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Polsky Center Launches Alumni New Venture Challenge

New global program will help UChicago alumni jumpstart their business ventures

Manifest won first place and $315,000 at the Polsky Center’s Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge in 2018. (Photo by Matt Marton)

The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago announced the launch of the Alumni New Venture Challenge (ANVC), a new track of its nationally-ranked Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC) startup accelerator program. The ANVC is a new global program dedicated to supporting all University of Chicago alumni who are in the process of launching and developing their startup ventures.

Since 1996, the Polsky Center has helped launch more than 230 startup companies still in operation today that have gone on to raise more than $915 million in funding and more than $13 billion in exits through its NVC program. Grubhub, Braintree/Venmo, and Simple Mills are examples of three national brands that got their successful start through the NVC.

“We run the top university accelerator program in the country,” said Steve Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and faculty director of the Polsky Center who is responsible for creating the NVC more than 20 years ago. “We spent the past two decades perfecting a model that enables our students to take their early-stage ideas and turn them into viable businesses. Now it is time for us to bring that same success to help support our alumni around the world.”

Continued Expansion
The ANVC will be the fifth track of the NVC program. Other existing tracks include the traditional NVC—the original track—which is open to all current UChicago graduate students; the Social NVC, which the Polsky Center runs in partnership with the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at Chicago Booth and is open to all current UChicago graduate students working on either for-profit or not-for-profit enterprises with a social impact mission; the Global NVC, which is designed for current Booth Executive MBA students in Chicago, Hong Kong, and London; and the College NVC, which is open to all current UChicago undergraduate students.

“We often see our students graduate from the University and jump right into great careers in consulting, public policy, or a variety of other industries. These alumni then use this experience to start their own companies 5-10 years out,” said Starr Marcello, AM ’04, MBA ’17, executive director of the Polsky Center and adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Booth who teaches the College NVC class. “The Alumni NVC will give these alumni access to critical resources that can help them determine the viability of their new venture ideas.  We expect the Alumni NVC to help launch a new cohort of real, scalable businesses.”

Global Reach
In this inaugural year, the Polsky Center will launch and operate the ANVC track in five key regions: East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, Europe, and Asia. University alumni have been recruited by the Polsky Center to volunteer their time and serve as dedicated co-chairs to oversee all local programming in each region. The East Coast programming will operate out of New York City; Midwest programing will operate out of Chicago; West Coast programming will operate out of the San Francisco Bay Area; the Europe programming will operate out of London; and the Asia programming will operate out of Bangalore, India. Future iterations of the ANVC will likely include additional regions outside of these initial five.

Supported by Alumni
The ability to have strong alumni leadership in each region is critical to the ANVC’s global model. Thus, the Polsky Center handpicked several alumni who have first-hand experience participating in the NVC as well as those with strong ties to the venture and startup community.

“The NVC was instrumental in getting my first company off the ground and supporting me to become a successful entrepreneur,” said Michael Farb, MBA ’09, cofounder of CaptainU, an online platform that connects high school athletes with college coaches, which won first place in the NVC in 2008 and was acquired by Blue Star Sports in 2016.Farb will serve as one of the co-chairs in the West Coast region.

Coco Meers, MBA’14, cofounder of the online beauty booking platform PrettyQuick that was acquired by Groupon in 2015, is one of the alums spearheading the ANVC in the Midwest region. She immediately recognized the value that a new track of the NVC could bring. “PrettyQuick’s trajectory was vastly improved by the NVC experience,” described Meers. “Why limit that transformation to current students? We have such a rich ecosystem for innovation all across the University, which is captured in our alumni community at large. I’m excited to bring the resources of the NVC to other alumni founders.”

Another NVC alum, Vikram Vuppala, MBA ’07, was selected as one of the co-chairs to oversee the ANVC programming for all of Asia. “The NVC is one of the reasons I could raise three rounds of private equity amounting to $30 million at NephroPlus,” explained Vuppala. “I want to be involved in helping other alumni entrepreneurs launch their companies and this is a small way that I can give back to this community.” NephroPlus placed second in the NVC in 2007 and is now India’s largest dialysis service and kidney care provider.

Milestone-Driven Structure
The ANVC will follow a similar milestone-driven structure that is found in all tracks of existing New Venture Challenge programming. Participation in the program will be the result of a competitive application process where only the most promising ventures will be selected.

Once a startup is accepted into the ANVC, the Polsky Center will partner closely with the co-chairs serving as each region’s leadership to offer customized support, resources, and programming for each participant. Educational content and support will be delivered through a combination of face-to-face and technology-enabled interactions.

Semifinals competitions will be organized and hosted in each region where all teams will present their businesses to a panel of distinguished judges and venture capitalists. Only the top teams from each region will then be invited to participate in the ANVC global finals, which will be held in Chicago on May 2, 2019 on the eve of Booth’s Alumni Reconnect Weekend and during UChicago Innovation Fest 2019.

“The reunion weekend will be a great way for the program to benefit from the alumni returning to campus,” said Ellen Rudnick, MBA ’73, senior advisor on entrepreneurship, adjunct professor at Booth, and cofounder of the NVC program. “The reunion and the alumni NVC is a great opportunity to reconnect with our alumni and celebrate the NVC’s long history.”

Eligibility and Application Process
All alumni of the University of Chicago are eligible to apply to the ANVC. And although alumni can only apply to one geographic region, their business does not need to operate in that region in order to be eligible to participate.

The Polsky Center is hosting a series of webinars held in multiple time zones on Thursday, November 8 for University alumni interested in learning more about the ANVC program. Information about eligibility requirements, how to apply to the program, and what constitutes a strong application will be shared during this kickoff session.

To register, please visit the ANVC Kickoff online registration page.

*The UChicago Innovation Fund was renamed the George Shultz Innovation Fund in recognition of the honorable George P. Shultz.

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