Perfecting the Ask – An NVC classroom experience

What do you do when you have a chance to present to people who can be connections for you and help you with your goals?

That is what the New Venture Challenge class experience teaches participants in the ten weeks they spend as part of the course As the New Venture Challenge (NVC) enters its final round this week, the businesses that have gone through it have evolved and so have the entrepreneurs and their teams. Those selected for NVC have to take the class, which includes two rounds of pitching to potential investors. I sat in one of the pitching sessions and it was a wonderful learning experience even though I wasn’t trying to get any idea sold.

Participants pitching  at the 20th annual Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Harper Center on June 2, 2016. (Photo by Chris Strong)

Each team (like Ray’s pictured above during their classroom pitch for last year’s NVC) gets 15 minutes to pitch their idea and another 15 minutes for question and answer. The questions came from the judges who probed at different aspects of the value chain of each respective business. I thought that the questions provided a holistic view of the idea from people who are at different points of the business value chain.

There were 17 ‘judges’ in the session I experienced. I use the word ‘judges’ loosely because these were industry experts, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, professors, investors and the likes who were giving feedback to the teams on everything from business ideas to presentation to even the structure of the business. Some of the feedback is direct to the team presenting and addresses specific aspects of their businesses, and some of it is applicable to all teams.

As a non-participant in the pitch and someone who is not currently working in the startup space, I still learnt a lot from the judges’ feedback including:

  • When asking for something, ask yourself: If someone was asking something from you, what would you want to know and how would you like to be approached? Then use that to approach the person you want to approach.
  • When you have a chance to meet people who can help you get to your goal, don’t just tell them what you’re doing and leave them wondering what you need or how they can help you. Ask specifically for the help you need. Which was the central tenet of the entire session.

Students in the audience also get the opportunity to give feedback on the effectiveness of the presentations and ask specific questions on the content of the presentations. Then one of the class professors (Waverly Deutsch or Steve Kaplan) offers concluding thoughts at the end of questions,  including some less intense, lighthearted comments and directions for the next presentation.

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