By guest authors Irina Patterson and Vandana Upadhyay
Irina: How many of these companies are technology businesses? Is there any industry preference?
Linda: Almost all are technology businesses. A lot of it is mobile and Internet but there are business services as well. Among the ones that won last year, one is a business service software, a simpler version of Salesforce.com, and it is really getting some interesting traction. Another is Watermelon Express, which is a real-time integration across the Internet, cell phones, and texts for test preparation like the SAT or GMAT. It has gotten awards and attention from a lot education technology companies.
Another is in a student loan consolidation business. Then there is Bump Technologies, which won two years ago. It is the eighth most popular free app in the iPhone App Store’s history. It is becoming a mobile payment platform for PayPal.
Irina: Who are your entrepreneurs? Where do they come from?
Linda: They are Booth School of Business students. Some link up with the medical school or a life sciences department so they can team up with the professors and students from other areas.
We encourage all students to participate, and this year we will take the final 26 in the spring class. We weed them out, so if they haven’t done their work and they haven’t proven the concept, or we don’t think they have the right management team, they don’t move on to the spring quarter.
Irina: Would you describe an ideal team that would benefit from this process?
Linda: They are all over the place. The thing about the process is you can come with any idea, but you better go out and do your market research, go on the street, go talk to people, test the customers. Anyone who has an idea, who is ready for the rigor of the process, is a good fit.
Irina: Would you talk about some of your numbers?
Linda: In the past 15 years since its founding, I think 65 companies were founded through this program. We have done a lot of follow-up recently.
The site www.chicagonvc.com lists all the statistics and some of the major success stories. The website shows a list of all the past winners, what they have done with their companies, and where they are.
It is pretty impressive that this kind of process has launched nine companies right now. Last year, we started with 88 applications and I have got 26 now. We would probably end up with about 10 as finalists. That is the funnel.
Irina: OK. Once they are accepted at the incubator, what is the next step?
Linda: They sit right next to the faculty, so they can talk to us at any time for inputs. They are sitting there with other students, so lot of them work together and exchange ideas. They get free legal advice.
They get space so that in between classes they can go and run their business. They also get free phone service and some other services that a business may need. The top five companies that win every year get between $5,000 and $10,000.
Irina: Some incubators do not allow students to be in the incubator because they think it distracts students from going to school. Do your students still go to classes and in between run their companies?
Linda: Yes, we want our students to go to school and finish their classes. The thing is they can take classes that help their business. They can take a data mining class that could be helpful, and we have an entrepreneurial selling class that would help them.
Sometimes those classes become more meaningful because the entrepreneurs are trying to build a business and they know where the problems are.
Irina: What about the program you run internationally?
Linda: Our executive MBA program is offered at the Singapore campus, the London campus and also the Chicago campus. We offer the Global New Venture challenge in London and Singapore in our executive MBA classes.
Our executive MBA program students come from around the world, to Chicago, London, or Singapore, where they will take classes one week at a time once a month. During those classes they can start building their cases and pitching their business.