Anyone who has walked through the Winter Garden the last few weeks has no doubt heard talks of applications and team interviews for the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC). NVC and Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) applications were due last week, and founders at Booth have been busy building their teams and putting their feasibility studies together. For me, going through the application process a second time around has taught me some great lessons that I think future founders@Booth could benefit from.
For those that don’t know, the NVC application process starts in October with a kickoff and info session. Teams then have between November to January to put an idea and team together, and finish their applications by a date in late January. Throughout this time, students will run surveys, do customer discovery interviews, conduct market research, and pitch other students on joining their team.
Last year, I applied to and participated in NVC with a team of first-year students who wanted to work together on a problem area we cared about. This year, I approached the application with a slightly different view. My company, Commas, is a registered Delaware corporation, and we are applying to NVC as a way to get feedback and connections to investors in preparation for a seed round of funding later this year. Going through NVC applications twice from these two perspectives has taught me a few lessons, and I’d love to share them with you.
First lesson: if you’re interested in starting your own company, it’s worth participating in NVC in your first year even if you don’t think you’re “ready”.
I give this first piece of advice to every first-year student who has asked me about NVC. NVC is an amazing experience, and you’ll learn so much from each year of it, even if it’s not a project you’re looking to pursue long-term. I do want to stress that the process of the challenge can be quite demanding, so there will be additional investment on your end, but if you’re serious about building a company, the additional value you can get out of two experiences of NVC is worth it. Additionally, doing NVC in my first year of Booth gave me great insight into best practices and other lessons learned, which I can now apply to my second round of NVC.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Sebastian Rivas, founder and CEO of Andes STR (Winner of 2021 NVC), recently said, “So if you’re even toying with the idea of being an entrepreneur, do NVC. Do it twice, actually, if you can. If there’s one regret I have it’s that I didn’t do NVC with another team year one. Because if I could have two servings of this, I would. It’s an impressive thing.”
Second lesson: don’t be scared to pitch everyone you meet.
In my first year, I refrained from telling too many people about my project because I worried about who might be working on a competitive idea. Especially because my last project was in a competitive industry (consumer fintech), and because there were several consumer fintech applications to NVC, so I was overly careful about who I spoke to. Looking back, this resulted in an artificial limitation to the feedback I received, and I missed out on people who could have offered great ideas, connections, and advice.
This year, I’ve pitched Commas hundreds of times to anyone who will listen. Anytime the topic comes up of what I plan to do after Booth, I like to tell people about my company and pitch them on the idea. This practice has both helped me both refine my pitch as well as give me more customer discovery data points, which in turn teach me how different people respond to the idea and where I can do better.
Third lesson: be very thoughtful about your team, even at this early stage.
Team building is core to the NVC experience. Not only is it a great way to get highly skilled and experienced people on your team to work towards a common goal, it’s also a way for new founders to practice management and leadership within a supportive environment. Personally, I enjoy the process of brainstorming, building, and iterating collaboratively, and the camaraderie of going through NVC together is one of my favorite parts of the program. However, in the excitement of NVC, it can be easy to build a large team of friends and classmates whom you like, but aren’t necessarily the right people for the job. Whether that’s due to overlapping areas of expertise, differing levels or commitment, or divergent goals for the future, it is up to you as the founder to build the right team, even at this early stage of the company.
The New Venture Challenge has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my time at Booth so far, and I hope that some of these lessons will be helpful to you as you think about your own future as a founder. Nowhere else can you get such valuable experience building a company from 0 to 1, in such a supportive and risk-free environment. I believe everyone at Booth could benefit from participating in NVC in some way. And if you do participate, I hope these lessons will help you in your own path towards being a future successful founder@Booth.