NVC Series: A few words with Professor Kaplan

New Venture Challenge (NVC) is possibly the most well-known competition at Booth as well as one of the most famous entrepreneurship competitions in the business school circle. As part of our ongoing series dedicated to the NVC, I sat down with Professor Steve N Kaplan for a brief conversation about the New Venture Challenge, which he helped co-found in 1996.

Kaplan explained how the New Venture Challenge is in fact an accelerator designed to help students learn and iterate through their initial idea to the point where it is a plausible business. It is an intense, year-long business launch program that includes a classroom phase. During the Fall and Winter quarters, students get the opportunity to put their ideas together and submit an application in February. Ideas are picked based on a combination of attributes that can be summarized as having a shot at being a real business. This year, the challenge received roughly 80 applications out of which 32 were selected to advance to the second round which includes a course (Special Topics in Entrepreneurship: Developing a New Venture) taught by several professors including Kaplan and Ellen Rudnick.

During the course, the teams are taught a variety of skills that enable them to improve their ideas and they are given opportunities to present their businesses to actual investors and get critical feedback that can improve their plans. These in-class judges range from venture capitalists to former CEOs to current C-suite executives.

If you get into the class though, Prof. Kaplan has a few words for you: Be ambitious. You have to think big to be successful in the program. Being ambitious pushes you to be bolder in your presentation, put more into growing the idea, and excites you about the possibilities that lay ahead. He also says you should expect to work hard. It’s not a matter of working hard or working smart, you have to do both if the idea is going to be a real business — and you will have to start that in his class.

For those with ideas that are based in target markets outside the US, Professor Kaplan says the learning you’ll get from the program is applicable to your ideas and business as well. You should also know that international businesses have won the challenge in the past.

Overall, the learning you receive from being part of the New Venture Challenge cannot be overemphasized. Even if you don’t win the challenge in the end, you’ll be much better at presenting your plan to others and much more confident of that plan.

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