2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: NewSublease, University of Virginia (Darden)


University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

Industry: Real Estate / Tech (PropTech)

Founding Student Name(s): Rooney Lee (Darden 23)

Brief Description of Solution: NewSublease is a hassle-free platform specializing in subleasing, connecting students and professionals to affordable mid-term housing within their trusted networks, such as alumni and professional groups.

Funding Dollars: $28,000

What led you to launch this venture? During my MBA summer internship at Google, I confronted a situation many students and professionals frequently grapple with: the need for mid-term housing. Resorting to platforms like Airbnb, I was faced with steep costs. At the same time, I was bearing the expense for my vacant apartment back at my university. As I delved deeper into this issue, I found it wasn’t isolated to just me. Shockingly, more than 10 million students and professionals collectively wasted over $50 billion due to overpayments or double rents.

This staggering insight underscored a glaring gap in the market for affordable, trustworthy, and convenient mid-term housing. Recognizing the potential for a solution that primarily catered to students, professionals, and even homeowners, NewSublease was conceptualized. Our platform’s vision is to mitigate such housing challenges by connecting those in need of temporary accommodations with those seeking to sublet their spaces, honing in on the trusted networks of alumni and professionals.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Within just 90 days of NewSublease’s first MVP launch, we achieved a significant milestone: facilitating over 350 property matches with 800+ members from prestigious business schools and other leading graduate institutions across the U.S. On average, every match we made resulted in savings of over $3,000 per month for the involved parties, which speaks volumes about the platform’s efficacy and impact. We have made our first gross profit this summer!

However, beyond these achievements, our crowning moments have been the external validations we’ve received. NewSublease was recognized at the UVA eCup, became a part of the esteemed i.Lab Incubator at Darden program, and was also selected as one of the top 23 startups in the U.S. East by Pioneer.

But, most importantly, the heart of our success lies in the narratives we’ve fostered. From students landing internships in coveted cities without the daunting overheads to homeowners finding trustworthy individuals to occupy their homes during prolonged absences, NewSublease’s impact resonates deeply within our expanding community. The trust-based model, emphasizing alumni networks and professional affiliations, has carved a niche for us, distinctly positioning NewSublease from generic rental platforms. Our unwavering dedication to molding a community-centric, reliable platform for housing solutions continues to propel our mission and growth.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? In establishing NewSublease, our most formidable challenge was fostering trust within our community. The complexities and concerns surrounding subleasing required us to go beyond mere digital assurances. We took an immersive approach to genuinely understand and cater to our users’ needs. This ranged from the conventional—like cold calls, emails, and texts—to the exceptional: personally inspecting properties, welcoming guests at the airport, facilitating moves, and handling cleaning for hosts. To truly epitomize our commitment, I even opted to live on a couch during the summer, offering up my own residence as temporary housing for our users. This personal sacrifice not only demonstrated the depth of our dedication but also helped us gather firsthand feedback. The positive testimonials and strong referrals we subsequently acquired were testament to the efficacy of our trust-building endeavors.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? My time at Darden has been instrumental in shaping NewSublease’s journey. The curriculum provided a robust foundation in essential business principles, but the true value extended far beyond the lectures. Darden created an environment that nurtured my entrepreneurial aspirations, acting as a safe launch pad for idea generation, iteration, and validation. This program also introduced me to invaluable mentors and fellow entrepreneurs who generously shared their experiences, insights, and words of encouragement. Their guidance and unwavering support have been instrumental in navigating the challenges of startup life.

Moreover, Darden has been a source of lasting connections; not just in terms of team members, with many core members of NewSublease being fellow Darden graduates or from other top MBA programs, but also in forging meaningful relationships with mentors and peers who continue to inspire and guide our venture. The collective wisdom, collaborative spirit, and shared drive cultivated at Darden have been indispensable assets in propelling NewSublease forward.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? While I’ve always looked up to iconic entrepreneurs in the business world, my true inspiration comes from closer home. Growing up with a family business, I’ve seen my father’s entrepreneurial spirit in action, making him a role model in my eyes. The essence of entrepreneurship has always surrounded me, yet I lacked the courage to take the plunge. This changed when, before joining Darden, I pitched a business idea to my former employer and managed to secure $1M in funding. Leading a machine learning-based product and seeing it come to fruition boosted my confidence, making me realize that I have what it takes to build and scale my own ventures. This experience, coupled with my father’s enduring influence, propelled me to embark on my entrepreneurial journey with NewSublease.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Without a doubt, Saras Sarasvathy’s Effectual Entrepreneurship class has been the linchpin in my entrepreneurial journey during my MBA. Her comprehensive approach towards the subject illuminated every facet of entrepreneurship for me – right from the embryonic stages of idea conception to the nitty-gritty of funding and legal intricacies. The course taught me the foundational principles of business. More than that, it was Professor Sarasvathy’s unwavering positivity and encouragement that breathed life into many budding ideas. Her curriculum, punctuated with inspiring role models and case studies, helped dissipate my inhibitions, empowering me to experiment with myriad ideas without the looming fear of failure. The most profound lesson from her class, which continues to resonate deeply with me, is the idea that “asking is free.” This simple yet powerful maxim has become my guiding star, influencing my approach to sales, operations, and virtually every facet of my business. It serves as a constant reminder of the endless possibilities that can unfold from a simple act of reaching out or seeking guidance.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? My time at Darden has been pivotal in shaping the trajectory of NewSublease. The entrepreneurship classes I took, especially those under Professor Sarasvathy and Professor Damon DeVito, equipped me with a foundational understanding and a distinct approach toward building a startup. Learning about effectual entrepreneurship from Professor Sarasvathy opened up a new perspective on building a new business, while Professor DeVito’s infectious passion reinforced my commitment to the entrepreneurial journey. Their teachings, combined with the supportive eco-system at Darden and Charlottesville, VA, instilled in me the essential skills and mindset to navigate the tumultuous waters of startup life.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? Charlottesville has been more than just a location for us; it’s been an integral part of our startup journey. The town brims with a rich entrepreneurial spirit and a supportive community. Regular events and networking opportunities allowed us to connect with experienced mentors, potential angel investors, and fellow entrepreneurs. Every interaction often led to another, creating a chain of invaluable introductions and insights. These connections brought forth fresh perspectives, critical resources, and genuine encouragement. The unique blend of academia, business, and a close-knit community in Charlottesville has not only fostered our venture’s growth but has also constantly motivated us to push our boundaries and redefine our goals.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our vision for the future transcends beyond just facilitating housing. While we recognize and anticipate an increasing demand for flexible housing among students and professionals, our aspiration is to emerge as the trusted go-to platform that bridges this need. We aim to create a robust community that offers more than just housing – a space where members can share vital information and resources to ease their transitions and beginnings in new locales. Our motto is to empower people to chase their dreams, not rents. By minimizing the wastage of underutilized spaces and enabling significant savings, we envision a future where individuals can reallocate these saved resources to further their aspirations. In essence, we want to not only ease housing concerns but also enrich the overall experience of relocating, ensuring that every individual has the tools and resources they need to successfully embark on their new journeys.


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