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Venturing into New Territory

Posted by Rebecca on 18 March 2009

Sometimes people do things that I really don’t understand, like finding the motivation to enrol in an early morning boot camp fitness program, or making their own sushi at home when there are plenty of excellent restaurants just waiting to deliver.  I include case competitions in this category.  Give up a weekend to do more work solving a hypothetical (or improbable) business situation under time pressure with a team of type A personalities under the watchful eyes of outside experts for the glory of winning a certificate?  I must be missing something, because case competitions are a staple of business school life and invariably dozens of people sign up for each one.

So it was with an open if somewhat sceptical mind that I agreed at the last minute to join a team for the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC).  VCIC is different than most classic case competition formats in that it attempts to model the venture capital experience in 48 hours:

  • The teams are given 3 – 5 business plans from real start-up companies.
  • The actual entrepreneurs give their pitch to the group and then each team has 15 minutes to conduct a Q&A due diligence session.
  • Each team then must pick a start-up, decide how much money to invest and on what terms. The entrepreneur and the team meet one last time for a 15 minute negotiation on the term sheet in hopes of striking a deal.
  • The whole process is observed by experienced venture capitalists that grill each team’s thought process and term sheet after the negotiations.


As someone who knows very little about venture capital it was a great learning experience both in terms of evaluating a start-up as well as structuring an early stage investment.  But for me the best part of the experience was our team – I got a chance to work with a group of very talented people whose backgrounds and strengths are very different than mine, and I learned more from them in 48 hours than I did in several weeks of class.

The first round was a frenzy of internet research, financial modelling and late night brainstorming sessions.  We were the underdogs compared to other the teams with prior VC experience, but in the end we surprised ourselves by winning both first place and the Entrepreneurs’ Choice award. And we won a lot more than a certificate: two bottles of champagne and an expense paid trip to represent the school in the next round at NYU Stern.

After heeding some advice from our VC judges, we jetted off to NYC for round two.  The semi-finals were equally intense and the competition was fierce.  We spent one day holed up in the New York Public Library thinking about the merits of iPhone applications versus cloud computing.  We didn’t win in the end, but we had a lot of laughs along the way.  Better yet, we got to enjoy the rest of the weekend in NYC. This is not to say that I will be signing up for every case competition, but it goes to show that it’s worth trying something before passing judgement.  Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going shopping for raw fish and rice.

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