Christian Heim (pictured second from the right) watches as his team member presents during the GNVC semi-finals round.
Christian Heim is Vice President of Information Technology at GCM Grosvenor in Chicago and an executive MBA student at Chicago Booth. Below he writes about his experience competing in the Global New Venture Challenge [GNVC], an immersive, experiential learning program that helps Chicago Booth students turn their ideas into viable companies.
Over the course of GNVC, students form teams to create a business plan and receive coaching from Chicago Booth faculty and industry experts. There are several "rounds"; in the competition where teams present their business plans during live pitch sessions in front of investors, alumni and business leaders. The competition culminates with a final round featuring the winning teams from our Chicago, London and Hong Kong campuses on March 17.
My journey to the Global New Venture Challenge started during summer elective courses. Similar to my decision to take on new challenges and enroll at Booth, I decided to go all in on entrepreneurial electives. I took Building the New Venture, Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity I and II, and Commercializing Innovation. After that, I wanted more.
GNVC was the next logical step. I approached it with some caution - I knew I still had a lot to learn about starting a business. As part of my closing essay for Building the New Venture, I focused on how humbling the class had been to me. It was humbling because I assumed I knew so much about being an entrepreneur but soon realized that I knew very little.
Our GNVC team was formed in early October. Our company, Big Crowd, is a platform designed to help event organizers manage large crowds by providing real-time crowd analysis. We also had an idea for attendees; an app that provides vital, even life-saving information to help avoid choke points, navigate to services and friends, and provide social context to others.
Although I knew this was going to be a demanding experience, I was excited to get started. If I ever wanted to start my own company, I needed to go through the bumps and bruises of working with a team to create something from the ground up.
Once we began, I had calls about GNVC every day. There were discussions about the feasibility study, the business post-GNVC, and personnel. On a personal level, my work-life balance became pretty strained. I had to carry my laptop around and be prepared for calls at any time; I took them in attics, basements and even in my car. It was a really crazy time.
November 1st was the application deadline day. I was tired from late night tweaks and also from Halloween the night before (I have two small children). Submitting the application kind of felt like the day of a final exam - you have inundated yourself with the content and just want to be done. However, we were very happy with our final proposal.
In mid-November we found out we had been accepted into the competition. This was huge for us, and we were extremely excited. We started planning how to get ahead of the competition by putting in a lot of work during the months of November and December. Unfortunately, this plan meant that our holiday season was going to be packed with Booth stuff. My family wasn't always happy with this strategy, but I had to make it work.
We started to focus on our elevator pitch leading up to the semi-finals, held in early January. We all had strong opinions on how to best approach this. It was an interesting dance among highly opinionated, outspoken people (keep in mind that we are executives in our day jobs, and tend to have the final say at work!). In the end, we learned a key lesson about understanding when to lead by following versus when to lead by taking charge.
As the semi-finals approached, we went from casual check-ins to a reoccurring meeting three days a week. This was in addition to calls with individuals, vendors and other parties. It was a strange time. As our team evolved, so did our business. We went through various pivots and had to adjust our value proposition again and again. There were heated discussions about which way we had to go. Overall, we were a mixed bag of thoughts, but still had pressing deadlines to keep.
Semi-finals Round 1: Bumps in the road
We continued to work on the business plan and presentation up until the first day of class. While we pulled back on the meetings, the workload was still every day. By this time, most of the team felt good about the material, while others were not 100% on board with the recent changes. This was important because it did divide our team a bit.
It was decided that one of our team members would give the presentation on behalf of the group. We knew the judges weren't going to like it and sure enough, they noted it in our feedback. That being said, our presenter did a great job on the pitch, and we received high scores in that area. At the same time, the judges questioned our product. We didn't have anything demo-ready, and we were "all talk" at this point. This was hard to hear because we had put so much effort into our business, yet we were coming off as too enthusiastic and selling "vaporware" - meaning that no actual product had been developed.
We knew we had to change up some major pieces for the next round. We decided to switch the presenters and modified some of our content.
It's worth noting again that the feedback was tough to take. However, that's part of the experience. While difficult, the hard comments and intense scrutiny are integral to the value of the GNVC. We were pushed to improve and do better. We needed to be broken and rebuilt.
After another two weeks of hard work, tweaking, and presentation practice, we felt prepared for Round 2. It was going on 7 PM the night before when we met with our GNVC Professor Waverly Deutsch for a trial run. Bad news: she absolutely shredded our unit model cost breakdown. This meant we had to go into full overhaul, with the presentation looming the very next morning. This was a mess, and the entire group was unhappy. Not only did we have to go back to basic modeling and redo the financials, but we had to modify the presentation and practice it. We ordered a Lou Malnati's deep-dish pizza and hunkered down to work. As bad as this last minute derailment was, it demanded that we all come together as a cohesive group. We did not sleep much that night, but we got through it.
Semi-finals Round 2: The big day
The big day arrived, and we did a lot of last minute practicing. The presentation went really well, though we went over our time by 20 seconds. The judges also dinged us on a miscommunicated calculation during the Q&A.
At the end of the day our journey ended here, in the semi-final round. When I think of how much time I put into this company and course, it's incalculable. At one point, I even think I was dreaming about this stuff. It just consumed me at certain parts of the day, and I couldn't get it off my mind.
So what happens now?
Honestly, it is hard to say. BigCrowd still has a strong value proposition and nothing has changed with the business. However, our team is laser focused on finishing up with the XP-85 program in March.
On a personal level, I need some time to rebalance and recalibrate. The lessons I learned from GNVC have been invaluable. BigCrowd aside, I have an open thread with a Booth colleague about starting our own business and I feel confident that at some time in the near future, we'll get that venture going.
Christian Heim, '16 (XP-85)