Last weekend I was part of a team that judged the GNVC at Chicago Booth and this evening I am helping with the Numo Fin Tech event at Chicago Booth. Northwestern has events all spring and so does UIC, UIllinois, DePaul and a lot of other universities in the area. The New Venture Challenge at Chicago Booth heats up soon. This might be commonplace in Northern California. It’s still relatively new in Chicago and I like it. It’s good for the ecosystem. It’s good for the universities. It’s tough on the entrepreneurs but ultimately good for them. It’s good for me too.
On a more grand scale, big pitch competitions like Launch take place in the Spring. I had never really heard of Launch until a company I was invested in, Brilliant, participated and did very very well. Jason Calcanis has turned it into something pretty cool. I don’t know the stats on Jason’s program but I assume that it is similar to the New Venture Challenge at Booth. That program has graduated more than 180 start-up companies still in operation today and created thousands of jobs for the economy.
A pitch competition can propel a company. If I look at what happened to GrubHub, Braintree, and Simple Mills, the NVC put them on a trajectory that was up and to the right. This is sometimes where the cutting edge new ideas that jump linear lines get fleshed out. Certainly, there are more failures and missteps than there are shooting stars but that is not a bug. It’s the business.
The best “pitches” don’t always win. Last year’s NVC winner initial pitch before they polished it was pretty bad. Except they had a tremendous idea that they knew how to execute on. That’s the thing, pitches go into the ether. They drive first meetings. To really win this game it is totally 1oo% about execution. That is the common thread that separates the companies that make it and the ones that don’t.
I don’t get bothered when people ask me to participate. As a matter of fact, I am flattered. I can’t do them all but it is a good experience and exercise for me. It’s part of embracing the randomness that is entrepreneurship. Pitch competitions are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get.