U.Va. Students Rise to Vonage’s Challenge

In September, Vonage Chief Executive Officer Marc Lefar and the University of Virginia’s OpenGrounds — the school’s collaboration hub and cross-disciplinary think tank — challenged the student body to kickstart the next generation of social messaging.

By December, the results were in.

As a public research university founded by President Thomas Jefferson, and with a program like OpenGrounds, U.Va. was a perfect fit for a partnership like this. The Vonage-OpenGrounds Future of Social Messaging Concept Competition produced exactly the kind of innovative ideation for which the university and Vonage are known. In fact, there were so many worthwhile entries, Lefar noted, that the judges (himself included) were unable to pare down the finalists to just a top three, instead opting for two third-place prizes, resulting in a grand total of $28,000 in awards.

Mark Lefar presents UVA OpenGrounds award

Vonage Chief Executive Marc Lefar presents U.Va. Computer Science major Brent Baumgartner with the $15,000 first-place prize. Baumgartner won for his concept, Attendr, a localized social messaging virtual event platform.

It should be noted that Lefar is a U.Va. McIntire School of Commerce graduate. As both an alumnus and someone who’s spent his entire career in the communications industry, there are few in a better position to vet the candidates’ social messaging creations. Lefar was very pleased by the results, offering, “We challenged U.Va. students a little more than 10 weeks ago to develop ideas that could define the next evolution in social messaging, and they delivered.”

The competition, opened exclusively to the university’s undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral population, gathered a total of 38 entries, which were allowed to take the form of just about anything, including new platform types, interfaces, apps or even hardware.

It wasn’t just the students’ creative spirit that caught the judges’ attention, however. According to Lefar, the judging panel was impressed with the entrants’ dedication to each of their concepts.

“The students’ energy and passion in bringing their concepts to life was matched with poise and professionalism, comparable to the business pitches that venture capitalists see regularly.”

The winning concept titles and students were:

  • “Attendr” by Brent Baumgartner (1st)
  • “Listen-In” by Damian Warshall (2nd)
  • “Planr” by Ben Terner and Nik Phillipsen (3rd)
  • “Sort” by Murali Varadaraj (3rd)

Lefar hopes to continue to harness the creativity found in top schools like U.Va. “to stimulate disruptive thinking and innovation, benefiting business and society.”