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Mike Denklau JD-MBA ’14 received notice of a $50,000 win the day of his graduation.

Michael Denkau

Convocation celebration

$50K competition win adds to student’s graduation day

By Dan Campana

6/23/2014 - Just an hour after graduating from the Kellogg and Northwestern Law dual JD-MBA program, Mike Denklau ’14 got a phone call that only added to the celebration.

The call, which came as he spent time with family during a reception following Northwestern Law’s May convocation, informed the 31-year-old Denklau he had won the second annual Origami Capital Partners Idea Challenge with his concept involving asset liquidation. Denklau emerged as the winner after two rounds of competition that included nearly 140 entries from several universities.

“It was quite a day,” Denklau said. “My family was in town for graduation. It was good to celebrate with them.”

A year to prepare

Denklau began developing his idea during the summer of 2013, after the first competition had already concluded. The Davenport, Iowa, native dove into his concept by December and developed his five-page submission for the first-round deadline in April.

Denklau’s idea focused on investment strategy execution and returns. His investment banking background and expertise in, among other things, closed-end funds and asset management, served as the foundation for his submission’s concept.

“It was a natural fit for my style of investing,” Denklau explained.

Denklau’s entry was chosen to advance to the finals from a division with competitors from Northwestern, Michigan, University of Chicago and the Illinois Institute for Technology. But the judges came back with some notes.

“My initial thoughts weren’t exactly on point,” he acknowledged.

For the win

Denklau took those notes, made adjustments and thrived in the more open-ended final round: a strategy pitch where he fielded judges’ questions and honed the idea further. It paid off as he took home the $50,000 prize and the chance to further develop his idea with Origami, which was founded in 2008 with a specialized focus on innovative and niche investment strategies.

“Michael’s idea was innovative, well researched and practical,” Thomas Elden, Origami Principal and one of the competition’s judges, said in a statement.

As Denklau looks ahead, he credits his time at Kellogg for further shaping his perspectives. He entered the JD-MBA program because of an interest in “the intersection of finance and law.” Even with his previous professional experience in the investment banking world, Denklau said he appreciated the real-world opportunities that arose, such as his time working with the Kellogg Asset Management Program where he participated in the handling of Northwestern’s endowment investments.

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