MBA Students Represent the School of Management in Venture Capital Investment Competition
Ready to take on Silicon Valley! Students in the Master of Business Administration program showed their chops in the national competition’s Regional Finals--in the region that has defined startup success.
On February 28, School of Management MBA students competed in the 13th annual National Venture Capital Investment Competition Silicon Valley Regional Finals. Other schools that competed in the regional finals were UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis. Team members must qualify, and the university must be invited to participate in the competition.
School of Management adjunct professors Patrick O’Reagan Jr. and David Epstein worked as coaches for the team. O’Reagan explained the students began training in January right after winter break, and would train every Friday evening, the entirety of their Saturdays, and occasionally Sundays as well. The competition involved their “[playing] the role of a junior partner in a venture capitalist firm.” Professor and entrepreneurship and innovation department chair Mark Cannice described the event as “a reverse business plan competition, where each team takes the role of a venture capital firm and evaluates and makes an investment decision on two or three actual entrepreneurial ventures. The teams are assessed by venture investors.”
Darsh Vora MBA ’17 is a full-time student who competed as a co-captain on the team this year. He explained he was an alternate for the team in 2016, so although he did not compete then, he did have the opportunity to observe the previous team which gave him “great insights” and a “head start” in becoming competition savvy.
“I personally feel I’ve come out a lot stronger from this experience,” said Vora. “You get to interact not only with venture capitalists, but also entrepreneurs.” He explained that “the greatest learning experience” from the competition involved being provided with both perspectives: “During the due diligence process, each team has the opportunity to ask the entrepreneurs questions for about 15 minutes,” he said. “This showed me how I should handle tough questions if I ever plan to be an entrepreneur someday. From the venture capitalist’s perspective I learned how to ask the right questions that will be important for me to understand the core of the business, and whether this is a business worth investing in.”
Vora explained the skills required to compete directly correlate to what he has learned in the classroom. One class that really impacted him was the Entrepreneurial Management class led by professor and co-coach, David Epstein. Vora explained the course was “a great prep for this competition,” and that it provided insight on “how the venture capital world works theoretically and practically,” which directly related to the impending competition. Specifically, some of the theoretical aspects he learned in class were “evaluating term sheets,” “terms used by venture capitalists,” “and how to keep all the parties involved in the deal highly motivated.”
Although USF did not win regional finals, Vora explained “I feel that USF is not too far from putting a winning team ahead,” said Vora. “We have learned from the last few years and we will be able to pass on our knowledge to the upcoming teams.” “This experience is something that any business school should be proud of.” He encouraged for graduate students to get involved with the competition.
Being so close to Silicon Valley and the venture capital environment, it’s important for USF MBA students to build that entrepreneurial attitude--and this competition is a perfect launching pad for this.
Darsh Vora MBA ’17
As the coach, O’Reagan explained “my job is to get the team ready to compete.” He set up a training schedule and three simulation exercises and trained the team to understand the roles--and the mathematics--involved in being a venture capitalist.
“It really brings home everything they learned: marketing, finance, strategy,” said O’Reagan, “It really pushes them to another level.” Another participating team member representing USF, Thomas Juntunen MBA ’17, offered that he “gained a strong intuition and knowledge about the role of the venture capitals in the startup ecosystem.” Juntunen said, “Having intuition in this field allows you to project confidence to your entrepreneurs, and to your fellow venture capital partners, because you understand the dynamics of delivering results in the end…. Projecting confidence through intuition is what will convince an entrepreneur to strike a deal with you and not your competitors.”
O’Reagan explained that through its involvement in the competition, the School of Management demonstrates its ability to compete with any program on a global scale. He also emphasized that students have to divide up the responsibilities, to work independently as well as in a team. “It shows independence, it develops leadership and teamwork, and the students learn how to work well together,” said O’Reagan.
Natalie Brody MBA ’17, another co-captain of this year’s team, said “Not only did I get a chance to apply my knowledge of valuations gained from my finance electives, but I also had the opportunity to apply the theory I learned from classes such as strategy, ethics, leadership and marketing to assess the companies’ growth strategies, organization structures, and competitiveness…. I think that competitions such as VCIC are a wonderful experience for students, because they give us a chance to apply what we learn and get feedback so we can continue to grow and develop new skills.”
By Lonny Wysard