Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Awesome Section E -- Darden Cup Champs!!

Celebrating a Section E Darden Cup three-peat!

I'm not normally one to brag, especially when said bragging may alienate 80% of the Darden student body, but another year has ended and my beloved Section E is once again the Darden Cup champion!

For those us you not familiar with the Darden Cup (probably everyone not at Darden), this yearlong competition tests a section's unity through events which challenge both intellectual and athletic talents. Points are awarded for performance (after all, this is business school) but also for participation from First Years, Second Years, and faculty. Events range from flag football to softball to soccer to trivia. Throw in a community outreach component and you have a lengthy yearlong battle to establish true section supremacy.

Getting manhandled by a Section B student in Darden Cup soccer!!

The competition's purpose is to promote cohesion amongst each First Year section and Section E was able to gel around the goal of winning the Cup quickly. As two-time defending champions we had weighty expectations to live up to, and our Second Year alumni set the tone from day one: We were going to win. Thankfully, Section E had been gifted with 68 students who wanted our group to compete and win at everything -- see Dave Miller's post for more about our competitive nature. We had strong leadership from Section Rep Evan Smith (now DSA President) supported by a strong team dedicated to supporting our exam preparation, outreach efforts, and social lives.  Nicknaming ourselves the "leprecats" (based on a sectionmate's inspirational speech), we developed a "front-runner" strategy -- pick up points early and energize our section with our successes. This worked like a charm: Section E had the best participation numbers at almost every event.

Section E final day of class in December

Along the way we discovered hidden talents and found a way for everyone to contribute. We weren't the most athletic section -- our victories were in the decidedly non-athletic dodgeball, bowling, and trivia events -- but through participation and energy we were able to maximize our points at every event, and in the end won by a resounding margin.

Darden Cup isn't the only way in which First Year sections jockey with one another. Witness the Section E Mischief Team, whose pranks on neighboring Section D you can watch on YouTube, or Section A's obsession with stealing Section B's beloved mascot (see Sara Sajadi's entry for details). There are a few injuries every year from aging former athletes with Type A personalities crashing into one another in Darden Cup athletic events, but generally speaking the pursuit of the Cup is good clean fun and a way to forever forge a Darden student's section identity.  Though Section E hasn't shared case discussions together in room 190 since December, you can still identify E'ers by our "High Five Tuesday" tradition and our impassioned section spirit.

So, prospective First Years, you all should be spending your summers hoping and dreaming that Marsh Pattie's random name generator places you in the decidedly most awesome section at Darden, Section E!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring Grilling with Dean Bruner

Yesterday evening the Darden Student Bloggers had a pleasant dinner with Dean Bruner (if you track several of these you'll probably see 14 posts this week).  The Dean and his wife, Bobbie, graciously hosted us at the home which he has owned for over a quarter-century.  We shared stories about our student experiences and the Dean told us about a failed idea he had a few years ago for an online patent auctioning site.  The Dean grilled burgers and displayed a meticulous attention to detail -- we could choose from two types of cheese or a veggie burger, served with a fine assortment of wine and the local Starr Hill beer.

Quite the perquisite for someone who gets free reign to ramble about life in business school. Something to consider if you're an incoming Darden First Year -- join the Student Bloggers!

Bloggers hanging out pre-dinner in the Dean's backyard

At the risk of reprimand from Darden Media, I present a less-than-flattering photo of Dean Bruner about to grill some burgers  :-)

Darden Blogger group shot (some of us, at least)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sustainable Venture Capital Investment Competition

Late post on this, but better late than never. A couple weeks ago I journeyed down to Chapel Hill, NC with a Darden team to compete in the Sustainable Venture Capital Investment Competition (SVCIC). Our task was to analyze the business plans from three real-life entrepreneurs and make the case to a panel of venture capitalists for which startup we would invest in, then justify why and how. Darden was competing against eight other business schools: Kenan-Flagler (UNC), Saïd (Oxford), Columbia, Stern (NYU), Wharton, Fuqua (Duke), Georgetown, and Ross (Michigan).

I had no experience in the world of startup funding or venture capital (VC), so I was very much looking forward to learning about these in preparation for and by participating in the competition. The Darden core curriculum doesn't make a place for these topics, and I quickly discovered that startup "term sheets" have a different language than what you learn in finance class. Before the competition, my team spent a few weeks learning this new language and the implications of VC terms on how a startup business operates. Soon, phrases such as "liquidity preference", "option pool", and "post-money valuation" became second nature to us.

The first day of the competition started with pitches by each of the entrepreneurs. One business created an online platform for searching through OpenCourseWare materials, one had a product for more efficient power management in laptop computers and servers, and the third created fixtures with superior lighting characteristics for warehouses. After the pitches, teams split up into "due diligence" sessions with the entrepreneurs. We had 15 minutes to grill each entrepreneur with questions we had about his business model. In the evening, our team retreated to our hotel to choose a business to invest in and propose investment terms which would be agreeable to the entrepreneur but also mitigate the downside risk of the investment for our fictional VC fund. On the second day, our team presented our investment proposal to the panel of venture capitalist judges. We were judged on how well we identified and mitigated risk, assessed social and environmental impact, and understood the VC process.

The Darden team didn't win the competition, but the judges told us in our feedback session that our performance fell into the top half of teams participating. Not bad for a group which had no prior VC experience! One thing which really left an impression on me was the importance of the entrepreneur in the success of a new business. Every judge we talked with stressed how the people running the business are more important than the business concept. Our team saw this first-hand -- after reading the three business plans our team was heavily leaning towards one of the businesses, but our judgment quickly shifted when we met the entrepreneurs and saw that a different one had a far better strategic vision for where his startup was headed.

More importantly, I now know something about the wild world of startup financing which may prove valuable if I decide to start my own business after school.