questions from your seatmate on an airplane. Ultimately, every question can be distilled down to some notion of “why” – people want to understand why you and why this idea, and they want to be a part of your story.

Get to Know a Few Members of our 2017 Cohort

Over the course of the summer, we’re sitting down with each of the i.Lab ventures to help them share their stories, which we feature each week over on our “Nash News” blog.  Recent weeks have allowed us to engage in enlightening conversations with 7 of the companies under our roof this summer.  To read more about these founders and their impressive backgrounds and aspirations, explore the pieces linked/excerpted below:

* Rohvi | Rohvi’s co-founders Sara Whiffen and Beth Crooker talked about launching an all-female tech startup and delved into how to bring online shopping principles to the brick-and-mortar retail space:

“There’s something positive about the shopping experience – touch, feel, social.  We still see a role for brick and mortar stores,” says Whiffen.  “…Amazon was supposed to put all bookstores out of business but now they’re actually building bookstores.  We’re [now] seeing there’s something valuable about the tangible experience [even in this digital age].”

*The Kitchen Network | We spoke with The Kitchen Network founder Ian Pasquarelli about how starting a food business can be an accessible dream for folks from all walks of life and how the sharing economy has affected his life and business ambitions:

“But his passion clearly lay not just in nutrition, but in the intersection of the food and business worlds – from a young age, Ian had “always known that [he] wanted to create and do something for [him]self” and found himself continually drawn to many aspects of entrepreneurship.  And that’s where the sharing comes in – this fascination with entrepreneurship didn’t stop with just a curiosity for what that path could do for his own life, it actually fueled a deeper mission to help others explore starting their own businesses as well.”

*Brandefy | Brandefy founder Meg Greenhalgh chatted with us about how feedback has been both the impetus of her business idea and the main driver behind shaping and refining it:

“After spending four years in private label consumer packaged goods, she began to realize that sometimes the generic version and the brand version of a product are exactly the same.  However, that doesn’t always hold true across the board – she’s also seen instances in which the store version of a product doesn’t even come close to matching up to the brand-name model.  With a product like sunscreen, for instance, buying a bad approximation to use during a hot, sunny July vacation is a mistake you certainly don’t want to make.”

*InMEDBio | Ashwinraj Karthikeyan, the founder of InMEDBio, spoke with us about how his innate curiosity and need to ask “why” is helping him make a huge impact:

“As a young, curious kid, his parents ‘used to get slightly irritated… I’d always ask ‘why’ a lot – to the point of exhaustion on my parents’ part.’  As far as entrepreneurs go, this trait seems to come with the territory, and sure enough, Ashwin tells me, he dabbled with business ideas in the years before founding InMEDBio.  In keeping with his focus on the future, ‘in high school, I was into robotics’ in addition to exploring numerous other ideas in the consumer products space.  While none of these business ideas stuck for too long, he felt continually compelled by the notion of ‘building something on my own and seeing where I could take it.’”

*Gaona Granola | Gaona Granola’s founder Coco Sotelo shared her familial approach to entrepreneurism and how forging a bridge between her native Mexico and second home in Charlottesville gets translated into the food that she bakes:

“The business is deeply rooted in the notion of family – not only is it a labor of love to feed and nourish her family as well as families throughout the Charlottesville community, but Coco actually drew the idea’s inspiration directly from her family, specifically her startup-minded daughter.  The eldest Gaona daughter, now 13 years old, possessed an innate entrepreneurial desire from a very young age – perhaps a subconscious legacy from Sotelo’s business-owner parents back in Mexico.”

*Pivot | Co-founders Brig Leland and April Palmer talked about a life in constant motion and how they combined their two passions – fitness and supporting local businesses – into their new venture:

“Essentially, no matter which way you cut it, pivot is inextricable from the idea of motion and movement.  And if there were one perfect phrase to sum up Pivot’s energetic Co-Founders April Palmer and Brig Leland, it would be “on the move.”  Now, they help local fitness enthusiasts get on the move as well through hundreds of on-demand classes at several local Charlottesville gyms without prepaid or recurring fees.”

*StreamSense Medical | Cheng Yang, founder of StreamSense Medical, spoke with us about how biomarkers are the scientific wave of the future and how his participation in the new i.LabX program has informed and shaped his venture in powerful ways:

“They say that building a successful business takes plenty of ‘blood, sweat, and tears,’ and that sentiment couldn’t be truer for StreamSense Medical CEO Cheng Yang. But, given the nature of his business, he’d probably tack on ‘urine’ to the end of that phrase. Old adages aside, these substances fall under the category of bodily fluids containing important ‘biomarkers,’ which help medical professionals see and monitor potential health issues – and Yang, a recent Chemistry PhD graduate from UVA, sees the potential for big business.”

 

StreamSense Medical On the Potential of Biomarker Businesses to Create Big Impact

They say that building a successful business takes plenty of “blood, sweat, and tears,” and that sentiment couldn’t be truer for StreamSense Medical CEO Cheng Yang. But, given the nature of his business, he’d probably tack on “urine” to the end of that phrase. Old adages aside, these substances fall under the category of bodily fluids containing important “biomarkers,” which help medical professionals see and monitor potential health issues – and Yang, a recent Chemistry PhD graduate from UVA, sees the potential for big business.

StreamSense Medical’s first product-in-development, UrineSmart, will soon position his startup squarely in the company of some savvy heavy-hitters who are also exploring the biomarker space. “Google X is working on a product to help [monitor glucose levels] using tears, Harvard is working on a sensor to detect biomarkers via sweat, and we are the urine guys,” Cheng says with a laugh. For those of us less familiar with cutting-edge science and medical developments (myself very much included), UrineSmart will be an at-home urine test device that uses electrochemistry technology developed by Yang and colleagues Long Di (CTO) and Longze Chen (CIO) as a pre-diagnostic tool measuring important biomarkers and bio-indicators. The device will sit directly in a user’s toilet and will take account of humidity, temperature, ph, and other factors to help them monitor important measurements such as present levels of uric acid, a substance closely related to kidney stones.

Pivot’s Brig Leland and April Palmer Set their Business In Motion

In these entrepreneurial circles, there’s a tendency, when hearing the term pivot, to immediately think about the word’s business implications.  But in layman’s terms, pivot is more commonly used as a synonym for rotate, turn, swivel, or revolve.  Essentially, no matter which way you cut it, pivot is inextricable from the idea of motion and movement.  And if there were one perfect phrase to sum up Pivot’s energetic Co-Founders April Palmer and Brig Leland, it would be “on the move.”  Now, they help local fitness enthusiasts get on the move as well through hundreds of on-demand classes at several local Charlottesville gyms without prepaid or recurring fees.

Fittingly, the duo met about six years ago during an obstacle course race in Boston, and although April was a self-described “bookworm” at the time, her fearless spirit and Brig’s fitness aptitude made for an undeniable connection that quickly led to more activity-focused hangouts.  Their first date was a weekend whirlwind of running, surfing (in Hurricane Irene, no less), and bonding over their mutual love of adventure, and the two have been together ever since.  They cite fitness, as well as a passion for living a locally-minded lifestyle, as the core components that define their relationship.

It Runs in the Family: How a Family Ritual Inspired Gaona Granola

When Coco Sotelo pulls up a seat at the table, there’s an instant warmth and familiarity that emanates from her.  The mother of three girls (13, 10, and 3 years old) has a tendency to make everyone feel like family, and as she talks about the path that led her to create Gaona Granola, a line of handcrafted, healthy granola cereals, it becomes clear that her friendly demeanor is as effortless as her delicious baking abilities.  

The business is deeply rooted in the notion of family – not only is it a labor of love to feed and nourish her family as well as families throughout the Charlottesville community, but Coco actually drew the idea’s inspiration directly from her family, specifically her startup-minded daughter.  The eldest Gaona daughter, now 13 years old, possessed an innate entrepreneurial desire from a very young age – perhaps a subconscious legacy from Sotelo’s business-owner parents back in Mexico.  She begged her mother for years to open a family cupcake booth at Charlottesville’s local farmer’s market, but Sotelo had a few concerns.  Not only was she opposed to starting a business that provided her children – and others – with sugary, low-nutrition snacks, she also worried about fitting in a baking business amidst the family’s already-hectic schedule.  “For years, I was telling her no, it’s not our time, we’re too busy,” Sotelo recalls. The three girls, all avid dancers, already spent hours at ballet classes each week, and as they got older, the demands of their dance training became even more intense.

Telling Stories with W. L. Lyons Brown III

In the early days of Jack Daniels, the company did something revolutionary: it told the truth.  Rather than playing in an abstract space, their ads stuck solely to depicting the 5 Ps of Jack – product, process, people, place, and past – through images of Jack Daniels workers doing nothing more and nothing less than the true, sometimes-mundane actions of their job, the very actions that allowed them to ultimately deliver high-quality whiskey to the brand’s notoriously loyal customers.  At first glance, it might have seemed that this move would rid the revered brand of some of its hard-won mystique.  But, in actuality, it proved successful, cultivating more loyalty than ever.  For W.L. Lyons Brown III, a descendant of the family who bought the iconic brand and built the Brown-Forman wine and spirits empire, this is an irreplaceable lesson in storytelling, a skill which he believes should form the core of every entrepreneur’s tool kit.  “Telling the truth is much easier than anything else,” and people recognize and connect with authenticity, no matter its form.

While he worked with the family business for many years, this Double Hoo (a graduate of both the University of Virginia and the Darden Graduate School of Business) eventually struck out on his own, building Altamar Brands, his current spirits company, from the ground up.  So, during a workshop with the i.Lab last week, he had no trouble identifying with the cohort’s 22 ventures and the eager entrepreneurs who lead them – he’s been in their seats before (quite literally, actually, considering the group gathered in a classroom at Darden, Brown’s old stomping grounds).

InMEDBio: What Happens When You Ask "Why"

Ashwinraj (Ashwin) Karthikeyan, a rising UVA Fourth Year and the CEO and Founder of InMEDBio, has long embraced his penchant for seeking out answers to tough questions, both about the current state of the world and about what the future holds.  As a young, curious kid, his parents “used to get slightly irritated… I’d always ask ‘why’ a lot – to the point of exhaustion on my parents’ part.”  As far as entrepreneurs go, this trait seems to come with the territory, and sure enough, Ashwin tells me, he dabbled with business ideas in the years before founding InMEDBio. 

In keeping with his focus on the future, “in high school, I was into robotics” in addition to exploring numerous other ideas in the consumer products space.  While none of these business ideas stuck for too long, he felt continually compelled by the notion of “building something on my own and seeing where I could take it.”  But he was in no particular rush to commit to one venture as a career path – after all, his dad had worked for twenty years as a researcher before starting his own business.  However, when the idea for InMEDBio and its first product in-development, Phoenix-Aid, began to take shape, Ashwin was finally fully captivated by one timely idea. 

Brandefy Founder Meg Greenhalgh on How Feedback Shapes Her Business

Meg Greenhalgh wants your honest opinion.  No, really, she does.  As a serial entrepreneur and current Darden MBA student, she’s well-versed in the idea that feedback is an essential, though sometimes painful, part of growth and development.  The founder of Brandefy – a platform that shows shoppers how store brand and name brand products stack up against each other utilizing honest, straightforward consumer feedback – recounts the moment that she learned to value criticism on a whole new level, just as she was fully discovering the benefits of an effectual frame of mind.  “I went to an effectuation workshop with Saras (Sarasvathy) in October or November, and she just tore apart my plan of moving forward.  It was the best thing that anyone could do for me.  I had all these causal [rather than effectual] plans and I realized they would not have told me anything that I don’t already know.”

Helping others to discover unknown information forms the backbone of what Greenhalgh hopes to accomplish with Brandefy.  After spending four years in private label consumer packaged goods, she began to realize that sometimes the generic version and the brand version of a product are exactly the same.  However, that doesn’t always hold true across the board – she’s also seen instances in which the store version of a product doesn’t even come close to matching up to the brand-name model.  With a product like sunscreen, for instance, buying a bad approximation to use during a hot, sunny July vacation is a mistake you certainly don’t want to make.

i.Lab Company Rise 4 Real Change Creates Ripples in the Education System

i.Lab Company Rise 4 Real Change Creates Ripples in the Education System

When Gina and Bryan Christ moved to Virginia two years ago, the mother and son duo thought that their days of working together were over.  Fortunately for the Charlottesville educational community, that notion didn’t last for long, and their venture Rise 4 Real Change, an evolving and adaptive teen mentoring program is now an integral part of the curriculum at Western Albemarle High School (with two more Charlottesville schools to be rolled out this fall).  Bryan, a UVA First Year at the time, and Gina, newly enjoying a well-earned schedule sans a regular 9-5, had recently left behind a beloved mentorship program that they had created and fostered in their North Carolina hometown.  Although in theory they had now shifted focus to other things, they couldn’t shake the feeling that they were called to do more.

A family vacation in Virginia Beach served as a needed catalyst to reopen the discussion.  Gina and Bryan recall a particular moment during that trip as a pivotal point in the creation of their venture – staring out at the vast ocean and watching the waves ripple to the shore, they agreed that their mutual goal to inspire and support kids throughout their academic journeys was far from complete.