By Jacqui Lazo Fernstrom

The W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Laboratory (i.Lab) at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business welcomes 23 new ventures to its flagship 2018 i.Lab Incubator program. This summer’s startups, which encompass everything from candy bars to compact thermal imaging goggles to a neonatal transport incubator, include founders from six UVA schools.

The Incubator program, a UVA-wide initiative of Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs across Grounds and beyond. It is one of the few university-funded programs that supports ventures independent of University connections. Nine returning students, at least 10 new graduates, three or more alumni, and three faculty are among the roster of founders. One-third of the companies have no UVA affiliation.

In addition to receiving a $5,000 grant, participants in the immersive 10-week program will advance their ideas through workshops, new venture curriculum, and mentorship from experienced founders and industry experts. Incubator ventures will also have access to networking opportunities, pro bono legal advice and other expertise.

The curriculum draws extensively from the work of Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy on effectuation, a logic of thinking used by expert entrepreneurs. One of the most critical aspects of the effectual method is “The Ask,” or the moment when the entrepreneur asks a stakeholder for co-creative participation.

Following core principles of effectuation, i.Lab Incubator Program Director Jason Brewster will encourage participants to create “asks” every week. “The ‘ask’ is good because it focuses founders on what they need and gives them a way to engage with the wider community, their mentors and fellow founders,” said Brewster. “One of the keys to entrepreneurship is this element of engagement.”

The i.Lab also announces the recipients of its Startup Grants, offered to select ventures that have previously completed the summer Incubator program. Grantees receive up to $5,000 of additional funding as well as access to dedicated workspace, mentorship and other resources. Thus far, grant recipients have collectively raised over $1 million in outside capital for their companies.

As part of its economic commitment to the Charlottesville area, the i.Lab prioritizes providing resources to startups based in the local community. To date, the program has allocated over $1.25 million in grant funding to more than 225 companies, supporting nearly 400 founders. “This year alone, we will support over 40 entrepreneurs who are choosing to start their new companies in Charlottesville,” said David Touve, director of the i.Lab at UVA.

2018 i.Lab Incubator Program Ventures

  • Art for the Heart, co-founded by Emma Hitchcock (Tandem High School) and Zadie Lacey (Monticello High School), is an organization that holds art workshops for homeless residents of the Charlottesville community.
  • DataClassroom, founded by Aaron Reedy (Arts & Sciences Ph.D. ’18), is a web app that allows teachers to grow data-intuition in students grades 6–12. It is the first data-analysis software platform built for teachers and kids to meet the demands of the Next Generation Science Standards.
  • EAT ME, founded by Lyon McCandless (McIntire ’12), is revolutionizing the packaged food industry by using cricket powder to make products that are delicious, nutritionally healthy and environmentally sustainable. Cricket powder has twice as much protein as beef and requires a fraction of the resources to produce. EAT ME is committed to improving the world through delicious food.
  • HeatSight, founded by Alexander Sarris (SEAS ’18), is developing compact thermal imaging goggles for use in a areas such as law enforcement, military or utilities.
  • Kartini Chocolate, founded by Nagea Delaya (Darden MBA ’18), is a premium bean-to-bar chocolate company that offers the unique indulgence of Indonesian chocolate while satisfying cravings for real chocolate and real purpose. The craft chocolate is made with beans responsibly sourced from Indonesian farmers, adds no artificial flavoring and also redistributes profits to empower women in Indonesia. Kartini Chocolate’s current offerings include 80 percent dark Bali chocolate, 70 percent dark Papua chocolate and 55 percent dark-milk Java chocolate.
  • MAP Sports, founded by Evan Nesterak, UVA Curry School Professors Yoi Tibbetts and Chris Hulleman, and Kenn Barron, helps sports organizations measure and improve the psychological mindsets essential to high performance and well-being. Research across many fields of psychology demonstrates that individuals’ mindsets — their attitudes, beliefs, perceptions — about themselves and the world are key determinants of fulfilling potential and optimizing performance. Current clients include the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Junior Tennis Championship Center.
  • MIST, founded by Alexander Singh and Rohit Rustagi, both SEAS Class of 2019, stands at the forefront of innovative medical design into the field of minimally invasive spinal surgery technology. MIST focuses design around addressing the root causes of disease rather than the symptoms, and is currently developing a spinal implant to treat scoliosis in adolescent patients.
  • Murray B. Company, founded by Margaret Murray Bloom, is the creator of the Murray Belt, the bag and pocket alternative that grants instant access to essential items. The Murray Belt’s unique design is worn snugly around the torso and provides a customized solution when pockets, purses or other traditional bags are an inconvenience.
  • NeuroView, founded by Omar Uribe (Medicine ’18) and Dr. Mark McDonald, a faculty member of the UVA School of Medicine’s neurology department, uses artificial intelligence to provide on-demand neurologic expertise that informs clinical decision-making.
  • Pampered Teacher,founded by Jason and Megan Panek, recognizes the hard work of teachers around the country by offering gift boxes available for purchase online, delivered straight to their home or classroom. They partner with small businesses and artisans to curate boxes featuring unique items teachers will love and find useful.
  • PurPics, founded by Aneesh Dhawan (Arts & Sciences Class of 2020) and Victor Layne (Arts & Sciences Class of 2020), connects brands with Generation Z consumers over a social cause, unlocking the influencing potential of the everyday person while driving and tracking meaningful engagement on social media.
  • RecruitRef, founded by Van Hatchell (Darden MBA ’18), is an online platform that enables high school athletes to showcase their athletic and academic achievements in order to earn a college athletic scholarship. Athlete profiles, freely accessible to coaches, include an athlete’s grades, test scores and videos of the athlete competing, and athletes have access to a suite analytics and marketing tools to track their progress recruiting and promote their profile.
  • Shakti International, founded by Janie Hammaker (Arts & Sciences ’18), Shafat Khan (Arts & Sciences Class of 2019), Malvika Jain (McIntire Class of 2019) and Raghav Savara (Arts & Sciences Class of 2020), is an apparel brand that partners with women’s stitching centers within rural villages in India to empower women and facilitate economic development. The venture connects stitching centers to customers in the United States, and provides responsibly sourced clothing options for customers.
  • Simili, founded by Liz Heinberg, makes group dining decisions easy. First, Simili suggests restaurants that are most likely to please everyone, based on the tastes of all individuals in the group, using weighted preferences and an algorithm to maximize group happiness. Then, Simili facilitates a vote.
  • Yogi, founded by Gautam Kanumuru (SEAS ’15) and Chad Becker (SEAS ’15), is a suite of personalized tools for investment research. Yogi uses a combination of quantitative analysis and neural networks to understand each user’s investment strategy, then adjusts the information and insights it provides accordingly.
  • Single Baked Sweets, founded by Melissa Stefaniak (Darden Class of 2019), provides single-serve, bake-at-home desserts that come with all the pre-measured wet and dry ingredients needed to make an all-natural, homemade treat for one.
  • Soteria Kestrel, founded by Fritz Steuer (SEAS ’18) and Erik Quigg (SEAS ’18), builds the next generation in neonatal transport incubators. The Kestrel is a new kind of transport using cutting-edge technologies in a unique combination that offers the best protection and access of any transport on the market.
  • Thicket, founded by Rebecca Perea-Kane, creates minimal jewelry inspired by the natural world. Thicket makes each piece by hand using traditional metalsmithing and recycled metals.
  • Tsampa Snacks, founded by Tenzin Barshee (Batten ’18) and Sogyel Lhungay (Darden MBA ’18), is a Tibetan-inspired packaged food brand that promotes mindfulness in daily life.
  • Viable Ventures, founded by Mark Seymour, Greg Pitsenberger, Andy Rod and Ethan Long, is a social-impact project with the mission of providing meaningful employment for adults with autism. Comprised of small, self-sustaining businesses, Viable Ventures is designed to turn the unique skills, abilities and interests of people with autism into fulfilling vocational opportunities.
  • Vicarious Ventures, founded by Darius Nabors, uses the most recent 360-degree photo/video technology to take students on virtual field trips of national parks and historic sites.
  • Whipped Cream LLC, founded by Cordell Fortune, produces a line of skin care products that assists with cases of dry and flaky skin. The moisturizer is named SheaMango and can be used on a daily basis for hair and skin.
  • ZippyZen LLC, founded by John and Dawn Cleveland, developed ZippyMeals software — a customized, all-inclusive, online software solution for managing nonprofit Meals on Wheels offices. Customers can now schedule their meal recipients and volunteer drivers seamlessly in one place, reducing the staff time required to manage their operations at a cost savings.  Among other features, ZippyMeals uses modern mapping services to generate efficient delivery routes and provide automated directions.

2018 i.Lab Startup Grant Program Participants

  • Babylon Micro-Farms, founded by Alexander Oleson (Arts & Sciences ’17) and Graham Smith (SEAS ’18), designs high-quality hydroponic systems that make urban farming seamlessly blend into people’s homes. Babylon recently won Dominion Energy’s Innovation Center pitch competition.
  • Beanstalk Farming, founded by Jack Ross (SEAS ’17) and Michael Ross, is an agriculture technology company that produces scalable, automated and sustainable vertical farms. The team recently participated in the latest Y Combinator accelerator cohort.
  • Brandefy, founded by Meg Greenhalgh (Darden MBA ’18), offers a platform (app and website) that shows shoppers how the store brand and name brand compare, through ingredient analysis and product reviews, in order to save them time and money.
  • Gaona Granola, founded by Coco Sotelo, provides artisan, 100 percent handmade, 100 percent non-GMO granola in a variety of flavors.
  • Nuna Med, founded by Ali C. Barta (Darden MBA/Batten MPP ’18), is a complementary and alternative medicine company that offers evidence-based natural remedies for common ailments.
  • Stream Sense Medical, founded by Cheng Yang (Arts & Sciences ’17), Long Di (SEAS ’16), and Longze Chen (SEAS ’15), provides an innovative at-home urine test device for long-term health monitoring.


About the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business serves as a catalyst for developing innovation-driven, entrepreneurial leaders and for advancing knowledge about the transformative power of entrepreneurship and innovation. To fulfill this mission the institute originates activities and hosts initiatives to serve the Darden School of Business, the University of Virginia and its broader entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem. The Batten Institute was established with gifts from UVA alumnus Frank Batten Sr., a media pioneer, visionary and founder of The Weather Channel.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.