Over time, I’ve come to realize my professional passion is rooted in entrepreneurship; making things happen for oneself personally and professionally, creating something out of nothing, building a business from the ground up, and being able to drive real change in a marketplace and in people’s lives.
I’ve always looked for new opportunities to challenge the mindset of “this is how we do things”, which aligns perfectly with the vision of the Kelley Direct (KD) program at the Kelley School of Business. It was through this online MBA program that I had the opportunity to test my entrepreneurial skills in the venture-capital (VC) capital of the world, Silicon Valley, CA.
I had an idea for a startup firm. I felt that I possessed the necessary passion, motivation, and energy to build a business. I knew I could execute. What I didn’t have was experience in pitching a venture concept to see if my ideas were actually feasible. The KD Silicon Valley Venture Challenge provided the opportunity to pitch a venture concept to some of the best VCs in the business.
The Kelley Direct Silicon Valley Venture Challenge
KD MBAs are all too familiar with Dr. Phil Powell saying, “This is not an academic exercise”. While this statement rings true for much of the program, it has never been reinforced as strongly as it was through the Silicon Valley Venture Challenge. The “course”, largely developed by Dr. Powell and Dr. K (Dr. Don Kuratko), (and his passion for entrepreneurship) provided the necessary resources and support to construct a business feasibility plan and pitch it to VCs in The Valley. However, it was up to the individual to formulate and develop these plans in preparation for the pitch. Our overall course grade was determined by the same high standards that Silicon Valley demands of its successful startups.
I spent five to six weeks formulating my plan, performing extensive market research, conducting detailed financial analysis, writing my feasibility plan, and finalizing my pitch. The work involved was probably above and beyond the level I was already providing to my full-time job. However, it paid off. As a result of my experience in the Valley, I’m pursuing my venture under advisement from some of the VCs I connected with through the challenge. I’ve tried to summarize the experience into five key aspects that contribute to why this Business School education can transform an idea on paper into a feasible business. While I am still in the process of learning how to truly build a business (and that learning will never end), hopefully sharing my experiences will help others get to that point as well.
5 Ways The Kelley School Is Helping Transform My Idea into a Reality
1. Concepts and Theories
Having an idea and an entrepreneurial mindset is only half of the equation. I have had numerous business ideas in my imagination but on paper, they fall apart. It’s important to learn the concepts, theories, frameworks, and general lessons from professors and professionals who are accomplished entrepreneurs. The KD faculty and Dr. K provide a wealth of knowledge in this field, candid feedback, and a willingness to help. Learning this material upfront can help you avoid mistakes later on.
2. Feedback – Not Just From Family and Friends
Candid feedback is invaluable. Not just from people that want to see you succeed, like your friends and family, but from talented entrepreneurs and seasoned veterans in the business. The day before we were in front of the VCs, we pitched to the Director and Associate Director of the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation – Dr. K and Matt Rubin – and the rest of our class. It was this feedback that kept me up refining my pitch until 3:30am that night. It was also this feedback that helped me transform my pitch into something the VCs were actually interested in. Still, we received even more feedback from the VCs at the conclusion of our Q&A sessions with the investors. These comments and questions pointed out areas of concern with the venture, but also described new areas of opportunity. Overall, stay true to your vision of the concept, but listen to others and consider their perspective because the feedback will likely be things you had not thought of before.
Coaching and advising are important in any business, but this was especially true throughout the Venture Challenge. Coaching is different than feedback in that it is ongoing and hopefully in more of an advisory capacity. Dr. K guided us as we developed the feasibility plans. As we finalized and delivered them, that coaching extended to Matt Rubin, our peers, and ten very successful Silicon Valley professionals. Following the challenge, these individuals continue to coach and for some, have transformed into our advisors.
Connections are so important to success. Through this program, I made connections with very talented, like-minded classmates who have I have remained in contact with since our time in the Valley. I also connected with big-name investors; CEOs and Chairmen of the Board who command a great deal of capital and influence. Not only did this course provide the opportunity to pitch to these investors, but we also had the opportunity to network with them afterward. It was during this session that I talked further about my venture and generated more interest in my idea. On my own, I don’t think I would have been able to achieve the same level of exposure.
Ultimately, this course provided the opportunity to present our ideas to some of the best venture capitalists in the business. If they liked the idea – fortunately for me they did – we earned the support to start turning it into a real business. From an entrepreneurs’ perspective, this is a golden opportunity. This was my first time pitching to VCs, my first time formulating a full plan for a business, and my first real entrepreneurship course, all rolled into one. The entire course was unlike any other academic experience. To develop my plan and pitch it to that group of trusted professionals would have taken years – long enough to make my initial idea obsolete. Therefore, taking hold of any real opportunity, as this challenge, to turn an idea into a reality is key.
17 Days after the Silicon Valley Immersion
It has been 17 days since I left Silicon Valley. Since then, I have connected both virtually and in-person with investors that I met in the Valley, worked with a legal team, and started the process of turning this concept into a real business with the hopes of bringing a proof of concept to market.
Without the vision and support of esteemed KD faculty like Dr. Powell and Dr. Kuratko, the Silicon Valley Venture Challenge would not exist. I fundamentally believe that experiences like this one not only solidify what we learn in our online MBA classes but will also provide a real starting point for current and future entrepreneurs. I intend to pursue my venture and know that many of my classmates in this program are going to do the same. To anyone considering Kelley Direct or the Venture Challenge immersion: I highly recommend this unique opportunity.
About the Author
Ethan Grob graduated with a BS in Business Marketing with a minor in Management Information Systems from The Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Oxford, OH. After spending time working as a consultant with Deloitte & Touche LLP, he transitioned to dunnhumbyUSA as a Client Leader. There he was responsible for managing key business relationships and using data insights to drive long-term profitable growth for The Kroger Company and numerous well-known consumer packaged goods brands. He continues this role as a part of 84.51° in Cincinnati. He joined the Kelley Direct program at Indiana University in the Summer of 2014 and is pursuing his MBA.