Are you an entrepreneur? Do you have a really, really neat business? Are you at the stage where you’re close to looking, or actively looking for venture capital financing? Would you like the chance to polish your pitch? Would you like to get the opportunity to get feedback on it from six of the leading venture capital firms in Canada? Would you also like to get help with your pitch and selling your company to VCs from some of the best and brightest MBA students in Canada (and some from the US as well)?
What if I were to tell you that you could get all of this – and more – for free, other than perhaps a full day of your time, and perhaps some time to prepare? And yes, I know I sound like I’m selling diet pills on late night TV. But I’m not.
What I’m describing is a competition called the Venture Capital Investment Competition. It was started in the US a few years ago by a brilliant prof by the name of Patrick Vernon. Designed primarily as an educational activity to help MBA students learn about VCs and what they do, it also has had some great side-effects. Following is an excerpt from the VCIC site:
At the core of the event is a creative turn of the tables. Unlike business plan competitions in which students pitch their own ideas to investors, at VCIC the students are the investors, and real entrepreneurs pitch to them. It is a very powerful learning experience for both parties. Add to the mix a dozen VC judges, and you have what the VCIC website describes as a “win-win-win.” Students learn (and win cash), entrepreneurs connect with investors and VCs get an early peek at some viable deals. How viable? Last year, one-third of the entrepreneurs (11 out of 33) pitching at VCIC went on to raise $30M in venture capital VCIC. Of the 200 entrepreneurs who have pitched at VCIC regional events since 1998, 40 have gone on to raise $300M. That is a hit rate of 20%, remarkable considering that most of these events occurred post-bubble, including a dismal one-out-of-30 in 2002. With an overall rate of 20%, and the recent 33% mark, VCIC is headed back towards its pre-bubble hit rate of 50% in ’98 and ’99.
The organizers of VCIC are quick to point out that the mission of the program is educational, not commercial, and none of the deals are known to have been initiated at a VCIC event. “We’re not in the business of playing dealmaker,” comments VCIC director Patrick Vernon from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “We are focused on teaching students about financing new ventures, and the most effective way to do that is to expose them to the best deals and investors. Lucky for us, the best entrepreneurs and VCs like to meet each other, too.”
And the students also like meeting the VCs. Many of the competitors aspire to become venture capitalists, a dream that is difficult if not impossible to fulfill. Nonetheless, quite a few have achieved it. Six VCIC alumni have gone on to participate in the prestigious Kauffman Fellows Program, working in VC firms from Silicon Valley to Munich, Germany. A dozen VCIC alumni working in VC, headed by Don Herzog from the 2000 Carnegie Mellon championship team, organized a new alumni prize money fund in 2006, then came to the finals to deliver the 2nd place prize money check. “I have been back to judge the finals every year since I competed as a student,” commented Herzog, who currently works at Bluegrass Growth Fund. VCIC has even had individuals play all three roles in different years: competed one year as a student, got a job at a VC firm and returned as a judge, then went on to start a new company and came back to pitch. (For the record, it is most fun being a judge.)
What began as an experiment in 1998 at UNC in response to the bubble of business plan competitions popping up at most business schools, VCIC has grown into a virtual venture job fair and marketplace. In 2007 the program will include ten regional and 30 single-school events in North America, Europe and Asia. World-wide, 50 top business schools will participate. The program culminates every April in Chapel Hill, NC, with the International Finals, where the winning team takes home $10,000 in prize money. This year’s finals will include a special 10th anniversary celebration that will be attended by many former students, VC judges and entrepreneurs.
I am very proud to say that McCarthy TÃƒÂ©trault, the firm I work at, was one of the primary sponsors of the first VCIC competition in Canada last year. Held in Toronto at the University of Toronto’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, it was considered a great success. I was fortunate enough to have stumbled onto an article describing VCIC and got in touch with Pat Vernon to help facilitate the inaugural event in Canada (though it was really one of my partners – Ian Palm – whose support and ties with the VC community were instrumental in making the event a success).
We expect this year to be another rousing success, and have put most of the pieces into place, including the participating schools, lining up VC judges, and organizing the event. However, what remains is finding three real-life entrepreneurs who are willing to participate. The event is scheduled to take place on February 16, 2006. Fit the profile? Interested? If so, feel free to get in touch with me at dma[at]mccarthy.ca. Unfortunately, due to time constraints the event can only accommodate three entrepreneurs so no guarantees that you will be selected to participate, but hey, doesn’t hurt to check…