By H. Brevy Cannon
The newly renovated and expanded University of Virginia i.Lab, located at the Darden School of Business, was officially opened Thursday with a business pitch competition that awarded $10,000 in cash prizes and also kicked off the Tom Tom Founders Festival, a South-By-Southwest-inspired, four-day festival of innovation, presented in partnership with U.Va.
The new i.Lab aims to be a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation education serving all 11 U.Va. schools and the local community beyond Grounds, and that pivot was underlined by the pitch competition’s 10 finalist teams including teams without any U.Va. ties alongside student-led teams.
The 10 finalist teams were selected from a field of more than 60 applicants. Each pitched an idea for a new business or local community project, ranging from fire hydrant mural painting, to a Jamaican restaurant, to a homemade tomato sauce business and an Internet sports TV platform.
The finalists were competing for three cash prizes: $5,000 for first place; $3,000 for second place; and $2,000 for third place.
The winning teams were selected by a vote of the audience. The pitches took place under a tent set up on the i.Lab patio, with seating for about 100, so the audience of more than 200 squeezed around the tent, filling every possible perch, and spilled over onto the nearby patio area.
For the $10 admission fee each person received a blue marble to drop in one of 10 jars labeled with each team’s name.
After the votes were cast, and the marbles counted, the winners were announced.
The $5,000 first-place check went to Darden School first-year MBA student Kenny Schulman for his “Eat. Drink. Play.” pitch to create an online way for locals to share their favorite things about a community, such as Shenandoah Joe’s coffee, the sandwiches of Bellair market, or the taco stand at the weekly City Market, none of which are easily found with current online resources like Yelp that tend to feature major corporate offerings like Starbucks coffee and Jimmy John’s sandwiches.
Along with the $5,000 check, Schulman won the opportunity to claim a spot in the i.Lab incubator program, which offers startups free office space, mentoring, business services and the opportunity to work alongside the fellow entrepreneurs who make up the rest of each year’s incubator class. This year’s incoming incubator class already includes 24 ventures. Schulman said he would decide whether to join the incubator after hearing back from all his summer job applications.
The second-prize check for $3,000 went to the City Schoolyard Garden, a nonprofit working to create gardens at the local public schools, powered by parents and teachers, students and community volunteers. The group created its first garden at Buford Middle School, and is in the process of creating gardens at six additional schools. “This $3,000 means a lot to us right now,” said program founder Linda Winecoff.
The check for $2,000 was awarded to Duylam Nguyen-Ngo, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, for his WalkBack mobile phone application that harnesses a phone’s GPS tracking functionality so college students, administrators and police can make sure students arrive home safely.
Area resident Susan Chambers received an honorable mention recognition for her proposal to create a new Jamaican restaurant in Charlottesville using family recipes from Jamaica.
“This was a nice way for U.Va. to merge with the community in a new and different kind of way,” said attendee Sophie Zunz, daughter of U.Va. history professor Olivier Zunz.
Earlier in the afternoon, before the pitch competition, the opening of the W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Laboratory included formal remarks from the i.Lab’s new namesake, U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan, Darden School of Business Dean Bob Bruner, Batten Institute Director Mike Lenox and others speaking to a crowd of more than 200 gathered on the i.Lab’s patio.
The four-day Tom Tom Founders Festival continues through Sunday evening. Full details and schedule are here: www.tomtomfest.com.
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About the i.Lab at U.Va.
The i.Lab is a University-wide initiative that creates a nexus for entrepreneurship and innovation education. Its mission is to foster deep cross-collaboration with no boundaries, across disciplines, schools or ways of thinking. The i.Lab provides coaching, courses and incubation to students, faculty and community members innovating the future. Initiatives such as the i.Lab help create a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem within U.Va. and its surrounding community. The i.Lab is a collaborative effort of 11 schools of the University, the Provost's Office, and UVA Innovation.
About the Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business
The Batten Institute at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business improves the world through entrepreneurship and innovation. Its academic research center advances knowledge that addresses real-world challenges and shapes Darden's curriculum, and its Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership offers one of the world's top entrepreneurship programs. The Batten Institute was established with gifts now totaling over $100 million from the late Frank Batten Sr., a U.Va. alumnus, media pioneer, visionary and founder of The Weather Channel.
About the Darden School of Business
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is one of the world's leading business schools, offering MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. The unique Darden experience combines the case study method; the highest-ranked faculty, whose research advances global managerial practice and business education; and a tight-knit learning environment to develop responsible and complete leaders who are ready to make an impact.
About the University of Virginia
Founded in Charlottesville by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia is a leading public university that serves as a national model for excellence through innovation and collaboration in its missions of teaching, research, public service and health care.
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