WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Investing in round-trip airfare from Hong Kong paid off big for a team of entrepreneurs competing in last year’s Wake Forest MBA Elevator Competition. The first international team to compete in the event took top honors, including $45,000 in cash and professional services. More importantly, they earned the attention and interest of venture capitalists who liked their idea for a device that distinguishes between acute bacterial or viral infections inexpensively, quickly and accurately.
This year’s competition will be held on March 31, 2007, at the Wachovia Center in downtown Winston-Salem. Aspiring entrepreneurs will take their business ideas from the ground floor to the top in two minutes flat. Every second counts—literally. The competition is the first of its kind and is presented annually by the Angell Center for Entrepreneurship at Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management.
Teams of MBA students from around the world enter elevators and try to persuade venture capitalists to invest in their business plans. The two-minute journey could become the ride of a lifetime. The winner receives cash and professional services totaling $45,000. This year’s first-place winner also receives a bid to the Global Moot Corp Competition, an invitation-only business plan competition at the University of Texas at Austin.
More importantly, the winner gets the undivided attention of potential investors. Venture capitalists from three firms representing more than $500 million in early stage funds will serve as judges. The winning team will enter discussions with one or more venture capital firms, with the possibility of getting its business plan funded.
“The Elevator Competition is a life-changing experience—an entrepreneur’s Cinderella story,” says Stan Mandel, co-founder of the competition and director of the Angell Center for Entrepreneurship.
As the competition has evolved over the years, Mandel has seen certain characteristics of the winners that remain constant. Teams must make terrific two-minute elevator pitches as well as great formal boardroom presentations, he says.
“It’s not just about having a great idea,” says Mandel. “That’s a given. But they must communicate that idea in a concise, effective way to influential investors. Whoever does that will earn more face time with VCs.”
Teams chosen to compete as semifinalists include students from the following MBA schools:
Several past winners and competitors have launched companies. Altadonics Corp., which won in 2002 as a Wake Forest entry under the name D-Tec-Dent, is implementing its strategic business plan and gaining investor interest and financial backing. The company offers a patented 3-D technique for creating and storing impressions of dentures, allowing replacement within a few hours should they be lost or damaged. Altadonics is in the final stages of negotiating an agreement with the largest distributor of dental and health-care products throughout North America and Europe.
SightSpeed, a Cornell University entry which competed in 2002 under the name QVIX Technologies, has closed its first round of professional venture capital investment. The company creates real-time desktop videoconferencing software and has built a rapidly growing user base.
Vino del Sol, a successful importer of Argentine wines, was launched on capital raised as a result of winning the 2004 competition as an entry from the University of Mississippi. The company distributes more than 25 wines nationally throughout the United States. Vino del Sol has become a sponsor of the Elevator Competition and provides beverages for each year’s participants.
The Elevator Competition is sponsored by Philip Morris. Other sponsors include Wachovia Corp., Bundy & Co., Piedmont Triad Research Park, the Angell Center, Womble Carlyle, Mullen, SilkRoad technology and Eno River Capital. The event is organized by MBA students at Wake Forest’s Babcock School. This year’s co-chairs are second-year students Reena Nepal, Chris Fugaro and Aaron Sylvester.
For more information, visit the 2007 Elevator Competition website.