New Venture Challenge - Overview

About On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey

On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey follows a team through the Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), the nation's premier business launch competition.

At the end of May, ten NVC teams will present their ideas to a world-class panel of investors and entrepreneurs who will choose this year's winner and finalists, to be announced by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Chicago Booth.

Among the teams is Simple Mills, a healthy baking mix company founded by Full-Time MBA student Katlin Smith, who is in her first year at Booth. Smith quit her consulting job and has made her products a success on Amazon and in select Whole Foods supermarkets. Now she and her team have one month to use their classroom and real-world experiences to think bigger and grow faster or risk losing hard-won momentum. For Simple Mills, it's now or never.

The pressure is real, and the experience can be great. Previous NVC winners include GrubHub, Inc., the online restaurant delivery company that founder Matt Maloney, SM '00, MBA '10, spearheaded to win the 2006 New Venture Challenge.

The next few weeks are crucial. The tough choices and demanding schedule will test the business idea to its limits. How will Smith and the Simple Mills team perform? Follow their journey.

On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey

At Chicago Booth, CEO Katlin Smith is learning how to take her small baking mix company to the big time through the New Venture Challenge

Katlin Smith's two-year-old start-up wants to get big fast. Smith and her team are competing in Chicago Booth's prestigious new-business competition—the Edward L. Kaplan '71 New Venture Challenge (NVC)—with Simple Mills, which produces a line of healthy baking mixes. The mixes are a hit on Amazon.com and are finding their way onto supermarket shelves. But Smith's Booth coaches have challenged her to think bigger and grow faster.

"This is the moment that you become an entrepreneur or fall by the wayside," says Robert Rosenberg, adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship, who serves as a faculty coach for the start-up. "If she can't deliver, she won't get another bite of the apple."

Over the next five weeks, On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey will follow Smith and her four team members, documenting their quest to be among ten NVC finalists who will present their business plans to judges May 29. Following Simple Mills's journey will provide insight into the relentless demands on entrepreneurs to adapt and hone plans, the emotional roller coaster of starting a business, and Booth's unique approach to developing the next generation of business leaders.

NVC winners and finalists receive cash and in-kind legal and professional services, as well as coaching from Chicago Booth's Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which sponsors the competition.

NVC successes include 2006 winner GrubHub, Inc., the online restaurant delivery company founded by Matt Maloney, SM '00, MBA '10. GrubHub's recent initial public offering raised nearly $200 million for the company. The 2007 NVC winner, Braintree, a processor of mobile payments founded by Bryan Johnson, '07, was acquired by eBay's PayPal unit in 2013 for $300 million. In 2013, ten student businesses built and developed with guidance and resources from the Polsky Center were involved in mergers and acquisitions.

Since starting in 1996, the New Venture Challenge has helped launch 90 companies that have gone on to raise $300 million in funding, creating thousands of jobs.

For Smith, the entrepreneurial journey began in 2012, when she was a consultant in Atlanta. She suffered from joint pain, and friends suggested that she modify her diet, starting by eliminating gluten. Smith took the advice to heart. After her body adjusted to the regime, she found that not only did her pain go away, but also that her anxiety lessened, she got fewer colds, and even her dandruff cleared up.

Finding few tasty gluten-free baked goods on store shelves, Smith began experimenting in her home kitchen. Her successful recipes led her to launch a line of muffin mixes made with almond flour and sweetened with coconut nectar.

Smith quit her job and enrolled at Booth, where she believed the school's rigorous data-driven approach and entrepreneurial ecosystem would provide her with the tools she needed to grow Simple Mills.Classes in entrepreneurial selling and negotiation were eye opening. But it was coaching from Rosenberg and Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship, and her other faculty coach that opened her eyes to the possibility that her start-up could be bigger than she ever imagined—big enough to shake up the market for baking mixes and have a lasting impact.

Rosenberg said Smith would need more funds to realize her dream. She had aimed to raise $200,000 in funding, but she instead should be thinking of raising $1.4 million, Rosenberg says. She will need to hire staff, ramp up marketing, and she can't do it by herself. "She had an incremental plan, but I told her that she had to grow quickly," he says in an interview. "Otherwise, it's an opportunity never fully realized."

That advice caused Smith to step back and reevaluate her approach. "It changed the way I looked at my little start-up," she says.

Simple Mills got a boost on April 26, when it won first place in Chapman University's California Dreamin' Business Plan Competition, prevailing over teams from more than 30 top schools, including Cornell University, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Now Smith and her team are steeling themselves for the next round of NVC judging, on May 12.

The next five weeks will be crucial for Smith and Simple Mills. Follow their journey on this site and via #ChicagoNVC.

To get big, you have to think big

The Simple Mills team is challenged to think bigger.

The team's coaches in the New Venture Challenge point Simple Mills to think beyond its core gluten-free focus, to ultimately create a family of healthy baking mixes.

Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth and one of Simple Mills' coaches during the Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), showed Simple Mills what's possible.

"Why should you be on the specialty product shelf?" Deutsch says to the team. "Why aren't you on the baking shelf?"

The goal, Deutsch says, is to "be the Betty Crocker of the 21st Century."

But Robert Rosenberg, adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship and a Simple Mills coach, sees a problem: "Their growth plan was way too modest."

With only a few of weeks to go before NVC judges narrow the field of teams to ten, the Simple Mills team has to show it can market its baking mixes to a wider audience and prove to judges—and potential investors—that the company can both ramp up quickly and sustain long-term growth.

About On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey

On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey follows one team through the Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), the nation's premier business launch competition.

At the end of May, ten NVC teams will present their ideas to a world-class panel of investors and entrepreneurs who will choose this year's winner and finalists, to be announced by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Chicago Booth.

Capital becomes crucial as orders pour in

Simple Mills needs more capital—fast. Katlin Smith and the start-up team are on the verge of quadrupling the number of stores that carry their healthy baking mixes, so they need short-term cash to scale their operations quickly.

Smith is going into overdrive, flying from city to city to meet with investors who might fund her company. Deals are shaping up, but it hasn't been easy.

"We've been going back and forth with investors, trying to raise funding," says team member Arin Aghazarian, an MBA student at Chicago Booth. "It just takes a longer time than we expected."

Chicago Booth's top entrepreneurial competition, the Edward Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge, is preparing the team for this new phase. Sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the competition provides coaching, classroom experience, and other resources to teams competing for cash prizes and in-kind services.

Smith and her team have agreements to grow the number of stores that carry Simple Mills products by four-fold on June 1, requiring funds not just to fulfill supermarket orders, but to fuel longer-term growth: hiring staff, building operations, and marketing the product.

Coach Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship, explains that Smith initially thought she needed only $100,000 in funding, but is now attempting to raise $1.5 million.

Time is short, but team members think their analytical, data-driven approach gives them the edge they need to achieve success.

"They're going to have to prove they can scale, because those venture investors are going to want a return on their assets," says coach Robert Rosenberg, adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth.

Can Simple Mills perfect its pitch to investors to make the final round of New Venture Challenge? Follow the team's journey at #ChicagoNVC.

About On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey

On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey follows one team through the Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), the nation's premier business launch competition. At the end of May, ten NVC teams will present their ideas to a world-class panel of investors and entrepreneurs who will choose this year's winner and finalists, to be announced by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Chicago Booth.

For Simple Mills and 8 other NVC teams, it’s showtime

Simple Mills can take a deep breath. Investors are negotiating term sheets with the maker of healthy baking mixes, putting the company on firmer ground. Founder Katlin Smith and her four-person team now have the short-term capital they need to expand into more stores on June 1.

Another victory: Simple Mills has placed among the nine finalists in the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge. The team will present to the judges on Thursday, May 29, and the winner and runners-up will be announced at the end of the day.

But there’s no time to look back. Sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the NVC is the nation’s premiere business plan competition and provides coaching, classroom experience, networking, and other resources to teams competing for cash prizes and in-kind services.

Since starting in 1996, the NVC has helped launch more than 95 companies that have gone on to raise $355 million in funding, creating thousands of jobs. The NVC has set the standard for business competitions.

“Accelerators like Y Combinator and Techstars use more or less the same process,” says Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance and faculty director of the Polsky Center.

“You have these great students, you give them some time, you give them some mentoring and constructive feedback, you give them deadlines, and they make enormous progress,” Kaplan says. For the teams that do well in the New Venture Challenge, “there’s a very high likelihood you get funded and you have a chance to have a real company.”

NVC successes include 2006 winner GrubHub, Inc., the online restaurant delivery company founded by Matt Maloney, SM '00, MBA '10. GrubHub's recent initial public offering raised nearly $200 million for the company. The 2007 NVC winner, Braintree, a processor of mobile payments founded by Bryan Johnson, '07 (XP-76), was acquired by eBay's PayPal unit in 2013 for $800 million. In 2013, ten student businesses built and developed with guidance and resources from the Polsky Center were involved in mergers and acquisitions.

For Smith, going through the NVC while growing Simple Mills has been a series of eye-opening experiences. Feedback from coaches prepared the team for Chapman University’s California Dreamin’ business plan competition held in April. Simple Mills took the first-place prize of $70,000, competing against 34 teams, from Stanford University to the University of Pennsylvania, and other top schools.

Now the team members are polishing their presentation for the final on Thursday, May 29. How will they perform? Follow the journey. #ChicagoNVC.

About On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey

On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey follows a team through the Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), the nation's premier business launch competition. At the end of May, nine NVC teams will present their ideas to a world-class panel of investors and entrepreneurs who will choose this year's winner and finalists, to be announced by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Chicago Booth.

NVC awards more than one number one

Simple Mills, a CPG start-up that offers healthy baking mixes, tied for first place in the 2014 Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge, sharing the title with RoomVa, an online reservation service for small hotels in South America.

Nine start-up teams made it to the final round of Chicago Booth's premier business-plan competition, and they all presented their businesses before a panel of judges on May 29 at the Charles M. Harper Center.

The competition, based at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, began earlier this year with a field of 81 teams and ended in a two-team tie.

"When it comes down to who's number one, sometimes you've just got to have more than one number one," says Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and NVC coach. "But I try to remind all of the teams: Winning is making it to the finals. Winning is building your business."

"It's so incredibly exciting to the entire team that we won, along with RoomVa—such a great way to end the competition," says Katlin Smith, founder of Simple Mills and a Chicago Booth student.

RoomVa founder Diego Santa Maria, a Chicago Booth student, says he believed his team had a strong chance of reaching the final round, "but actually coming first, it's amazing."

Simple Mills and RoomVa each will receive a $30,000 cash prize and a number of in-kind services to continue building their companies and refining their strategic plans.

The NVC is a rigorous process of coaching, continuous feedback, and introductions to investors, a process that helps students turn their ideas into viable businesses. The top five finalists won a combined $313,000 in cash prizes and business services.

"It's about allocating the money to the businesses that we believe really have a chance to do something meaningful in the world to really succeed," says Deutsch.

The judges—seasoned professionals from top venture capital firms, private equity firms, start-ups, and investment banks—agreed that both teams demonstrated well-developed business plans with high growth potential.

Now Simple Mills must turn its momentum into market share. Smith says she will focus on rounding out the company's staff and boosting product marketing as distribution expands. What's next for the start-up? Follow the journey.

About On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey

On the Fast Track: An Entrepreneurial Journey follows a team through the Edward L. Kaplan, '71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), the nation's premier business launch competition. Each spring, select NVC teams present their ideas to a world-class panel of investors and entrepreneurs who choose the winner and finalists, to be announced by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Chicago Booth.


Last Updated 6/19/14