30 Oct 2018
Paths of Victory
Catching up with previous winners of the New Venture Competition Topics:
Reflecting HBS’s standing as the top school for entrepreneurs (according to the most-recent PitchBook rankings), the annual HBS New Venture Competition has helped Harvard Business School students and alumni launch dozens of new enterprises. Sponsored by the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and Alumni Clubs & Associations, the competition has awarded $2,655,000 in prize money to the winners since its inception in 1997. The competition also gives these startups a head start, providing invaluable exposure and access to mentors, advisors, and investors.
Last year, 360 alumni and student teams applied to the New Ventures Competition (NVC), competing in one of three tracks—Alumni, Social Enterprise, and Student Business. While student teams prepared on campus, alumni teams battled it out in 11 regional competitions around the world, over several months. In the end, 12 finalists—four in each category—met in mid-April at the Rock Center to give one last 90-second pitch to the judges and audience. In each category, the Grand Prize winner took home $75,000; the Runner-up $25,000; and the Crowd Favorite $5,000.
Applications for this year’s alumni track of the contest open November 1, 2018. The deadline to apply is January 22, 2019. Semi-finalists from around the world will compete in the live finale at the Rock Center on April 23, 2019.
Leading up to this year’s event, we checked in with a few past winners to find out where their companies are now and what impact the New Venture Competition had on their business.
Parker Treacy (MBA 2012)
Founder of Cobli, 2016 Alumni Track Grand Prize Winner
Cobli, based in Brazil, is a vehicle fleet logistics business tapping into the South American market of 50 million vehicles. The company’s software makes it easy for companies to track their vehicles, plan more efficient routes, reduce fuel expenses, receive maintenance notifications, and track the behaviors of drivers.
When Cobli won in 2016, it had 12 employees and no revenue. Today it employees 60 people and boasts more than $2 million in annual revenue. Treacy says the company is planning to add 50 employees over the next year and currently is serving more than 500 clients in 50 industries throughout Brazil, as well as clients in Turkey, Argentina, and Portugal.
“Hanging a three-foot check for $50,000 in a conference room has had a big impact on new hires as well as new clients,” Treacy notes, adding the most important takeaway the company received from the NVC was retrospection.
“The HBS competition was the first real opportunity I had to step back from the hectic day-to-day and really do some soul searching about Cobli’s vision and how to effectively communicate it to people who previously had no understanding of what we did. The experience made me much more focused on our vision and the incredible importance of its communication.”
Vera Makarov (MBA 2010)
Co-CEO/COO of Apli, 2017 Alumni Track Grand Prize Winner
Apli, based in Mexico City, is an on-demand platform that screens temporary employees and places them where they would fit best, within 24 hours.
In Latin America, 5 billion days of work are lost annually due to turnover and absenteeism. At the same time, there are 100 million underemployed workers. Using a chatbot to profile potential employees and an algorithm to match them to employers, Apli aims to fill that gap.
“We got amazing media and investor exposure, which kick-started our fundraising process and helped us raise a new round of capital in record time,” Makarov says of Apli’s NVC victory.
Today, Apli employs 37 people and serves 600 employers and 80,000 job seekers. In addition to offering on-demand workers through its marketplace, Apli’s chatbot and machine-learning models are now helping companies with mass recruiting of permanent employees. “Through Apli, companies are recruiting eight times faster, with a 25 percent increase in employee retention,” she observes.
Makarov says Apli is currently working with its corporate partners to expand internationally and developing selection models for an increasing variety of job types.
Etienne Lacroix (MBA 2011)
Founder & CEO of Vention, 2017 Alumni Track Runner-up
Vention, based in Montreal, allows businesses to design and order industrial equipment online through a free, web-based CAD program loaded with hundreds of designs for industrial parts that are then created via 3D printing and shipped to the customer the next day.
Lacroix says that Vention’s success in the NVC was “the right visibility at the right time,” exposing the company to future clients and potential investors, as well as helping it recruit top talent in the US and Canada.
“Growth has been extremely high, with 2,200 percent growth since the HBS New Ventures Competition in 2017,” notes Lacriox. “We basically went from a revenue-generating ‘idea’ to fully proven and high-growth business model.” Vention currently employs a team of 25 working in growth and customer success, product engineering, and finance and operations, serving thousands of engineering and manufacturing professionals on four continents.
“We continue to build a new category in the digital manufacturing space. We empower engineering and manufacturing professionals to design, order, and commission custom factory equipment as fast as three days, through a self-serve cloud platform and modular hardware library,” he says. “As we grow our software and hardware offerings, users can achieve significantly more complex use case, from fixed to fully automated equipment.”
Class of MBA 2012, Section B
Class of MBA 2010, Section J
Class of MBA 2011, Section B