6 Chicago Booth Students Honored with 2024 Student Entrepreneurship Awards

Chicago Booth School of Business recently recognized six outstanding MBA students who demonstrated leadership in entrepreneurship, venture capital, or private equity during their time at school.

The annual Student Entrepreneurship Awards have varying eligibility requirements and monetary prizes. For most awards, Booth entrepreneurship faculty and staff members from the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation nominate students and vote for the winners.

The 2024 Student Entrepreneurship Award winners are:

Christine Shtepani // Madison Dearborn Partners Private Equity Award // $2,000

Michelle Cao // Hyde Park Angels Venture Capital Award // $2,000

This award recognizes a graduating student who has demonstrated leadership in venture capital through the courses he or she has taken by participating in VC programming.

“When people think of entrepreneurship, they often think of just the solo founder, but they don’t see the support network that goes behind entrepreneurs success,” said Patel. “The Booth experience has been one of support, from other students, professors, donors, and colleagues, each helps provide the programming that allows entrepreneurs to pursue the things that they want. This is the type of environment that I’ve always looked for and Booth has provided it to me. Any success that I have, and the success that other entrepreneurs here have, is because of that environment.”

Shreya Kalva // Moulder Student Entrepreneur Award // $2,000

This award recognizes a graduating student who has successfully launched or grown a venture while completing his or her coursework.

Namrata (Nam) Vakkalagadda and Athena Saldanha // Vijay, ’77, and Sita Vashee Promising Entrepreneur Award // $2,500 each

This award recognizes a graduating student who has demonstrated considerable leadership in the entrepreneurship program.

Namrata is a graduating Full-Time MBA student at Booth. Prior to Booth, she received her B.A. in Psychological and Brain Sciences and minor in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis and then moved to Chicago to work in technology consulting at Deloitte, focused on large-scale technology transformations in the healthcare industry. In her time at Booth, she has focused her professional explorations in the healthcare and entrepreneurship spaces, with a specific focus in women’s health. She is currently a venture partner at Coyote Ventures, a seed-stage VC focused on healthcare for underrepresented populations, and previously was a venture fellow at Samata Capital. She also participated in SNVC 2023 with ALEYE, a women’s health startup focused on supporting individuals with PCOS. She has been a student leader on campus in the entrepreneurship space as an EVC SeedCon co-chair and as a Venture Capital Lab TA. Outside of her professional focuses, she’s been heavily involved in AudioBooth as both a co-chair and performer. She is the lead singer of the Booth MBA band Murders & Acquisitions, which won the internal Booth battle of the bands and went on to compete twice in the inter-school competition against Kellogg. Post graduation, she will be moving to the Bay Area (where she grew up) with her tuxedo cat Bugsy to rejoin Deloitte as part of their strategy consulting practice, with a hope to contribute to their new Health Equity Institute.

“I came to Booth to explore different career paths, and all of the opportunities provided have let me explore that to the nth degree, which I feel like has culminated with this award,” said Vakkalagadda. “The classes, the faculty, the experiences here have really enabled me to explore the entrepreneurship and venture spaces more than I could have ever imagined.”

Athena grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, after her family immigrated from Dubai with the hopes of achieving the American dream. After graduating from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, she started her consulting career at EY. Most recently, she found herself consulting with Oliver Wyman, focused on technology and operations. After working at a nonprofit with teachers, Athena was inspired to develop Owler AI – a platform to help teachers grade and leave feedback on student work faster, so they can focus their time and effort on building engaging classrooms. She came to Booth with the idea of Owler and has used her time in business school to find a cofounder, conduct customer discovery interviews, design the product, and launch the business. Owler now has 750 teachers on the platform, two online schools, and a pilot in a Chicago-based charter high school. Athena is excited to continue working to grow Owler in the years to come!

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