Incubator Hosts Record Numbers


This summer, 18 entrepreneurship ventures will hatch a bevy of ideas in the Darden Business Incubator, housed this summer in the new i.Lab. “It’s our largest group,’’ says Philippe Sommer, director of entrepreneurship programs at the Darden School of Business. incubator-F3B6357.jpg

The Incubator’s mission is to help MBA students bring early-stage business ventures to life. Unlike programs at other business schools, the Darden Business Incubator supplies each venture with over $13,000 to cover expenses; physical office space; help in finding third-party investment support and a supportive community of fellow entrepreneurs over the course of a year. Funding for the Incubator is provided by a generous grant from the Batten family to support Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Darden.

While each venture must involve a Darden student, the Incubator is also open to members of the wider University of Virginia community who are interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial business idea. Projects are selected for the commitment of the student(s), the details of the business plan and the research behind it. Once in the Incubator, participants are encouraged to establish an advisory board.

Among this year’s ventures are Yebofund, created by Darden First Year Student Joe Andrasko and his team: a “socially impactful private equity and economic development fund” based in Africa. The fund purchased a farm in Swaziland in the spring of 2009, generated 125 local full-time jobs and has increased exports from one ton per week to six over the past year. Yebofund’s goals in the Incubator include investigating if additional farms in the vicinity are available for purchase, offering opportunities for growth. “This is not another donation system of Americans giving money to Africans,” said Andrasko. “This is for savvy investors.”

Dobro Media is another venture to be housed in the 2010 Incubator. Founded by First Year Student Brianne Warner, and MBA Executive Program Student John D. Dowd, the business ultimately seeks to produce individualized print newspapers for consumers. Their first product, Precision Ads, generates local advertisements tailored for specific groups which are printed on coversheets and delivered to consumers’ homes with the local newspaper. Dobro Media won third place in the Darden-UVa Business Plan Competition in April.

The Third Space, founded by First Year Student Trevor Thomas, will be an “interactive arthouse lounge” located in Los Angeles’ LAX airport. In partnership with local university studio art programs, The Third Space concept calls for student artwork on exhibit as well as for sale, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snacks and access to vintage and modern video games. In the Incubator, Thomas hopes to continue building out the business plan with help from advisors in the airport services industry, academic art community, and general business.

Other ventures to be supported by the Incubator include an online medical supplies company, a geriatric consulting business, an event-based social networking website, and a wholesale plant nursery, to name a few.

The Incubator has enjoyed an impressive success rate over the nine years of its history, with nearly 50 percent of the ventures surviving the five year mark. One example, Global Cell Solutions, headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, was co-founded by Uday Gupta (MBA ’04) and Robin Felder, Ph.D., University Professor and Director of the Medical Automation Research Center at U.Va. in 2004. Gupta launched the company, which markets ground-breaking cell culturing techniques, while in the Incubator. 

In 2009, BioLevitator, a technology invented at the U.Va. School of Medicine and commercialized by Global Cell, was named one of the 10 “most exciting tools to hit the life sciences” by The Scientist magazine. BioLevitator is an automated single-unit incubator and centrifuge and one of the first 3-D cell culture systems. It allows researchers to grow more cells in less time than two-dimensional systems and is closer to a natural in vivo environment.

“This is a great opportunity for students really committed to starting a business,” said Sommer. “The Incubator is not about theoretical or textbook businesses, it’s about creating them in the real world.”

Founded in 1954, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business improves society by developing principled leaders in the world of practical affairs.

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