Startups weren’t so sexy 25 years ago. It was pre-Google, pre-dot-com bubble, pre-unicorn. The University of Chicago’s business school, renowned for finance, didn’t offer an entrepreneurship concentration.
Steven Kaplan, a newly tenured professor in 1996, had just started teaching a class in entrepreneurial finance when a student, Jeff Meyers, MBA’97, popped his head into his office and suggested they hold a business plan competition. Kaplan told him to go ahead and organize it.
“I knew nothing about startups. Zero,” Kaplan recalled.
Kaplan rustled up a few judges and $25,000 in prize money, and the New Venture Challenge was born.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of what is now the Edward L. Kaplan ’71 New Venture Challenge (NVC), a pioneering startup accelerator whose annual investment pool has grown to more than $1 million and whose alumni companies—including household names like Grubhub and Simple Mills—have raised about $1.2 billion in capital and achieved more than $8.5 billion in mergers and exits.
The program has expanded to include five separate tracks that seed and support not only Chicago Booth students in their startup ventures, but also UChicago undergrads, alumni, executive MBA students, and those launching nonprofits and social enterprises.
Entrepreneurship, meanwhile, surpassed finance as the most popular concentration among Chicago Booth full-time MBAs in the 2013-2014 academic year and has remained so ever since.
On June 3, the 25th annual NVC competition will host 12 finalists competing for an investment pool of at least $1 million, on track to be the largest prize pool in contest history.
To celebrate the anniversary, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation—which runs the program—also invited several NVC alums to share their startup stories in a podcast series. Launched this spring, the interviews include Grubhub’s Matt Maloney, MBA’10; Braintree’s Bryan Johnson, MBA’07; ExplORer’s Jennifer Fried, MBA’15; and Simple Mills’ Katlin Smith, who tied for first in the NVC when she was a Booth student in 2014.