01 Jun 2016
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Taking Care of Business

NVC winners’ post-victory progress
by Julia Hanna

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Winners the HBS New Venture Competition don’t rest on their laurels for long—the ink is hardly dry on those prizewinning checks before it’s time to shift to a higher gear. (This year’s cash prizes in the alumni competition totaled more than $75,000.) Much like its participants, the contest has adapted and changed its model since launching in 2010, first crowning a single winner, then introducing multiple business tracks, and finally opting for three categories—most innovative, greatest impact, and best investment. New this year: added opportunities for students and alumni to vote for “crowd favorites” online and at the April finals on campus. Here, we check in with three previous NVC winners to find out what’s new.

Krishna Mahesh (MBA 2005) became aware of the low quality (and low supply) of hospital beds in India when his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Drawing on his expertise in quality control and volume manufacturing in the automotive industry (where he does double duty as managing director of Sundaram Brake Linings), Mahesh launched Sundaram Medical Devices in 2010, won the NVC, and built a better bed—one that is more compact, safe, easy to crank up and down, and, most importantly, affordable. Since then, the company’s offerings have expanded to include a monitor that uses mobile technology to record patient calls and response times by medical professionals; also in the works is a medication dispensing function to drive down error rates. “What seems the natural course of things is often upended by someone saying, ‘This is what I really need right now,’” says Mahesh. “That tends to change the priorities of your plan and development cycle.”

Knock out!, an NVC winner in 2012, brought patented technology to women’s underwear, offering “smart panties” that wick away moisture and odor; it has since expanded into sleepwear, shapewear, plus-sizes, and men’s underwear, with an annual growth rate of more than 20 percent. “Stay focused and listen to customers—that’s who opens their pocketbooks,” says founder Angela Newnam (MBA 1996), whose business advisors recommended against producing sleepwear, now a highly popular line. Knock out! has been an acquisition target, but buyers always planned to offshore manufacturing—a nonstarter for the North Carolinian and mother of three whose father, Norvin Clontz (AMP 153, 1997), worked in textiles and served as an early advisor. “We are still made in America,” Newnam says. “That’s more important to me than any cash-out situation.”

Launched with the goal of catalyzing change in Sri Lanka’s capital markets, York Street Partners, an NVC winner in 2014 (Most Innovative and Greatest Impact) successfully secured $30M (70 percent from international investors) to establish the country’s first post–civil war private equity fund providing capital to small- and medium-sized firms. YSP’s expanded offerings now include consulting, research, and the country’s first crowdfunding platform, with plans for real estate and venture capital funds. “The tradeoff in making the decision to go back to an emerging market is so great that you can’t come to it analytically,” says Managing Director Hiran Embuldeniya (MBA 2005), an alum of McKinsey and Goldman Sachs who founded the firm with classmate Nayana Mawilmada (now on leave as director general of Sri Lanka’s Urban Development Authority) and Jayamin Pelpola (MBA 2010). “It has to be a decision of the heart. I have a passion. Thirty years from now, I want to be able to say this is what I spent my life doing.”

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Class of MBA 2005, Section B
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