Miami students beat out schools like the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon to win the regional round of the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC), hosted in Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 25. It was Miami’s first time competing in the invitation-only competition, where the students were the only representatives from Ohio. This year, competitors in the international competition came from 78 schools, in 13 countries spanning three continents.
The team will proceed to compete in the global finals round, March 23-25, hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Five students will represent Miami at Chapel Hill, while four others will provide analytical support from Oxford.
The VCIC is unique in that it is the only undergraduate business competition that puts the students in the roles of venture capitalists, rather than the position of start-ups pitching an idea. The student teams are given business plans of three real start-up companies and must come up with an investment decision which they then present and defend to the judges, real venture capitalists.
“There are lots of business plan competitions, there are lots of case competitions, there are a lot of startup pitch competitions — there is only one venture-capital-related investment competition,” said Tim Holcomb, the Cintas Chair of Entrepreneurship and a member of the Farmer School of Business faculty.
Holcomb served as an advisor to the VCIC team. He developed a five-week training program to prepare the team for the competition.
The nine students spent half a day every week for the first five weeks of the spring semester in Cincinnati at Union Hall. There they learned about venture capital, including how to value start-ups, procedures for conducting due diligence and different terms and conditions for investment deals.
The program allowed the students to learn from experts and actively practice what they learned. Nine investors from six different institutional investment companies — including CincyTech, Maywic Select Investments, Blue Chip Venture Company and Thompson Hine — coached the students. In addition, five Cincinnati companies gave mock pitches to the group to help them get hands-on practice for the competition.
Jack Condon, a member of the team, thinks that having access to professionals through Miami’s professional network gave the team a competitive edge.
“That was the first step, reaching out and learning from the experts about venture capital,” Condon said. “This is an industry that you don’t really learn a lot about as an undergrad a lot, if you’re in business, so I think the thing we did really well was because we know all these [venture capitalists] we learned a lot of what they wanted us to.”
Holcomb attributes the win to three main strengths: the team developed a rich understanding of the valuation of startups, analytically evaluated the startup ecosystem and collaborated well as a team.
Mary Dieglio, the assistant director of the Page Center for Entrepreneurship, believes that the judges were also impressed by the team’s professional conduct.
“I think that Miami’s team was best at putting forth that professional air, making it seem like they were an actually venture capital firm and not a group of students,” said Dieglio.
As the team prepares for the global finals, they are focusing on the question-answer sessions. They will have 12 minutes with each startup to ask questions, and they want to use the time to most effectively target specific concerns, said Matt Gordon, a student on the team.
While they continue to practice, the team is bolstered by the excitement from their win.
“I was really excited to win,” said Kasey Marenco, a member of the team. “ But we still have the next round to get ready for; so we need to turn our attention to focusing on that, and not slowing down in the interim just because we won.”
Shane Hitzler, also on the team, shares Marenco’s excitement and is optimistic looking forward.
“Obviously we are very happy that we competed in this for the first time in Chicago, and won,” said Hitzler. “We are extremely excited and extremely optimistic, and trying to back it up with preparation.”