The Executive MBA branch of Chicago Booth’s top-ranked accelerator program, the Global New Venture Challenge (GNVC), has been characterized by pathbreaking innovation over its twelve year history. From 2018 GNVC winner Mindful Urgent Care, which reimagines psychiatric treatment by providing walk-in mental health care, to 2011 GNVC winner Taiger, an AI solutions company redefining the limitations of machine learning and information processing, the program has produced an expansive range of cutting-edge ideas and new companies. The 13th annual GNVC finals proved the most groundbreaking yet; in the midst of a global pandemic restricting travel and large gatherings, the 2020 finalists not only had to prepare and perfect their pitches, but they had to do so in a fully virtual setting.
For a global event with 8 teams, 57 finalists, and a panel of 8 distinguished judges, the shift to a virtual platform was no small logistical feat. And the transition to presenting in that environment, without being able to hold team meetings face to face or to feed off the energy of a live audience, seemed daunting. Yet, for finalists David Joyce and Poonam Sharma (co-founders, along with Talon Morris, of Chicago-based team health-e), the unanticipated change was all part of the learning process.
Sharma, who is no stranger to making difficult decisions as Program Manager of Transformation, Delivery, and Value Realization for healthcare benefits company Aetna, says that the Global New Venture Challenge course in itself, to put it simply, is “not for the faint-hearted.” One of two capstone options at the end of the Executive MBA Program, the 6-day experience challenges students to implement all they have learned over the last 18 months in a fast-paced, relentless environment. From the first day of class, where teams present to a group of coaches, judges, and hand-selected outside mentors, to the semi-finals just 5 days later, students have to implement feedback, adapt, and re-evaluate their approaches rapidly with very real stakes on the line.
"Because the GNVC process is designed to prepare entrepreneurs for what they will face raising money, it is like a trial by fire,” explains Clinical Professor and Academic Director of University-wide Entrepreneurship Content Waverly Deutsch. “Our students work for months on their businesses before class starts and immediately they have to present to a panel of experienced entrepreneurs and investors. They get critical, direct feedback, day one. It's these interactions, both in the classroom and through intensive one-on-one coaching sessions, with exactly the type of people they need to get onboard as investors and advisors, that make the GNVC such a powerful experience."
After successfully making it through the course and the semi-finals, the shift from in-person to virtual proved less jolting to students who were accustomed to making adjustments and overcoming barriers quickly. “All teams were able to seamlessly transition to a remote model for finals,” Sharma says, “which showcases their tenacity and adaptability. And Booth prepares you early on to be tenacious and adaptable.”
Joyce, who works as Director of Heart and Lung Transplantation at the Medical College of Wisconsin, compares the GNVC experience to “the equivalent of taking my first night on-call as an intern.” A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and Harvard Medical School, Joyce received an exemplary medical education. “But nothing they can teach you in the classroom can fully prepare you for the first time your pager goes off and you have to solve the problem on your own. That’s when the real education starts. The same could be said for my experience at Booth. The GNVC process gave me an opportunity to put my skills to the test. To that end, I think I probably learned more in the weeks leading up to the GNVC finals than all the hours I spent in Gleacher.”
Sharma and Joyce’s start-up health-e, an intelligent health management service that uses AI to detect, predict, and prevent heart failure readmissions, didn’t win one of the coveted GNVC cash prizes for the top ventures, but both are still dedicated to launching their company and are currently working with their team to recalibrate their approach in an ever-changing business landscape. Collectively, they view GNVC as an experience unparalleled in its exposure to the start-up ecosystem, its connection to a network of experienced entrepreneurs, advisors and investors, and its preparation for adapting to a dramatically evolving world.
“I think 100% of incoming students are a bit reluctant to apply the label ’entrepreneur’ to themselves, and doing a startup is absolutely terrifying,” Joyce reflects. “When you look at it that way, the only difference between a student who is on the fence about GNVC and Elon Musk comes down to the decision about whether or not you're willing to take a chance, dip your toe in the water, and realize that the worst case scenario is that you get a really great business education in the process of ‘failing.’”