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April 20, 2012

UVA holds fourth Venture Summit to capitalize on innovation

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DailyProgressBy Brian Wheeler
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, April 20, 2012

The University of Virginia launched its fourth Venture Summit on Thursday inside Old Cabell Hall on Central Grounds in an effort to connect faculty and students with venture capitalists and investment managers from around the country.

“The goal of the summit is to bring together national leaders in politics, policy, venture capital, corporate leadership and academics,” said Tom Skalak, UVa’s vice president for research. “We want to imagine possible futures and imagine steps we could take action on to benefit society.”

20120419-UVA-VS1-Skalak
Tom Skalak, UVa’s vice president for research

UVa’s director of innovation, Mark Crowell, said the two-day event would discuss “innovation in thinking, innovation in research and innovation in deals.”

“One of the things we hope to accomplish is to tee up more UVa deals that would become recipients of investment capital from people that either heard about the deal here or created relationships here,” Crowell said.

The Venture Summit program includes a variety of panels and briefings and culminates in actual pitches being made by alumni and faculty startup companies hoping to raise capital.

“Everything we do is about getting UVa innovation technology out into use,” Crowell said. “And because we are focusing wherever possible on doing that through startups, it will result in creating a more robust ecosystem here of new companies and new jobs and new investment.”

Skalak and Crowell both saw connections between the work of the summit and the broader Charlottesville community.

“A lot of people from Charlottesville are here, both from the investment community and the academic world of Charlottesville,” Skalak said. “This is a way to get them to mix and build new relationships so that as ideas emerge, either from UVa laboratories or thinkers, or from community members, they will have the relationships nationally to push them forward commercially.”

Gary Henry is chairman of the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council and executive director of the Charlottesville Technology Incubator. Henry, along with several speakers at the summit, cited recent research by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation indicating a dip in 2011 in new business creation.

“Job creation and entrepreneurship has remained resilient in [past economic crises],” said Henry, who noted a decline in small business job creation that began in 2009. “I think it is because of uncertainty about the future; there’s so much policy that’s up in the air that business is sitting back on the sidelines.”

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UVA's Mark Crowell and Aneesh Chopra
Photo: Sabrina Schaeffer, The Daily Progress.  Used by permission.

In the audience, Richard D. Crawford with the UVa Law School Foundation asked about the challenges leaders face explaining these issues to the average American, particularly in a presidential race year.

Two leaders with inside-the-Beltway experience said improving the conditions for innovation have received, and should continue to receive, bipartisan support.

Aneesh Chopra is the former Virginia secretary of technology and previous White House chief technology officer.

“I spent the past three years in Washington and I lived in two cities,” Chopra said. “There was the city of thoughtful, deliberative. The Republic that we were taught in high school where people on both sides of the aisle, even if they had different views, rolled up their sleeves and got to work in a substantive and thoughtful way.”

“And then there’s the embarrassing, silly, no data-driven stain on the country that makes you want to vomit,” Chopra said. “It just sickens everyone to their stomach because you feel like, ‘How does the best country on the planet do this to itself?’”

“I just want to give you hope that there’s actually both, and that underneath the mess, substance happens,” Chopra said.

Virginia Sen. Mark R. Warner appeared via videoconference and shared a specific example of the Jobs Act, which also had the support of Republican Rep. Eric I. Cantor, and is intended to help startup companies.

“I’m proud to say that last week the Jobs Act was signed into law,” Warner said. “It raises the requirements before you have to qualify for SEC filings. It allows startup companies to go to the SEC on a more confidential basis to test out whether they still want to go through appropriate review before they go public.”

20120419-UVA-VS-audience
Photo: Sabrina Schaeffer, The Daily Progress.  Used by permission.

Warner said another legislative initiative, the Startup Act, had not fared so well yet. The legislation seeks to help startup companies recruit and retain talent. Warner said “anti-immigrant” forces in Congress opposed, in part, the relaxing of visa restrictions.

“As optimistic as I am about America’s recovery … however, the single-biggest [challenge] we face from a governmental standpoint is this almost $16 trillion debt overhang,” Warner said. “Every day we fail to act upon it we add $4.5 billion to the debt.”

“Right now federal government spending is at 25 percent of our [gross domestic product]. That’s an all-time high,” Warner said. “Federal tax revenues are at 15 percent of our GDP, a 70-year low, the delta we basically borrow, and we borrow disproportionally from China.”

The UVa Venture Summit continues today at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration.

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