Michigan Ross Students and Alumni Spark Investors’ Interest in Innovative Startups at Pitch Competition

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Dozens of students from the Ross School of Business, across the University of Michigan, and two other universities teamed up to stoke venture capitalists’ interest in promising technological and life-science innovations from 20 Michigan-based startups during the 2019 Financing Technology Commercialization Pitch Competition.

Held at Michigan Ross in December, the annual competition serves as the capstone experience for the interdisciplinary Financing Research Commercialization practicum taught by David Brophy, a finance professor and director of the Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance at Michigan Ross.

This year, a record 100 students were divided into 20 teams, each partnered with a different startup from around the state of Michigan. In addition to 63 Michigan Ross undergraduate and graduate students and 22 from other schools across U-M enrolled in the practicum, students from Western Michigan University and Michigan Technological University also competed. 

“These are real companies, in which the ‘butter and egg money’ is at risk for the founders in this emerging stage of company life,” said Brophy. “This year we had one of the best groups of startups, many of which have come through the U-M’s Tech Transfer office. We also had a talented group of graduate and undergraduate students who worked hard to help these Michigan-based startups gain traction, become successful, and ultimately, assist them in commercializing their new technologies and life-science discoveries.”

At the start of the fall semester, each team began working with their startup, identifying pain points and forming strategies for business growth. 

“This course is a platform for action-based learning and multidisciplinary teamwork among students and companies as varied as medical devices, AI, and fintech,” said Brophy. “Since the course is open to anyone at U-M, students from other disciplines like engineering and economics bring different skill sets that really enhance teams and make their final presentations really strong.” 

To prepare for the final pitch competition, teams were required to create and present comprehensive pitch decks to venture capital investors, detailing the company’s product or service, business model, monetization strategy, financing needs, exit strategy, and more. Mentors, including 40 U-M and 17 Michigan Ross alumni, provided coaching and asked tough questions along the way.

As opposed to many competitions held at Michigan Ross, there was no winning team named at the venture pitch competition. Instead, the students focused on making the best pitch to the more than 20 venture capital investors on the judging panel to try and secure funding for their team’s startup. Each year between three and five companies receive such funding after the event. 

“These are companies that go on to offer jobs to students and boost the local economy, which helps our school and student body, and it’s a reason why other schools want to participate,” said Brophy. “I have students that come back 10 years later and they still remember the company they worked with and their teammates because of how impactful this course is.” 

Since the pitch competition began 15 years ago, 75 startups have procured their targeted funding within several months after the event. Additionally, more than 1,400 students and 230 companies have gone through the practicum to become part of the Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance’s “Next Mile to Funding” venture capital network.