Your list of leading business schools that best prepare MBAs for the world of venture capital may need updating. For the first time ever, a team from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management has been crowned the winner of one of the most prestigious venture capital competitions in the world.
The Venture Capital Investment Competition, hosted by the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business, is a global competition structured to replicate the VC investment process — including screening and evaluating companies, meeting with founders, and developing investment term sheets — in a 48-hour span. Each year, 84 teams from graduate business schools around the world compete in a series of regional competitions, with 12 advancing to the finals.
In October 2020, nine Kellogg teams competed internally to see who would represent Kellogg at the global finals. Faculty put together a robust training curriculum and three rounds of internal competitions to finalize the team to represent the school at this year’s virtual VCIC finals. A team of six Kellogg MBA students — Kate Preston, Nick Giometti, Hayley Bohart, Ryan Kieras, Daniel Sjolander, Rahul Nadkarni, and Jenieri Cyrus — were selected to represent Kellogg, guided by Professors Mitchell Petersen, Pete McNerney, Jeff Eschbach, Mike Haining, and Irving Birkner.
The win wasn’t only Kellogg’s first in the more than 20-year history of the VCIC, giving notice that the school should be part of any conversation about venture capital and entrepreneurship in graduate business education. It was also, Giometti says, a priceless educational experience.
“This is the best experience learning competition I’ve participated in,” he says. “It’s taught me how to talk to founders and investors. It’s helped me in my internships that I’ve had throughout the program. And it’s accelerated my understanding of the frameworks through which I do my day-to-day job. I think the VCIC is an incredible conduit towards a path in venture. It gives you confidence to pursue this as a career, and I think that the more students do this, the more they’ll realize that it’s an attainable goal.”
MEET NICK GIOMETTI
The VCIC began in the middle of the technology bubble in 1998. Each year, the competition includes more than 50 events on four continents, serving over 1,500 students, 150 venture capitalists, and 100 entrepreneurs. More than a quarter of participants go on to raise capital after participating at VCIC; among finals teams, an average of two out of every five go on to get funded.
Poets&Quants sat down with two members of Kellogg’s winning 2021 team, first-year MBA Preston and second-year Giometti, to learn more about their experience in the VCIC, how Kellogg equipped them with tools to navigate the always evolving venture capital ecosystem, and how education and awareness can break down barriers in entering the VC space.
Despite having different academic backgrounds, Giometti and Preston both became interested in this space for similar reasons. Following Giometti’s undergraduate degree in economics and English at Dartmouth College, he worked at BlackRock. Beginning as an analyst and advancing to vice president of global fixed income, he chose this workplace for two reasons: To remove human bias from the investment decision process and to help use assets to make a positive difference in the world. “I’ve always thought of myself as trying to become an investor who’s making an impact,” Giometti says.
Frustrated that he wasn’t seeing the direct impact on the companies that they were investing in, he became interested in venture capital. “If I wanted to make a bigger impact, I had to go downstream in the life cycle of the company. I realized that with venture capital, you have the ability to provide access to capital and mentorship, make an impact on the company, and in turn make an impact on society,” he says.
Giometti wanted to participate in the VCIC competition since it provided an opportunity for experiential learning. “It sounded like a great way to see what a day in the life of a venture capitalist would look like. I thought it would be a fun opportunity to learn, compete with other schools, and get to know Kellogg students better.”
MEET KATE PRESTON
Preston also became interested in venture capital through work experience. She was first introduced to the space when working for a 50-person startup called Dispatch. However, this newfound passion was not part of her original plan; as a public policy and history major at Duke University, Preston thought she wanted to become a lawyer after taking a few years off of school to gain work experience. After her undergrad, she worked at Liberty Mutual on their corporate strategy team for nearly three years. Little did she know, this experience would change the trajectory of her career. “I realized I loved business and definitely did not want to become a lawyer anymore. After a few years at Liberty Mutual, I realized I wanted to move away from consulting and actually get my hands dirty.”
Preston transitioned from Liberty Mutual to Dispatch where she worked on the finance team, first as the manager of strategic programs followed by director of revenue growth. “They were raising their series B at the time in Boston. This experience made me fall in love with working in this ecosystem; Venture-backed companies are full of smart, innovative people. I enjoyed being part of that space.”
During this experience, Preston worked closely with Dispatch’s board of investors. “This made me excited and interested in venture capital. When I was looking at coming to Kellogg, I knew that I wanted to stay in this ecosystem.”
Preston was interested in the VCIC for the opportunity to gain venture capital experience and learn from her teammates and faculty. “Professor Peterson had already gone above and beyond to help me and other women who are interested in finance get connected with different alumni at Kellogg. I was excited to learn more from him during the competition and get more hands-on experience in the industry.”
THE PREPARATION PROCESS
But it’s not only Giometti and Preston who shared an interest for venture capital and private equity: Their other team members were equally as passionate.
Their team of six was built in an effort to capitalize on each individual’s unique skill set. Created with first and second-year students who had experience in areas such as enterprise software, health care, consumer insights, clean energy, and engineering, the team worked collaboratively to achieve their desired result: To win the competition.
“This may sound like I’m drinking the Kellogg Kool-Aid, but our team worked extremely well together,” says Giometti. “Everyone showed up, pulled their weight, and balanced each other out in terms of their skill set. We pulled many late hours staying up until 4 and 5 a.m. to work on this stuff. I think because we all contributed so much of our time, effort, and enthusiasm towards the competition, it didn’t really feel like work. It felt exploratory and fun. It’s an absolute joy to work with and learn from your classmates.”
By working with Kellogg faculty to prepare, they were able to sharpen their skills and enter the competition with confidence. “All the professors are incredibly nice, but they put on their best mean face and just tried to play the card of the critical VC,” says Giometti. “I think because they didn’t hold back on this and really made us think critically about our assumptions, we were able to prepare properly.”
Giometti says that for the most part, the team shared the work evenly. “Some of us have more experience in finance, so doing some of the financial modelling was perhaps a little bit more targeted. But I think all of us swapped our duties, such as building a market map, doing a deep dive on an industry, performing a competitive analysis, and doing technical diligence so that we could maximize our learning.”
THE (VIRTUAL) COMPETITION
Despite the competition taking place online due to covid-19, Giometti and Preston said the event ran as smoothly as it could have. “In some ways it was easier to be on Zoom but in a lot of ways harder because you just don’t have the same type of nuances. It can be difficult to read the founder and gauge subtle responses through a screen,” says Giometti.
However, they were still pleased with the way the event went. “They made it easy and intuitive for everybody to be in the place that they needed to be,” says Preston. “As far as conferences have run, it’s definitely one of the smoothest experiences that I’ve had.”
During the global finals, each team looked at companies from several different industries, such as health care, banking, and enterprise software. “In the finals, you have 18 hours to look at new companies. You have to go deep into their industries and develop a thesis. This makes you go outside of your comfort zone. It gets really fun,” says Giometti.
From an experimental oncology company to one developing autonomous robots picking rocks out of fields, they gained experience diving deep into out-of-the-box business models. This is an invaluable skill for venture capitalists, according to Preston. “This competition pushed me to learn so much in such a short period of time about different types of companies,” she says. “I’m grateful for this experience and will take these skills with me into the future.”