It’s no accident that two teams from Chicago Booth finished among the top 12 at the 2009 Rice Business Plan Competition April 16-18, the largest and richest graduate-level business competition in the world, according to student leaders of the two teams, InContext Solutions and CaptainU.
InContext and CaptainU were among 42 finalists chosen from 339 teams from around the world. The Rice competition awarded more than $800,000 in prizes this year. “It was a great competition with hundreds of investors who were judges and other entrepreneurs from top MBA and graduate programs,” said second-year student Michael Farb of CaptainU. “ We are currently following up with three or four investors who have expressed interest in CaptainU who we met at the competition. It was also a great developmental experience and we are taking a lot of feedback to tweak our presentation for the Moot Corp. competition in a few weeks.
Booth consistently rates as a powerhouse in such competitions because of its stellar New Venture Challenge business-plan competition, invaluable network of faculty and alumni, talented fellow students, and spirited entrepreneurial atmosphere, said first-year student Bob Gillespie, spokesman InContext.
“It’s not only that Booth provides an amazing network, but it’s the willingness of those contacts to talk with you,” said Gillespie, CEO of InContext Solutions, a market research company that uses a virtual store to track consumer behavior. “Any time you call an alum or faculty member, they meet with you. Just the other day breakfast with an alum led to flying to Atlanta to show my product.”
The New Venture Challenge, which has awarded $530,000 and helped launch more than 40 companies since its inception in 1996, is a highly competitive training ground for larger business-plan competitions, said Farb, COO of Captain U, a web platform helping high school athletes connect with college coaches and advance to college sports.
“NVC teams go through a full quarter of having their business models vetted by experienced faculty and investment professionals, as well as multiple rounds of investor presentations where the judges provide helpful and sometimes brutally honest feedback that shapes the businesses,” he said.
InContext Solutions qualified for Rice because it is already a real business and because its team is well-rounded by design, Gillespie said. Team members Gillespie, Kanika Agarwal, Kristine Wexler, and Jeb Ory – all first-year students – were handpicked for their experience in virtual research, sales, marketing, and finance, he said.
“We’re just very different from the usual team competing at Rice,” Gillespie said. “We’re market research. Nobody is near us. There are a lot of biopharma, medicine, and energy teams. We’re the only one doing market research. It might help us or hurt us, if everybody is really good.”
Captain U is unique because it uses innovative technology to solve an existing problem, employs creative approaches to customer acquisition, enjoys a strong recurring revenue base built on customer loyalty, and offers attractive exit opportunities for investors, said Farb, who-cofounded the team with Avi Stopper, ’06. Second-year students Nicole Shariatzadeh and Umar Haider comprise the rest of the Captain U team.
“The college sports recruiting market for lower-level Division I, II, and III athletes and teams has been a completely inefficient market,” Farb said. “Athletes and parents are confused about which schools are a good fit and how to get in touch and interact with college coaches. Coaches at these programs don’t have the resources or time to filter through thousands of kids to get down to five or six that will play at their schools. Captain U uses technology to match up athletes and colleges, and allow them to easily manage the process on line.”
— Phil Rockrohr