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Kellogg students put knowledge, team skills to work in contest win. From left: Kevin Van Culin '08, Savinay Berry '08, Heidi Lubin '07, Akbar Bhaidani '07 and Jonathan Hornaday '07.

‘Sustained’ victory for Kellogg students in competition

Intellectual depth and breadth bring top prize to Kellogg team in Sustainable Venture Capital Investment Competition

By Adrienne Murrill

4/11/2007 - Leveraging outstanding collaborative skills and putting to work an array of lessons learned in the Kellogg School classroom, a team of five Kellogg students recently earned first place at the second Sustainable Venture Capital Investment Competition (SVCIC), held March 30-31 at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Second-year students Akbar Bhaidani and Jonathan Hornaday and first-year students Savinay Berry, Heidi Lubin and Kevin Van Culin represented Kellogg, the only school to maintain a top position both years in the contest. Other schools that participated in the invitation-only competition were Harvard, Wharton, Michigan, Haas, Duke, UNC and Bainbridge.

“Kellogg was second last year in the same competition and recently was second at the Wharton LBO competition,” said Berry. “This shows that the private equity curriculum and the strength of commitment to venture capital is increasing at Kellogg.”

The SVCIC is different from other competitions in that it gives students the experience to act as venture capitalists and to decide whom to invest in among a group of real entrepreneurs with real business plans — opportunities also central to the Kellogg School’s rigorous experiential curriculum that melds theory with practice. Prior to the weekend competition, the students received four business plans, which they studied in preparation for their meeting with the entrepreneurs at the contest.

“Normally you have weeks to prepare and a whole day to talk with the entrepreneurs,” Lubin said. In the competition, the students had only 15 minutes for questions and answers with each entrepreneur to investigate the biggest risks associated with the plan. “Part of the game plan was to get as much information as possible, but also to be friendly,” she added. The challenge was to build a rapport and avoid putting the companies on the defensive under a difficult, but necessary, line of questioning.

Next the team had to choose which of the four firms to invest in, organize the deal and create a presentation pitch for a panel of judges, which was composed of practicing venture capitalists. Each team was evaluated on how well it identified risk, assessed social and environmental impact, understood the VC process and communicated as a group.

“One of the keys for us was teamwork and communication,” Lubin said. She explained that the competition was blind, in that the judges didn’t know which MBA program each team represented. “They were surprised at the end when they learned that we hadn’t known each other very well before the competition. We worked together very effectively, and that came through in our presentation,” she said.

“A big benefit was that we had a fairly diverse skill set,” Van Culin said. The team members collectively shared experiences in the VC, technology, consulting, nonprofit, public policy and legal fields.

“One of the things the judges commented on was that all of us were asking questions from all areas,” Berry said, rather than individuals concentrating on marketing, finance and so on. “Everyone had done the research of the entire spectrum of challenges we faced.”

“We worked really hard not to pigeon-hole each other and to make it a learning experience for everyone involved,” Lubin added.

The team’s exemplary performance is a testament to the Kellogg School’s rigorous and diverse curriculum, from strategy to finance and marketing, she said. “We have the opportunity to take classes across the board,” Lubin said. “We were mustering up all that in our preparations.”

The team was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship and the Heizer Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Kellogg.