Why case competitions are important in executive education | TopMBA.com

Why case competitions are important in executive education

By Niamh O

Updated September 24, 2021 Updated September 24, 2021

Competitions such as Chicago Booth's GNVC provide students with a platform for action and to begin understanding what it means to be an entrepreneur, according to Booth candidate Will Chow.

Experiential learning, or ‘learning on the job’ is one of the rewarding elements of MBA and executive MBA studies according to students and grads alike. 

Business schools across the globe incorporate case competitions into their curriculum, as a way for students to gain hands-on experience through a business case study or even building on their own start-up from scratch.  

One such case competition is The University of Chicago Booth School of Businesses’ Global New Venture Challenge (GNVC) where second-year students on the executive MBA programme are eligible to apply to the challenge and participate as one of their capstone course requirements.   

This year, top teams from the business school’s London, Hong Kong and Chicago campuses pitched their business ideas before a panel of judges as part of the GNVC, with a top prize on offer of US$70,000.  

Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Booth, and director of Chicago Global Entrepreneurs Network at the Polsky Centre, also teaches the GNVC course to EMBA students and she explained how the competition has grown over time. 

She said: “The GNVC started 14 years ago as an outgrowth of the New Venture Challenge process begun at Chicago Booth 25 years ago. 

“At first the GNVC was an extracurricular activity but was later added as a for-credit class. In the last seven years, the prize money was converted into founder friendly investments – rather than simply cash prizes. 

“It’s our hope that supporting these companies will make the GNVC process self-sustaining as companies exit and our investments generate returns. 

“These returns are already being seen in the NVC as when GrubHub had its IPO. That funding goes back into programmes that support entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth and the Polsky Centre for Entrepreneurship.” 

The GNVC process begins as early as January each year, with applications submitted whereby 18 teams are selected from Booth’s three campuses – Chicago, London, and Hong Kong. 

Deutsche said: “This year the first-place team, HeartScreen, won US$70,000 and each finalist team was awarded at least $5,000 in prize money as a SAFE (simple agreement for future equity) investment.” 

From the 14 years of the GNVC’s existence, Deutsche says the largest GNVC company to date is Taiger, currently headquartered in Singapore. 

She said: “It is a leading AI technology firm and will likely become a unicorn with over a billion-dollar valuation in its next funding round. I expect TAINA (GNVC winner 2017) will be the next really big GNVC company after Taiger.” 

TopMBA caught up with members from a few finalist teams to find out what a case competition like the GNVC is really like. 

Participants have their say 

ReconBio took home second place at this year’s GNVC. Thien Le (London campus) says he thinks that for a start-up like ReconBio, having a direct and honest dialogue with investors and advisors is crucial for success; and the GNVC programme provides that invaluable experience. 

Thien explains about ReconBio in more detail: “ReconBio is a research startup; and we are developing a new technology platform to retrieve medications from patients on-demand. 

“What sets us apart is our team. For this type of start-up, you would need scientists, physicians, and businessmen. We have champions in each of those categories and we are having fun driving ReconBio forward.” 

Claire Pedersen is co-founder of Driving Forward, which placed fourth this year. However, it’s the first non-profit to compete and place in the GNVC finals, making this quite the accolade for the team.  

She said: “Driving Forward is a career accelerator upskilling first generation and underserved students entering the workforce. 

“We offer a combination of flagship case study competition, mentorship and professional development, and corporate internships to help students transition from school to a successful career. 

“We stood up our programme and 501c3 non-profit in 30 days in response to 500,000 internships getting cancelled due to COVID. Since then, we’ve built a volunteer base of over 200 people and raised over US$70,000 in funding.” 

The GNVC proves to be a success every year, and Claire says she can’t think of a more practical capstone class to help students apply their EMBA skills, she said: “The skills I learned through GNVC not only helped my non-profit; I have also been able to apply the investor presentation skills within my consulting work.”  

Wil Chow, co-founder of MatchPoint, which placed third and received US$20,000, agrees. 

He believes people have different ways of learning something new. He said: “For students with an interest in entrepreneurship, they can read Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, listen to Elon Musk’s TED Talks or watch reruns of the show Silicon Valley, but in my humble opinion, ultimately, the best lessons learned are simply by doing. 

“Whether it’s deriving the product-market fit, formulating the go-to-market strategy, or pitching to investors, competitions such as GNVC provide students with a platform for action and to begin understanding what it means to be an entrepreneur. 

“And for students like myself, who have limited experience in tech, but are trying to make the jump, what better way to gain it than starting your own technology business?” 

Wil explains that when COVID-19 struck, it exposed issues of food security, food waste, and supply chain inefficiencies retailers deal with daily.  

He said: “At the same time, I was just wrapping up my Pricing Strategies and Operations Management courses, and a light bulb lit up. Many of the frameworks and concepts we learned could be leveraged to address the problem of shrinkage and perishable foods using optimised prices. 

“It was at that moment the initial idea of MatchPoint was born. Our goal was to enable consumers to get the food they love at a discounted price while helping supermarkets reduce their waste and increase profits.” 

Booth alumnus Tamir Aldad’s company, Mindful Urgent Care, won GNVC in 2018, and says his team wanted to create the first ever psychiatric urgent care chain to create a reproducible model that would attract investors and prepare them for a strong series seed. 

He said: “Our winning recipe was proving a strong demand for the product, a guaranteed payer with a willingness to pay (medicare/medicaid and insurance companies), and a viable sustainable solution with unit economics that can scale.” 

Mindful Urgent Care raised US$1.5M in a F&F round and hopes to close a Series A in the next few weeks. The company currently has nine locations in three states, serving New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.  

Would participants recommend case competitions? 

Claire says the GNVC was the highlight of her Booth experience. But what advice does she have for future participants? She said: “Embrace the process and take in all the feedback. Listen, listen, listen. Trust your gut, lock in your final presentation and share your passion about your mission.”  

Thien says Reconbio’s team plan to continue with the company as it’s fun – and winning the GNVC was merely an extra encouragement. 

He said: “I loved the GNVC and Integrated Strategic Management (ISM) and would recommend both to future Booth EMBA students, but it’s up to the individual because everyone wants something different.” 

Wil agrees with the sentiment of his fellow GNVC participants completely. He said: “No matter where students are in their careers, or the types of organisations they are part of, I suspect there is a closet entrepreneur in each of us. 

“The GNVC programme provide students with the unique experience to apply what we have learned over the past two years, combined with our existing domain expertise, towards an idea or passion we would not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue. 

“Students are able to tap Booth’s network of coaches and investors who have evaluated hundreds and thousands of early-stage startups – this is access people rarely get to experience.”

This article was originally published in July 2021 . It was last updated in September 2021

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Written by

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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