In March, a group of Darden students traveled to SXSW in Austin, Texas as part of Darden’s inaugural Austin Connect program. This initiative, sponsored by the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, included visits to early-stage to mid-size startups as well as venture capital firms, a UVA-wide alumni networking reception, meetings with local Austin accelerators and access to the SXSW Conference.
Austin Connect builds upon the success of Bay Area Connect, a similar program that launched in November 2018. Both offerings are part of Darden Connect, a new immersion program custom-tailored for Darden MBAs interested in understanding today’s fast-paced venture environment. Connect is a selective, multi-day program that enables participants to learn firsthand about early stage ventures and make essential connections with leaders in the field. Read the recent Darden Report article about Darden Connect.
Today on the blog, we catch up with one of the Austin Connect (and Bay Area Connect!) participants, Cara Jankowski. Cara is a First Year student (Class of 2020), and the newly-elected president of Darden’s Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club. She will also selected as a 2019 Technology Venture Fellow and will be spending her summer in Austin, Texas.
Passionate about entrepreneurship? Be sure to check out our Experience Darden podcast interviews with Sean Carr, Executive Director of the Batten Institute, as well as leaders of our Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club. And mark your calendars: Next Tuesday is the final round of the UVA E-Cup Launch Competition. The Launch Competition showcases and provides seed capital to UVA’s most compelling student-led ventures. Out of the 11 finalists, the top three teams will win a total of $45,000, and four Darden teams have made it to the final round – Single Baked Sweets, Slay, Trulli and Dermalescent, a business started by First Year student, Brian Larsen (GEMBA 2020).
And now our interview with Cara Jankowski!
What was your background before business school?
I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, and I went to undergrad in Connecticut where I studied Psychology and Neuroscience. After graduation, I ended up at a fast-growing tech company, HubSpot. I had an amazing experience there during a period of incredible growth and ended up as a Product Manager for one of the company’s strategic integrations.
What attracted you to Austin Connect?
I am going to be working for a healthcare startup in Austin this summer, a role I found through the Technology Venture Fellowship program. I had not been to Austin before and was very excited about getting to meet people before I started my internship and also learning more about the tech and VC community there.
What were some of the highlights of the trip?
It was amazing to connect with a few female founders working on thriving startups including Gold Rush Vinyl and Stylust. We also had the privilege of visiting Mithril Capital (which recently moved its headquarters from the Bay area) and meeting with Darden alumni, including Yeti CEO, Matt Reintjes. Lastly, the trip coincided with South by Southwest (SXSW), and we were able to attend some great talks and programming there as well.
What was one key takeaway you learned from the experience?
How quickly Austin is growing as a tech and entrepreneurial city. The founders we met talked about how easy it is to start a business there, and just how supportive the network in the area is. The VCs we met with shared candidly about the shift from traditional Silicon Valley investing mindsets to one of expanding opportunities, as people decide to build businesses elsewhere.
How did it compare to Bay Area Connect?
There is no question the Bay Area has an established community with more entrepreneurs and more tech. It is also much larger and there are more Darden alumni in the area than in Austin. However, both Connect programs provided engaging content and diverse expertise across the board from entrepreneurs to VCs. Austin had the additional support of SXSW which gave the cohort more opportunities to engage with the broader community.
Congratulations on being elected EVC Club President. What attracted you to this role?
From the moment I stepped on grounds I knew I wanted to get involved with early stage companies and learn more about the VC space. The EVC club was an amazing resource and has provided a real community for me at Darden this year. I want to continue the amazing momentum from this year’s leadership and continue to grow interest and engagement in the EVC space at Darden.
What would you want a prospective student to know about Darden?
The community here is what I believe truly sets Darden apart. The professors care deeply and are engaged beyond class time, our classmates are committed to creating a great Darden experience for each other and Charlottesville is a wonderful place that supports it all. The truly immersive experience in and out of the classroom is why I am excited to be here.