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Central Virginia is All About Business

The University of Virginia serves as an incubator for entrepreneurs and innovators.

By Teree Caruthers on October 19, 2022

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, MBA Program at the Charlottesville Campus, which is located in Central Virginia.
(c)2022 Sam Levitan Photography

The University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville is a driving force behind the region’s economic and workforce development efforts, particularly in generating new businesses. Ranked the No. 3 Best Public University by U.S. News and World Report, UVA’s research enterprise contributes more than $644 million to the commonwealth’s economy and is responsible for one in five jobs created or supported by the university. 

“The role UVA plays in economic and workforce development is in the production of knowledge, research and innovations with commercial potential as well as the education and experience for students as they leave the university.”

David Touve, Batten Institute

In the past 25 years, more than 50 companies have been started because of the university’s innovations, and UVA graduates around the globe have created more than 65,000 companies. Virginia-based companies started by UVA alums produce about $395 billion in calculated annual revenues and spend $279 billion annually.

R&D Resources

“The role UVA plays in economic and workforce development is in the production of knowledge, research and innovations with commercial potential as well as the education and experience for students as they leave the university,” says David Touve, senior director of the Batten Institute at UVA’s Darden School of Business. “The university also plays a role by supporting a range of experiential opportunities for students as it relates to either internships, course projects or research experience.”

Touve oversees the Batten Institute’s Catalyst Accelerator program and the iLab. The Catalyst Accelerator provides startups nine months of support and resources, including grant funding, workspace and networking opportunities. i.Lab is a highly competitive summer incubator for some of the region’s top startups founded by UVA students and alums developing a wide range of innovative projects and services, from solar panels to medical devices.

Touve says the Batten Institute and its programs have been instrumental in growing the region’s agribusiness, business and finance, IT, bioscience, and defense and security industries. For example, AgroSpheres, founded by UVA alumni Payam Pourtaheri and Ameer Shakeel, manufactures a nontoxic, bio-based solution for agricultural pest control. Pourtaheri and Shakeel participated in the i.Lab program as undergraduates at UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, MBA Program at the Charlottesville Campus, which is located in Central Virginia.
(c)2022 Sam Levitan Photography

Talent Transfer

“Working with i.Lab, we were able to get $10,000 in grant funding, which was nice. The money’s always good when you’re early on in your business. They also provided some nice office space where the team could get together and work to push things out,” Pourtaheri says. “Now, UVA has become a great resource for talent. We always try to take three or so interns from UVA every year, and then when they graduate, we try to keep that talent here in the area.”

Andrew Mavrag anis, chief financial officer at Spire Collective, an e-commerce company based out of Fluvanna County, agrees. He says the company has benefited from the university’s transfer of knowledge and talent.

“We have quite a few UVA graduates on our team,” Mavraganis says. “Knowing that there is a resource like UVA to supplement your team, especially when you’re small, is definitely a factor in our staying in the region.”

Otavio Freire, president, chief technology officer and co-founder of Safeguard Cyber, an award-winning cybersecurity firm, credits the university with giving him and his co-founders the confidence to start their business.

“As first-year MBA students, my co-founders and I won the UVA business plan competition, and that was a huge validation. The competition is rigorous and makes you flesh out how you plan to go to market,” Freire says. “By winning the competition, you’re admitted to the incubator.”

He says UVA and the incubator provided the resources, financial support, physical space and access to outside capital that helped the business grow into a 220-person national firm.

“In a world outside of UVA, you would have to go hire these people or contract with them and pay a hefty fee to these resources that you find in the incubator,” he says. “We went on to raise $68 million, and we are now a 220-person company in the cybersecurity space. So, we became a national firm despite being local. That’s the quality of that UVA ecosystem. It really is top tier.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Central Virginia area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Central Virginia

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