Startup Challenges at Business Schools Have Ballooned

Wall Street Journal writer Kelsey Gee reported this week that, “Business schools have an elevator pitch for prospective students: Choose our school and win cash for your startup.

“Contests for M.B.A. students to sell faculty judges on their business ideas have existed for decades, but the size, scope and stakes of the events have ballooned as business schools struggle to lure in young professionals who are increasingly wary of shelling out as much as $250,000 for the graduate degree.

At Harvard Business School later this month, four teams in the final round of its startup challenge will compete for more than $315,000 in cash and prizes, compared with a pool of around $170,000 in 2010. University of Chicago Booth School of Business in March announced that it was using most of a $5 million gift from alumnus and construction magnate Rattan Khosa to endow a prize for its startup competition, ensuring the winning students walk away with at least $150,000.”

Ms. Gee noted that, “At Rice University later this week, 42 teams of graduate-level students from schools around the world will compete for $1.4 million in cash and prizes. The pot was $10,000 in 2001 when the school launched the contest.

“The Rice competition offers the largest prize pot out of the approximately 300 business-school programs that host these ‘Shark-Tank’ style challenges, according to Reviewr, a software company that helps manage the events. Rice brings in outside venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to judge plans and pepper students with questions about how to commercialize their products.”

The Journal article added, “Most schools limit participation to their own M.B.A. students, but a number of contests like the one at Rice are open to startup teams from any graduate program.

“Business schools like those at Brigham Young University and Cornell University have poured millions into entrepreneurship programs that cater to a generation more interested in starting their own companies than pursuing traditional post-M. B. A. careers such as investment banking.”

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