For the first time, two Chicago Booth teams completed at the Venture Capital Investment Competition Global Finals at UNC Chapel Hill this year. After advancing from the Energy Foundry VCIC at Chicago Booth, they each won their respective regional competitions at UT Austin and Yale and advanced to take home second and third place honors at the Global Finals.
Instead of pitching their own business ideas, competitors in VCIC act as investors working with real entrepreneurs to evaluate companies, present their investment thesis, and negotiate deal terms. Venture Capital judges observe and give feedback on each team's competence and credibility in assuming the roles of venture capitalists.
Current Weekend MBA students Cliff Nelson and Jackie DiMonte share their experiences throughout the competition.
Congratulations on your third place finish at the finals! What was the most important lesson that you learned from the competition?
Cliff: I learned a lot about the detailed work that should go into giving a great presentation. Because of our coursework and preparation, I didn't have any doubts that we'd be able to accurately evaluate the businesses and put together a strong investment thesis. It was much more challenging to decide how we'd convey our expertise to the judges, including everything from timing and transitions to deciding which of us was most likely to develop strong rapport with the entrepreneurs. This reinforced a lot of the lessons from the Leadership Development program and the seminars in the Chicago Business Fellows program, which stressed the importance of leadership presence.
Jackie: Standing up for your ideas (and of course, having the data to support them) is key. It pays off to have an opinion and be decisive in your thoughts and actions. Booth helps you develop frameworks and methodologies for evaluating options and encourages you to take a stand. The classroom is one of the best low-risk environments to test out your aptitude for decision making and I think this has served us well at VCIC as well as in the "real world."
Did the competition change your approach to Booth or your job?
Cliff: I'm currently interning with an angel investor group that provides seed funding to early-stage companies in many sectors. After the VCIC experience, I'll take a lot more time to build the relationships that go along with investment opportunities. Each round of the competition, the rapport we built with the entrepreneurs helped a lot at the negotiating table. In the final round at UNC Chapel Hill, our offer was significantly lower than another team's, but we stayed in contention because the entrepreneur felt we'd be great partners.
Jackie: Yes. I touched earlier on decisiveness which is something I try very hard to practice on a regular basis.
Did the competition change much from round to round?
Cliff: The format of each round was very similar. What changed the most for me was the team dynamic. We deliberately formed a team with diverse backgrounds in consulting, real estate, medical devices, energy, and fintech - an easy thing to do at Booth. By the time we reached the Global Finals, I think we had a really smooth process. Each of us felt comfortable stepping up when a deal was in our wheelhouse. And when we had differing opinions on the companies, we could forcefully debate ideas while remaining collaborative as people.
Jackie: I echo Cliff's sentiment. Personally, I grew more confident in my own and my team's abilities each round. One thing that was interesting to compare across rounds and groups of judges were the types of questions we were asked and which parts of our analysis or thesis were challenged. That breadth and exposure to how different VCs (from across geographies, company stages, and target verticals) think has helped me develop a better perspective on evaluating companies in general.
What do you think were the most important factors to your strong showing?
Cliff: For me, the best preparation came from a couple of key classes - Commercializing Innovation and Entrepreneurial Finance & Private Equity with Professor Scott Meadow. Everyone on the team had taken or been a teaching assistant for at least one of those classes. Commercializing Innovation is all about evaluating the strategy and underlying economics of a venture capital deal, and that helped us to ask the right questions of the entrepreneurs and effectively communicate our point of view to the judges. The midterm for Entrepreneurial Finance involves preparing terms for a VC investment and negotiating with another group. It follows a very similar format to VCIC negotiations, so participating in those as both a student and a TA was great preparation.
Jackie: We had a strong team that prepared well and executed well. From a preparation perspective, it was very easy to reach out to Booth VCIC alum, professors, members of the Chicago VC community and others for tips and tricks for the competition - you wouldn't believe how responsive and helpful the Booth community is. We coupled that advice with our own strategy and debrief sessions so that we had a framework to fall back on each round when things got messy. This helped us execute well - because of our deliberate and thorough preparation, we knew we could trust each other when it came down to the wire.
From a tactical perspective, participating in VCIC has opened up many doors for me - the exposure I had led to interviews for both the PE/VC Lab here at Booth as well as the venture capital firm that I will be joining as a full-time associate in June.