Pacing, mumbling, nervous laughter. The Commons on Champa was practically vibrating with anxiety on the evening of Nov. 15.
Daniels College of Business students were gathered at the location in downtown Denver for the final pitch competition of the Enterprise Challenge, the first of four challenges in the new Denver MBA program. Having spent the previous 11 weeks divided into 10 teams to develop ideas for start-up enterprises, the students were finally pitching their concepts. By presenting business models, value propositions, and cost and income projections to a panel of judges consisting of entrepreneurs and industry experts, students strived to prove their business ideas could make money. The teams had just 10 minutes for their pitches before fielding hard-hitting questions from the judges, who then rated each concept. On the line was up to $2,000 in seed money for the winning team, not to mention the respect of everyone in the room. It was Go Time.
“Take a deep breath. You’re going to have a lot of fun, and it’s going to be a great learning experience,” encouraged Denver MBA Director Dan Baack at the start of the evening. Daniels’ Koch Chair of Entrepreneurship Sharon Alvarez, who worked with the students throughout the Fall Quarter—and donated $1,000 of the prize money that Daniels then matched—gave a rousing cheer to kick off the proceedings. Emceeing the evening was Daniels’ Senior Director of Entrepreneurship Stephen Miller, who also served as a resource for students during the quarter as they developed their ideas.
As the first team took center stage to begin its pitch—team Global Stars’ concept was an after-school program for young children that teaches a foreign language while offering day care services—the students weren’t the only ones nervous. Silently cheering each team on from the sidelines were the mentors who had worked with the students throughout the quarter. Drew Lawrence (MBA 2013), chief of staff at FullContact, a Denver-based tech start-up, mentored team RentSmart, which developed an online platform for potential tenants and landlords to get to know each other prior to entering a legally-binding situation.
“I hope the students got a lot out of their time with me because I know I got a lot out of my time with them,” said Lawrence, who met with his team weekly throughout the quarter, but was also available as needed via a Slack chatroom. “If you think millennials are lazy or entitled, spend some time with a group of Daniels students and you’ll see how wrong you are. They are driven, they are motivated, they want to make a difference and they’re open to learning. This was an opportunity to help shape the people who we’re going to be working with and hiring. These are the people who will be leading companies 15 years from now, or sooner in some cases.”
Lawrence has a unique perspective on the Enterprise Challenge and on the Denver MBA program as a whole, having served on the committee that redesigned Daniels’ full-time MBA program. “Coming out of the redesign, I had some anxiety about execution. I knew the devil was going to be in the details,” he said. “I knew that we had a good framework but if it wasn’t executed just right, it wouldn’t be as successful as it could be. The way the faculty has embraced the challenge makes me really happy. It’s exceeded my expectations, and having been a part of [the redesign] committee I had pretty high expectations.”
The judges at the pitch competition also had pretty high expectations, and grilled each team about issues like quality control and financial feasibility. In the end three teams made the deepest impressions upon the judges: Tanked took first place, winning $1,000 for its concept of a mobile service that fills your gas tank when you’re running low; Tula won second place, receiving $750 for an app to help users locate dog-friendly locations; and Novo won third place and $250 for a waste-hauling service specializing in compostable items.
Win or lose, all teams left motivated and eager to continue to mature as leaders as they move on to the Social Good Challenge, for which they will support organizations working for the social good. The Enterprise Challenge provided the students with a powerful illustration of the key learning they will get from the Denver MBA as they progress through the program.
“The breadth and depth that the students are operating in is hugely valuable for them to learn before they enter the workforce,” said Lawrence, “They’re going to be way more prepared because they have the Daniels experience of having to work across departments and across teams.”