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Fostering entrepreneurial growth at U.Va.

The Lighthouse offers important collaborative space for student entrepreneurs

<p>The recently appropriated space plans to incorporate both affiliates of the University and firms and startups in the Charlottesville community.</p>

The recently appropriated space plans to incorporate both affiliates of the University and firms and startups in the Charlottesville community.

The University recently celebrated the opening of the Lighthouse, a repurposed storage room in Thornton Hall. The Lighthouse will serve as the new home of Works in Progress, a program backed by the Department of Engineering and Society which aims to bring undergraduate student entrepreneurs together and support their business endeavors. The program, which dedicates the room to “those who are seriously working on their [entrepreneurial] project,” is a demonstration of the University’s commitment to promoting a strong entrepreneurial environment for students regardless of their majors.

Initiatives such as Works in Progress are key in fostering a rich atmosphere for student entrepreneurs at the University. The program offers students an opportunity to network and engage with like-minded fellow entrepreneurs. Last June, Charlottesville was ranked No. 4 on Entrepreneur magazine’s list of the 50 best cities for entrepreneurs. More recently, the National Venture Capital Association named Charlottesville the fastest-growing venture capital ecosystem in the nation, a designation driven in part by the University’s investments in entrepreneurial students, faculty and staff.

Efforts to foster the spirit of entrepreneurship in the University community are also present inside the classroom. In 2015, the University announced the launch of a new undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship. The minor, offered by the Commerce School, is open to every student and is a collaboration with six schools at the University. In addition to these academic resources, there are a number of organizations on Grounds which offer collaborative support and training for student entrepreneurs. These groups, such as HackCville, act as a platform for student ideas and help prepare students to become business owners.

Although the entrepreneurship scene for University students had definitely been strong before the program, there was room to improve. Program Director Alex Zorychta, a 2013 University graduate, stated that “entrepreneurs at [the University] felt isolated.” After conducting over 500 interviews with interested students, Zorychta found students desired more points of contact who could help their businesses overcome obstacles. With a new space to meet, make plans and find ways to solve world problems, student entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to speak openly about setbacks and foster a strong spirit of collaboration.

Student entrepreneurs have often relied on coffee shops and personal spaces such as apartments to meet. The Lighthouse provides a dedicated place for student start-ups to collaborate and foster new ideas. With the opening of the Lighthouse, the University has begun to effectively address a prevalent problem for student entrepreneurs.