The Class: Global New Venture Challenge I
Waverly Deutsch is clinical professor of entrepreneurship.
The Global New Venture Challenge (GNVC) is the Executive MBA track in the New Venture Challenge process, which began 21 years ago. We kick off the GNVC in August when all of the Executive MBA students are in Chicago for their electives. The entrepreneurs put together a feasibility study about their businesses, encourage others to join their teams, and submit an application in October. We choose about six teams from each cohort—Chicago, Hong Kong, and London—to participate in the class.
Because the course is so short, it actually starts as soon as we choose the teams. I have a kick-off WebEx call in the fall with the teams, who are located all over the world, to start working on their business models. I then host webinars for all of the teams on business plans and presentations. Finally, I have a second, one-on-one call with each team in the winter. Business plans are due a week before class starts, because I want the teams to have written their story and really gotten it down.
The weeklong class is stressful. It’s intensive, and it doesn’t look like a normal class. On the first day, students present to a group of coaches, judges, and outside mentors, and they get a lot of feedback. We handpick mentors for each team based on industry, business model, and startup experience to get them started working with outside people on their model and story.
For four days, we have 90 minutes of content to begin the class. Then we break out into teams. I teach this class from about 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., because I meet with every team two to three times individually during those four days to work on their business and financial models and their presentation.
They work late into the night all week—while they’re taking another class in the morning. Then they have to present all over again, this time with much higher stakes and on the last day of class. It’s really different than a normal class experience: there is a lot more one-on-one coaching.
From a pedagogical perspective, there are two basic things we want students to learn. First, how to create a business and a financial model. We raise questions: How do the parts of your business come together to create value? How much does it cost to create and deliver that value to market? How much is the market willing to pay? How do you discover those things in a purely startup environment?
Second, when you’re an entrepreneur with a startup, you need to know how to communicate with customers, stakeholders, employees, and especially potential investors. What’s the best story to tell investors in the 12 minutes you have to present your business plan in the semifinal? No one stands up after a presentation and says, “Oh, I’m going to write you a $250,000 check.” The goal of this presentation is to begin the investment conversation and the relationship with an investor.
The “Case Study”
The company each team is building is the “case study.” For example, there’s a team that started last summer to automate tax regulation compliance for financial services firms. Through this class, they have built some technology, tested it with some early-stage customers to see if it works, and gotten pilot customers signed up. During the months of this process, the business is actually developing. Real changes are happening within their actual businesses, and there are very real stakes.
On the last day of class at each campus, the cohort has semifinals. Students pitch again to a different panel of investors, who select the top two teams from each group to represent at the GNVC finals, which happen just before graduation when all of the Executive MBA students are in Chicago. Seven teams make it to the finals—two from each campus and possibly a wildcard, since my teaching assistant and I are the only ones who have seen all three campuses present.
There’s a prize pool of about $25,000 that’s awarded to the top teams at the finals. They also get exposure to seed venture capitalists in the Chicago market. There’s a company called Taiger headquartered in Spain; Rekonnex out of Plano, Texas; Appiness in Belgium—all launched through the GNVC process. The goal of this competition is to launch companies.
From the Students
Prem Iyer, ’15 (XP-84), CEO and Cofounder, Rekonnex: Going into the class, we were broad about who we thought would be interested in Rekonnex. After the first presentations, we got feedback: the panel couldn’t discern our target audience. So we got specific: Who is our buyer? Why do they want our product? Your pitch is taken apart limb by limb, and it works. You can pick any team on day one and on the last day of class, and watch how much better they get. My team won the GNVC and launched shortly after. My partner and I are still full time with Rekonnex, and it only happened because of the GNVC.
RJ Laguardia, ’17 (AXP-16), Senior Hydrocarbon Finance Process Improvement Lead, Royal Dutch Shell: I was part of team FuSure, which aims to help overseas workers save while they send money to their families back home. In our first presentation, many questions focused on the remittance side of the business, which didn’t capture the full value we provide. We realized that we had to flip the order of our pitch. Sure enough, during our last presentation, the questions focused on the savings component part of our story. The GNVC process gave us that valuable piece of feedback in the course of one week.
—As told to Leah Rachel von Essen