​Space for student entrepreneurs opens in Thornton Hall

Lighthouse room open to members of all schools


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

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

To accommodate collaboration among student entrepreneurs, a new area known as “the Lighthouse” opened in Thornton Hall March 15.

Spearheaded by Works in Progress, an association of entrepreneurial-minded alumni and students run by University officials in the Department of Engineering and Society, the new space plans to incorporate both affiliates of the University and firms and startups in the Charlottesville community.

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Alexander Zorychta, the program director for Works in Progress, said the need for the Lighthouse arose from students who felt current resources were inadequate in suiting their collaborative ambitions.

“Before now, we haven’t had a workspace on Central Grounds that was dedicated toward entrepreneurial projects,” Zorychta said. “We’ve got the i.Lab, but that’s up at North Grounds. OpenGrounds opened as sort of a creativity-innovation entrepreneurial space, but it isn’t really. And when we talked to student entrepreneurs, it wasn’t really cutting it for them.”

According to Zorychta, the Lighthouse room serves as a hub for a group of students that has grown rapidly thanks in part to the efforts of Works in Progress. In the last 18 months, the number of cultivated entrepreneurial projects has skyrocketed from less than 10 to 70.

A “home base,” as Zorychta called it, gives students an avenue through which they can “interface with the University ecosystem.”

Though the room opened last week, Zorychta said the Lighthouse is in a continuous state of refurbishment, including acquiring better chairs and repurposing a sub-room into a conference space.

“It’s just like the name of our community,” Zorychta said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Elizabeth P. Pyle, associate director for technology entrepreneurship at the Engineering school, also said the room is intended to function as a central space for students.

“We look at it as a touchpoint,” Pyle said. “We don’t have weekly meetings or anything like that. [Students] need a place where they can touch base with each other — a central place they can go to.”

Pyle said the Lighthouse would not be reserved just for students in the Engineering school, noting Works in Progress has already garnered interest from students across the College of Arts and Sciences, the Batten School and the Darden School.

“Our doors have always been open to anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship,” Pyle said. “And I think that’s important because … having different viewpoints makes your idea stronger.”

David Touve, the director of Darden School’s i.Lab, which works to facilitate cross-collaboration between different academic fields, said the Lighthouse will only help further the existing goals of i.Lab by allowing for collaboration not only across disciplines, but also between the University and Charlottesville communities.

“The team behind the Lighthouse shares the mission of the i.Lab, as well as the mission of UVA Entrepreneurship overall — support early stage founders as best as we can,” Touve said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. 

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