New Venture Competition Pivots Approach in Response to COVID-19

April 1, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona is using its signature innovative approach to transition its programs online, starting with the highly-anticipated New Venture Competition (NVC) on April 17. 

The NVC is a component of the year-long New Venture Development Program, where students learn the principles of entrepreneurship and innovation and learn how to turn their business ideas into launch-ready ventures. Traditionally, teams in the NVC face-off in-person in a series of competitive rounds where they pitch their venture ideas and share prototypes of their products and services with a panel of judges. The top-performing teams are rewarded with cash and prizes that help turn their venture ideas into reality. 

Now that classes are online and large gatherings are strongly discouraged, the McGuire Center is testing how the competition will work online. Student teams are now required to film a five-minute pitch, a 30-second commercial and develop a website for their venture. The only part of the competition that will be live will be a question and answer session with the judges over a video call. 

“Once we knew we had to cancel the in-person portion of the competition, it only took a few days for us to come up with an online alternative,” says John Sharp, mentor-in-residence at the McGuire Center. “Since then we have been meeting every day to ensure that the program is as engaging as possible for our students. Looking ahead, we plan to continue using the video and website production components of the competition, as these are valuable skills our students can take to the workplace.” 

The McGuire Center has teamed up with the Tech Core, a community of entrepreneurs and software developers at Eller, to teach these skills to students in the NVD program. “We are now using a portion of class time to teach the students about high-quality video production and web design,” says Ash Black, director of the Tech Core and mentor-in-residence at the McGuire Center. “Our programmers are working one-on-one—virtually, of course—with the students to ensure their projects are polished and professional.” 

Sharp and Black are also extending the NVC experience to include what they are calling the Innovation Response Award, which will take place a few weeks later. “We want to challenge the students to pivot their current venture propositions for a post-COVID-19 world in which the structures of our society may rely more heavily on telecommunications and technological interaction,” says Black. 

“We want to see our students transition from an assignment model where they do what they are told to actually thinking and adapting to the world as if they were really running a business,” says Sharp. “It’s a leap, but I think our students are up for the challenge.”