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By Elissa Estopinal and Connor Ryan (both 2Y 2020)

Conferences serve a valuable role at top business schools. They offer students an opportunity to network with and learn from industry experts, attract alumni to reconnect with their alma mater, and give professionals the ability to build both their own personal brand and that of their firm. Perhaps most importantly, however, conferences signal to the outside world the industries that schools and their students most desire to align themselves with.

With career placement in private equity and venture capital at all time highs, it is clear Kellogg students are more interested in the world of private investing than ever before. After the Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference was absent from Kellogg in 2019, we felt a responsibility to both our classmates and to Kellogg as a whole to bring the event back to prominence in 2020, and were delighted to be nominated as co-chairs.

Making preparations and identifying goals

As we stepped into this role, we were focused on delivering a conference that attracted students, alumni, and industry professionals and continued the progress that Kellogg has already made in becoming a preeminent institution in the world of private investing. Last year, as the team began to envision the conference, we identified a few key goals:

  • Explore industry challenges: With the unprecedented pace of change across the market, how should firms navigate new and difficult challenges?
  • Shine light on new opportunities: What can firms do to survive and thrive within an increasingly competitive market?
  • Question the status quo: What topics deserve to be explored that have been historically ignored?

Within these three goals, we believed that we could deliver content that appealed to both potential speakers and attendees across PE and VC, and that was digestible by guests across all levels of experience.

The conference

To say we were blown away by the reception to the conference would be an understatement. Professionals, even those with no formal affiliation to Kellogg, were incredibly enthusiastic about participating as moderators, panelists and keynote speakers. Tickets sold out in minutes and, on the day of the conference, we welcomed over 40 speakers and over 300 attendees (made up of students, alumni, faculty, and professionals) to the Kellogg Global Hub.

The conference opened with a keynote panel featuring Jeff Cantalupo of Listen Ventures, Mike Apostal ’12 of Factor, and moderated by Professor Linda Darragh, the director of Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. They spoke about the role trend watching plays in consumer-focused VC and entrepreneurship, discussing specifically how millennial dining and fitness trends have impacted Factor’s product and business model.

After a series of morning panels covering topics ranging from general trends in private equity and venture capital to regional differences in the investing world, the lunch keynote featured Professor Karin O’Connor ’89 and Sally Pofcher ’94 of L Catterton. They discussed the role of the modern-day operating partner and how their functions have evolved over time, while delving into Sally’s background both as an OP and as former CEO of Paper Source and Protein Bar.

The afternoon sessions dove deep into regulatory policy, non-traditional value-creation techniques employed by investing firms, as well as the all too seldom discussed topic of the benefit that diverse and inclusive cultures can create within the world of private investing.

The conference closed on a high note with a conversation between Dean Francesca Cornelli and the co-CEOs of the Vistria Group, Kip Kirkpatrick ’97 and Martin Nesbitt. They talked about how Vistria was formed and operates based on the belief that return should be measured not only in traditional financial measures, but also in utilizing social impact quantification.

Reflections from the co-chairs

Elissa Estopinal: From the outset of conference planning, we knew that it was critical for our success to have the support and involvement of Kellogg alumni and we were delighted with the enthusiasm we encountered. They stepped up as both speakers and sponsors and we were proud to have many in attendance at the conference. To me, the reception from alumni is indicative of the culture that attracted me to Kellogg. We value leadership marked by humility and want to support our colleagues in any way possible, without the expectation of something in return. Being a part of the Kellogg community extends far beyond one’s time as an active student and I believe this ethos will be what accelerates both my and my fellow classmates’ careers in private equity and venture capital. I look forward to attending next year’s conference as an alumna and, hopefully, as a speaker in the future.

Connor Ryan: I come from a background of both private equity and venture capital investing, so being able to help put together a conference that incorporated both aspects of my professional career was a true privilege. We were unbelievably fortunate to have world class sponsors and speakers support us during every step of the process, and the energy surrounding the event within Kellogg was wonderful to observe. With all that said, the success of this event alone was not our goal. As Kellogg seeks to maintain and improve its position as a preeminent graduate business school, having an emphasis on both venture capital and private equity across curriculum, faculty, career placement, and extracurricular offerings will be of critical importance. A conference is just one aspect, but an important one, in building to this goal. I hope, and am optimistic, that the success of the 2020 Kellogg Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference will pave the way for the conference to be held on a recurring annual basis.