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Fridays from the Frontline: Winning the Venture Capital Investment Competition for Northwestern Kellogg

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This Fridays from the Frontline takes us inside the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) with Prashanth Somu, a Northwestern Kellogg team representative from the Class of 2024 Evening & Weekend MBA program. The team representing Kellogg, Collin Bhojwani, Erica Buursma Klenz, Henry Richmond, Eunice Wangadi, Prashanth Somu, and Jason Epstein, won the top prize in the VCIC 2024 Global Finals held at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Winning the Venture Capital Investment Competition for Northwestern Kellogg

By Prashanth Somu ’24 MBA, Collin Bhojwani ’24 MBA and Jason Epstein ’25 MBA – Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

The Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) is the world’s largest venture capital (VC) competition, where students play the role of venture capitalists (VCs) and evaluate real startups seeking funding. The competition consists of 72 MBA teams that compete in 12 regions across the world.

Unlike traditional business plan competitions or pitch competitions, VCIC focuses on the students’ ability to assess investment opportunities, conduct due diligence, and pitch their investment strategies to a panel of real VCs. The winner of each region moves on to the Global Finals hosted by UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business.

We had the honor of representing the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management MBA team that won the 2024 Global Championship. My team’s journey began in October 2023 with the school’s VCIC mentors, Professors Pete McNerney, Jeff Eschbach and Mitchell Petersen.

We completed three internal rounds of competition that included testing our VC finance knowledge and simulated VCIC competition rounds, in order to assess our approach and how well we worked as a team. This preparation and team selection process was key in our success as it closely simulated the pressures of the actual competition. Once selected, our mentors were crucial in getting us prepared for the real competition.

We believe there were three key differentiators that supported our team’s success:

Team diversity
Our team members came from uniquely diverse backgrounds in startup operations, insurance, VC, consulting, human capital, life sciences and finance. Our winning team consisted of a mix of students in the Evening & Weekend MBA Program (Collin Bhojwani ’24 and Henry Richmond ’24), Full-Time MBA (Erica Klenz ’25 and Jason Epstein ’25) and MMM Program (Eunice Wangadi ’25).  Although we did not know one another closely prior to competing in VCIC, we formed close bonds with one another that helped build chemistry early on and helped us complement each other’s work styles.

Kellogg network
The value of the Kellogg network helped us secure key calls with industry leaders that greatly helped during our due diligence process. During the regional round at Dartmouth Tuck School of Business, we were evaluating a startup in the health insurance industry. Through our connections at Kellogg, we were able to get a same-day phone call with the former head of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. This was instrumental to our success because we had immediate access to leading industry experts and were able to ask them about the markets we were evaluating. The Kellogg brand, along with the industry expertise and skillsets of our team, helped create a huge advantage that allowed us to quickly tap into an expansive network during our due diligence process.

Creative thinking
Our team was continually thinking outside the box when evaluating the potential of the startups we were evaluating to identify which company had “venture-return” potential. During the last round of the Global Finals, we were given the choice to evaluate three startups — all from very different industries. We ultimately chose to invest in an EdTech startup from Utah called Upkid.

We felt this firm had a strong product-market fit and the CEO was passionate and scrappy despite being a first-time founder. However, our primary reason for choosing to invest was the potential for the firm to expand into the EdTech industry rather than focusing on daycare expansion.

Based on the judges’ feedback, this helped our team stand out because we creatively identified a larger target market and proposed a detailed plan of how we can help them succeed in this space. This highlighted a deep understanding of the investor-founder relationship, one in which investors are not only providing the necessary capital for a startup to succeed but often are true partners in fostering an environment for success in the companies they invest in.

Competitions Augment Your Skills and Enhance Your Network

Opportunities like VCIC are not just a competition — they are transformative educational experiences. Participants gain hands-on experience in VC, learn to think critically and make informed investment decisions. The competition also provides a platform for networking with industry professionals in an environment that allows you to showcase your skills. This is especially true for part-time MBA students who have limited time to participate in internships and experiential courses due to their full-time careers.

In VC, there is an element of art and science that can only be developed through practice and apprenticeship. VCIC provides participants with an opportunity for mentorship and feedback in a controlled, competitive environment that naturally fosters growth.

This is the second global championship Kellogg has won in the last four years. The program looks forward to continued success in future years. Despite being miles away from traditional VC hubs on either coast, Kellogg provides numerous opportunities such as VCIC, Venture Lab, and the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club for students to gain exposure and access to VCs across the country.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.