Batten iLab program launches 23 startup companies in 2018

Founded in 2000, iLab provides funding, legal support and mentorship to entrepreneurs


Founded in 2000, iLab is an initiative supported by the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation — which provides financial and legal advice, as well as a workspace — to support to young entrepreneurs within and beyond the Charlottesville community.  

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

Last year, iLab was able to launch 23 startups, such as Art for the Heart, DataClassroom and Minimally Invasive Spinal Technology. Founded in 2000, iLab is an initiative supported by the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation that provides financial and legal advice, as well as a workspace to support to young entrepreneurs within and beyond the Charlottesville community.  

Art for the Heart was founded by Emma Hitchcock, first-year in the College, and Zadie Lacy, freshman at the University of Mary Washington. The startup strives to bridge the gap between the greater Charlottesville community and the homeless community through art. 

After presenting their art gallery idea at the Tom Tom Founders Festival, Hitchcock and Lacy won the social innovation prize which gave them the opportunity to gain a spot in iLab. 

According to Hitchcock, iLab has helped boost the confidence of both herself and her partner and helped make their business more professional. 

“We just really grew confidence-wise being around all of these older business owners and [learned] ... how to interact and network,” Hitchcock said. 

Another start-up that benefited from iLab is DataClassroom — a web application that allows K-12 teachers and schools to teach students in sixth through 12th grade analytical and data science skills.  According to Aaron Reedy —  National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow and founder of DataClassroom — iLab has provided early-stage support, which allowed him both to boost his user number to about 650 users and learn more about how to make DataClassroom better. 

“iLab is really committed to moving those startups forward no matter what stage they’re at,” Reedy said. “[Initially before iLab], we didn’t really have any real users using our product, [but when] we came out of the iLab, we had about 650 real users, and we were learning a lot of information on how to make DataClassroom better.”

Alexander Singh, fourth-year Engineering student and CEO of MIST, has worked to develop spinal implants for patients with scoliosis in order to help reduce invasiveness and complications of current procedures in the hopes of improving patients’ lives. 

According to Singh, iLab has helped them to think about how the market works and their company at large beyond their product. 

“Our biggest difficulty is technological risk — so whether or not our device will actually function in a patient,” Singh said. “iLab … really forced us to sit down and think about ... how the market works in order to build our technology.”  

The most popular resource for new entrepreneurs is the Summer Incubator Program. Established in 2000, the Incubator Program — formerly known as the Darden Incubator Program — hosted between 10 to 12 teams and required one member of the team to be a Darden student. In its early years, the program operated out of Saunders Hall. 

In 2012, the program relocated to Nash Drive — neighboring the Darden School of Business and the University’s School of Law— and fully became its own laboratory, the iLab Incubator Program, allowing any entrepreneurs in the Charlottesville and Albemarle areas to apply regardless of their affiliation to the University.

“Since 2012, anywhere between 20 and 25 teams participate each summer,” David Touve, senior director of iLab, said in an email statement. “Presently, the summer program provides up to $10,000 in grant funding, dedicated workspace, legal support, workshops, mentorship, community, and other support to up to 25 early-stage startups.” 

Going into its 19th year, the Summer Incubator Program has supported 250 companies consisting of 450 founding team members and provided $1.5 million in grants to these companies. 

“These teams have gone on to raise upwards of $150 million in outside, invested capital (i.e., equity),” Touve said in an email. “And, in excess of $250 million if all forms of capital are considered (i.e., grants, loans, etc.).”

Recently, iLab has launched their new pilot program — Catalyst Accelerator Program. This nine-month intensive program provides $20,000 in grant funding to about 10 companies each year. 

“The Catalyst Accelerator program (aka, Catalyst) is a new program, presently being piloted, focused upon providing support to high-potential companies in our region that are headed toward raising early-stage capital and/or growing to be sustainable ventures,” Touve said in an email. 

To further support this program, Touve and his colleagues have applied to a grant of nearly $500,000. Currently, the proposal has been approved by the regional board of Go Virginia — a bipartisan foundation that supports programs that expand the job market and strengthen the economy in every region of the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to Touve, the proposal will be brought to the State Board in March. 

Through iLab’s programs such as Catalyst and Incubator, with more than 100 mentors, advisors and support from the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, iLab hopes to continue supporting entrepreneurs and innovators on Grounds and beyond the University. 

“I think that U.Va. entrepreneurship at large has done a really good job of not focusing on whether you are successful or whether you failed but really focusing on the everyday aspect of ‘Are you meeting the deadlines, are you on a certain path or not, what are you actually doing in the moment for your future,’” Singh said. “It’s all about what can they can do to support not only your company but to support you as an individual.” 

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