UVU students shock themselves and others at national Venture Capital Investment Competition


In the world of college basketball, the NCAA has March Madness, or the “Big Dance.” In the world of collegiate finance, the dance is called the Venture Capital Investment Competition, where university teams compete for bragging rights and a cash prize by showcasing their prowess in the of world of venture capital investing.

Similar to the NCAA March Madness tournament, venture capital (VC) teams from across the country compete in regional brackets, with the winners moving on to the national competition in undergraduate and graduate categories. Big universities with storied traditions compete by invitation only: NYU, Duke, Cornell, Berkeley, Chicago, Georgetown, Northwestern, and BYU.

Imagine what competition organizers thought when six finance students from Utah Valley University, members of the school’s VC Wolverine Fund, approached them with a request to participate. It was their goal and dream to compete in the dance, and no one gave them a chance in the competition. In fact, when Student Fund Director Matt Bryson contacted the VCIC on behalf of Utah Valley University, he was told the competition was full.

But what organizers hadn’t counted on is UVU’s reputation for producing scrappy, gritty, relentless students. Bryson was determined and received encouragement from the team’s adviser and adjunct professor Matt Peterson. “I kept reaching out and emailing,” Bryson said, and because of his tenacity the VCIC director told him UVU could be an alternate. If a team dropped out, UVU would be in, and as luck would have it, that is what happened.

The open slot came from the Northeast bracket at NYU, where the UVU team members found themselves as true, through-and-through underdogs, a Cinderella team. Other student teams scoffed at the notion of a VC team from an unknown public university from the Intermountain West. Yet UVU students dared to dream, to listen to their hearts, and not what others were saying.

To top it off, two of the students on the team were first generation, meaning they were the first in their families to ever attend college. They had never seen anything like this.

“It was one of the most demanding yet rewarding things I’ve ever done,” said Kai Schulze. “We had no institutional precedent or experience with the VCIC. With nothing to compare, we had no idea if we stood a chance. But we were hell-bent to give it our best.”

The three-day regional competition began on a Thursday afternoon at 5 o’clock on Feb. 28, 2019, where each team received three proposals or what they call “pitch decks” from entrepreneurs/companies seeking venture capital funding. The race was on — the team divided into unique skill sets to perform in-depth due diligence, or deep analysis, on each company.

On Saturday morning, March 2, after hours of intense research, the team listened to the entrepreneurs pitch their business models, followed by a 15-minute question-and-answer session, after which the UVU team had one hour to select a company in which they would invest. The team’s investment decision had to be backed by a five-page memo justifying their choice. The team then presented their investment decision and memo to the judges, who were acting as senior partners of a venture firm. The judges then probed the UVU team with questions, examined the memo, and provided feedback where needed.

The tension was palpable that afternoon as the bracket of teams assembled in a non-descript NYU classroom to await the judges’ decisions. “As other teams were taunting us, we didn’t know what to expect. Nerves were high. We came a long way, slept little, and still hoped for the best,” said Carson Rawle.

Soon came the announcement for the third-place winner: American University. “We only looked at each other’s faces as the pressure rose,” said Rawle after the third-place winner was announced. The second-place winner: a tie between Pittsburgh and Michigan universities. “That’s when we stood on a knife’s edge. We either bombed it, or won it. It was impossible to know,” he said, when the judges announced first place: Utah Valley University.

“Shock is the only word I can think of to describe what we felt,” said Austin Fullmer. “Nobody expected it — not even the judges. Nobody thought an alternate, rookie, underdog team would take the title. We tried to be gracious, but couldn’t help jumping up and cheering with high fives all around.”

As a first-place regional winner, the UVU team went to the VCIC National Finals at UNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, taking second place behind BYU, but beating Miami, Georgetown, Cornell, Notre Dame, and Acadia.

“Little did anyone know that I, once a high-school dropout, would have a podium finish amongst well-known schools at a prestigious competition,” said Tanner Anderson. “I knew my team and school were behind me all the way. Now that felt good.”

Chelsie Kraczek, who will return to compete and lead the team next year, said, “I feel a great responsibility to keep the momentum moving forward. This was a great success and very exciting for us. It also puts the pressure on me and next year’s team to do it again, and we can’t wait!”

“The UVU Wolverine Fund experience, alongside participation in the VCIC, is more than hypothetical learning about venture capital investments,” said Jefferson Moss, Wolverine Fund director. “It changes a student’s individual paradigm by giving them invaluable hands-on learning experiences in investing as they become active participants in our community’s dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

“When we combine hands-on learning with UVU’s location in the heart of Silicon Slopes, one of the most entrepreneurial areas in the nation, our students are engaging in an unparalleled opportunity to advance their careers and futures,” said Moss.

For more information on the Wolverine Fund, visit https://www.uvu.edu/wolverinefund/.

It was one of the most demanding yet rewarding things I’ve ever done.