Rady School of Management students compete in a number of pitch competitions, presenting their startup companies to panels of entrepreneurial experts with the hopes of securing funding for their venture. But a recent competition had Rady students on the other side of the table, serving as venture capitalists looking to invest in the next big thing.
The Venture Capital Investment Competition challenges business school students with evaluating startup companies and determining their feasibility, scalability and profitability. Teams are given a pitch deck to review prior to the competition, and are tasked with completing their due diligence, including evaluating the market potential, business model and funds raised to date. On the day of the competition, companies pitch to the panel, who are judged on their ability to assemble a team of experts and on how they evaluate the companies.
Inspired by a desire to learn more about the world of investing, Andrew Engram (MBA ’19) created the Venture Capital Club to prepare for the competition and create a network of venture capitalist-hopefuls at the Rady School.
“We’ve covered the concepts related to venture capitalists in our courses here at Rady, but a better way to learn about a concept is to apply it to real-world situations,” he said.
The team – composed of Engram, Ehsan Amozegar, Joseph Baini, Sairam Chitneni, Adam Stallings and Jerry Skefos — was the first-ever contingency from Rady to compete in the Venture Capital Investment Competition.
With help from Rady School entrepreneurial experts Kimberley King and Lada Rasochova, the team devised a strategy on how to approach pitch sessions from the other side of the table.
“Kim and Lada were instrumental to our success,” Skefos said. “They came to our practice sessions and gave us insight on how we can improve and how to ask more effective questions. This was extremely helpful, because we were able to get a better understanding of how to set up market term sheets.”
Assuming the role
The team traveled to the University of Southern California to compete against five leading California MBA programs. They were tasked with assigning each member of the team with a role that would be represented in a typical venture capitalist firm, so each member assumed a persona for the day – a biotechnology expert, a lawyer, an angel investor and more.
“Our team was dubbed Elm Capital, and our task was to develop fund metrics and a fund profile,” Engram said. “We had to show the entrepreneur how we could bring value to them by investing in them and by our connections.”
The company Elm Capital evaluated was Voluware, a cloud-based workflow optimization and automation solution for administrative healthcare transactions. Using this knowledge, the team adjusted their strategy to include new personas to fit the needs of the company.
“Oddly enough, that was one of the most difficult parts of the competition, because we had to really think about the company holistically to determine what the ideal investment firm would look like,” Baini said. “Right when you walk into the room, you introduce yourself as an expert in an industry with tons of industry contacts, even if it isn’t true. You have to be confident in your presentation. In the first round, we lost points because we didn’t come up with a strong fictional team, so in the second round we really thought about it and worked on improving our ability to compile a team of experts.”
“We had a 14 minute segment to interview the startup teams, and each person on the team has their own questions that they’ve identified to ask,” Amozegar said. “We were judged during that evaluation based on the insight we had into the venture capitalist process and what questions we were asking.”
In addition to understanding venture capitalist-affiliated terms, the team was judged on their ability to command the room.
“Considering the amount of questions that we should be asking, it’s extremely tough to accomplish everything in just 14 minutes, so the judges graded us oncontrol in the sense of being able to get the necessary information out of the entrepreneurs while also moving on to the next topic without being too aggressive,” Stallings said. “It’s a difficult balance because you’re building a real relationship when you’re going to become business partners.”.”
The Rady team was able to ask questions after the pitch and the judges – a group of celebrated venture capitalists, lawyers and angel investors – grilled the team on their knowledge of the process.
“They asked us questions to intentionally throw us off — so even if we asked the right question or had insight into the company that was correct, they’ll question it and make is sound like it’s completely wrong just to test to see if we actually knew what we were talking about,” said Stallings with a smile. “We had to walk in with some nerve, otherwise they just break that down. It was a great learning experience, because that’s likely how that scenario plays out in the real world.”
Although the team did not advance to the next round, they believe the experience was worthwhile.
“This was a great opportunity to get positive exposure for the Rady School in the venture capital world,” Skefos said. “Rady students have a lot to offer in terms of our connections to technology and science, from our esteemed cohort, versus traditional venture capitalist companies that are typically heavily finance-based. Companies are starting to realize they need to have at least an expertise in a lot more than before. They are trying to hire scientists and people with a science background so, this school is unique in that way.”
The development of a new Rady School club was also a positive attribute of competing in the Venture Capital Investment Competition.
“Rady is an entrepreneurial school, and part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem is venture capital,” Engram said. “That’s a big reason why I started the Rady Venture Capital Club and going forward, it’s a great opportunity for students to get real-world experience in this field.”