Success Story: Venture Capital Investment Competition

Venture capitalists for a day: UNC competition lets students turn the tables

For most recent college graduates, giving back to their university can seem daunting. Many are ready to move on to job opportunities and don’t think they have the time or monetary donations to provide.

One unique competition created at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gives current students a unique learning opportunity and allows alumni to give back in an innovative way – through its Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC), which is the largest competition of its kind in the world.

50 events across the globe


1,500
student participants


75
participating universities


175
venture capitalists and 125 entrepreneurs engaged

Explore classes on entrepreneurship and innovation, while getting involved in leadership and learning opportunities outside the classroom. Explore UNC courses on innovation and entrepreneurship.

A best kept secret among student entrepreneurs, this competition allows students to be venture capitalists for the day. The competition also serves as a marketplace for entrepreneurs seeking investors and a training ground for future venture capitalists. Held throughout the United States, Asia, Canada, Europe and India across several months, the VCIC draws more than 1,500 participants worldwide and also gives UNC-Chapel Hill alumni opportunities to engage with current Carolina students.

“As students, there are rare moments when you can learn to be on the venture capital side of things and in control of investments, while learning what makes a good startup and a good investment,” says Mackenzie Thomas, a Carolina alumna and a member of the Google News Lab team. “Often, we see excitement about the startup community, but don’t understand it as an undergrad.”

Thomas hosted the VCIC West Coast championship for undergrads at Google, along with her former Carolina classmate Chris Felix, now in product marketing at Google. “It’s inspiring and refreshing to watch the student teams during the competition,” says Felix, who also served as a judge. “They have to come up with a point of view, while quickly making assumptions. Seeing the different approaches on how they tackled the questions allows us to learn from the students as well.”

“This competition serves as a nice complement to classes. It’s a step between the classroom and the professional world,” says Patrick Vernon, clinical associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and director of venture initiatives at the Kenan-Flagler Business School. “The VCIC allows students to role play, applying what they’ve learned in the classroom and seeing what it would actually look like in practice.”

Once a VCIC student competitor himself, Vernon now manages the competition each year, while teaching full time at the business school. In its 21st year, the competition was created in 1998 by the business school during the dot-com glory days. What began as a regional event has grown into a prestigious global competition. 

MacKenzie Thomas, UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and member of Google News Lab
"Supporting Carolina in a non-traditional sense is exciting. The VCIC is a cool and unique experience where you can show support in a tangible way. This event allows alumni to give back in a way that highlights individual skill sets."

During the competition, student teams have just 15 minutes with each startup to apply what they’ve learned in business and venture capital by playing the role of venture capitalists. Each team is given a fictitious $100 million to invest in one of the presenting startups.

“In the classroom, students learn amazing things but don’t have the opportunity to practice what they are learning in a real-life setting,” says Vernon. “In this competition, students get to apply what they’ve learned by interacting with real startup founders and venture capitalists.”

Most competitions only allow students to pitch their ideas to investors, whereas VCIC turns the tables and allows students to be the investors with real entrepreneurs pitching to them. This combination makes the competition a powerful learning experience for both students and entrepreneurs.

“The event creates an intimate, interactive environment which mimics how most deals get done in the real world,” says Vernon. “For many students, this is the first time they are testing out their pitch. They would never get this opportunity in the classroom.”

Patrick Vernon, clinical associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and director of venture initiatives at the Kenan-Flagler Business School
"The event creates an intimate, interactive environment which mimics how most deals get done in the real world. For many students, this is the first time they are testing out their pitch. They would never get this opportunity in the classroom."

Typically, venture capital is not a highly recruited space, and the VCIC fills a crucial role for student entrepreneurs, exposing both MBA and undergrad students to visionary entrepreneurs and successful venture capitalists.

“It’s important to support this community of learners. I’m excited about the prospect of how we diversify what venture capital looks like, supporting women and people of color in these historically under-represented groups within the venture capital space,” says Thomas. “Carolina is uniquely positioned to shape this narrative. We have a tremendous opportunity for students to meet face-to-face with entrepreneurs.”

Serving as a virtual venture job fair and marketplace, the competition also helps students hone their communications skills as well as develop their own voice and approach.

“The VCIC competition crystalizes principles and fosters all the things you learn in an entrepreneur class,” says Felix. “This competition is the definition of innovation. It just doesn’t get much better.”

Winners of this year’s undergraduate and MBA student competitions are students from Brigham Young University. Next year’s competition is slated to begin in February 2019, presenting numerous opportunities for UNC-Chapel Hill alumni to become involved. Both Felix and Thomas feel strongly about giving back and encourage other alumni to participate.

“As UNC alumni, it’s important to stay involved in any capacity you can,” says Felix. “It’s important to remember your roots.”

“Supporting Carolina in a nontraditional sense is exciting,” says Thomas. “The VCIC is a cool and unique experience where you can show support in a tangible way. This event allows alumni to give back in a way that highlights individual skill sets.” 

Winning student venture teams

Vinci: First place (Beta Stage)

A mobile app and website that uses location-based services that allow people to connect to each other in real time.

cold compression therapy: first place (idea stage)

The concept for cold-compression therapeutic device to promote post-surgery recovery from injuries like ACL tears.

nextup music: second place (beta stage)

A music app that gives everyone the power to digitally democratize the music experience by connecting and queuing music with the people around them

Showcase: Second Place (Idea Stage)

A venture that is working to create a networked marketplace for creators, recruiters and content consumers.

CreSEA: Third place (beta stage)

Sustainable ocean farming via macro-algae that can be used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, while achieving food security and marine conservation.

Lunch-Box-To-Go: Third Place (Idea Stage)

An online retail/food service site that allows parents to order dietary-specific food for their children.