Spotlight On: Darden Business Incubator

On Wednesday, the Darden School of Business announced the latest entrepreneurship ventures participating in the Darden Business Incubator, which is being held in Darden’s new i.Lab. Here, students build innovative businesses as they choose entrepreneurship over traditional career paths.

Darden supplies each venture with physical office space, more than $13,000 to cover expenses, and a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and network. “The Incubator is not about theoretical or textbook businesses, it’s about creating them in the real world,” says Philippe Sommer, director of Darden’s Entrepreneurship Program.

With over 18 companies selected, Sommer says this is the largest, most diverse group since the launch of the Incubator program ten years ago. “There is a strong and continued interest in entrepreneurship at Darden and UVA, and we believe we are providing a great opportunity for students who are really committed to starting a successful business,” Sommer explains.

While each venture must involve a Darden student, the Incubator is also open to members of the wider University of Virginia community. The 18 participants in this year’s Incubator include:

  • 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.
  • Dobro Media, founded by Darden MBA executive program student John Dowd and first-year student Brianne Warner. The business ultimately seeks to produce individualized print newspapers for consumers. Their first product, Precision Ads, generates advertisements targeted to local consumers that are delivered 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, aims to bring an “interactive art-house lounge” to Los Angeles’ LAX airport, offering frequently traveling professionals and others a stress-free environment to unwind. The Third Space model calls for the exhibition and sale of art, access to vintage and modern video games, as well as drinks and snacks.
  • Other ventures 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.

According to the school, The Incubator has enjoyed an impressive success rate, with nearly 50 percent of the ventures surviving the five year mark. Funding for the Incubator and Darden’s Entrepreneurship program is provided by a grant from the Batten family to support entrepreneurship and innovation at Darden.
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