Establishing a Name in Venture Capital

PROVO, Utah – May 08, 2018 – Some observers of the BYU Marriott MBA team’s victory at the global finals of the International Venture Capital Investment Competition thought that the group’s secret weapon was their experience making real investments through an experiential learning course back in Provo. Others believed it was the help of alumni, including members of the BYU Marriott team that won the same event two years previous. Still others guessed it was the team’s advisor, Gary Williams.

Or maybe it was the baby. 

Regardless, judges and fellow participants alike agreed—the four men and two women on the BYU Marriott team were the undisputed champions, further solidifying the program as a leader in educating the next generation of venture capital professionals.

“BYU has entered a different era now in the VC world internationally,” says Williams, who has helped guide BYU Marriott MBA teams to three consecutive top-three finishes at VCIC. “There’s something about competing there and doing well often that changes the perception some people have of the university. It solidifies the quality of the program.”

Of course, the team’s strong performance can’t be traced to one single factor. But it does all relate to Cougar Capital, an MBA course offering participants the chance to invest millions of real dollars in real companies. Twenty-two companies are currently in the Cougar Capital portfolio, including Chatbooks, Homie, and Neurala. The fund has had numerous successful exits, leading to a 3x money-on-money return, which would place it in the top quartile of its peers. 

“After the competition, we talked to other teams who asked us, ‘How do you prepare for this? What does your school do to get you ready?’” says team member Matt Phillips, a second-year student from Midvale, Utah. “We tell them about Cougar Capital, and they’re floored that we are investing real money, making real decisions, and being held accountable for the outcome of those decisions. That’s a fundamentally different learning experience than a lecture or a textbook where it’s still cerebral and theory as opposed to, ‘Okay, Matt, here’s $25,000. Are you putting it in or not?’ That forces you to critically think at a level that’s different than a theory.”

That experience proved valuable at the VCIC finals. Teams simulate the investment process, including interviewing entrepreneurs, choosing who they deem is the best to invest with, and negotiating terms—all while being judged by some of the top professionals in the field.

However, the BYU Marriott students had top professionals advising them as well. For example, once the team decided to support an investment with a supplements company at the finals, a Cougar Capital alum quickly facilitated an interview with the CEO of a successful supplements company his investment management company had invested in. The team learned what metrics were key for the industry and how to make a strong proposal.

“BYU alumni and BYU Marriott alumni are generous with their time,” says team member Taylor Murphy, a first-year student from Alpine, Utah. “They want to give back and help lighten other people’s loads. They want to be helpful, and they want to be part of a team. You aren’t treated as an annoying college kid—because we both went to BYU Marriott, we’re the same.”

Joining Murphy and Phillips on the winner’s stand were Corbin Coil, a second-year student from Carrollton, Texas; Jared Fowler, a second-year student from Shelley, Idaho; Sarah Wasden, a second-year student from Las Vegas; and Rachel Whitlock, a first-year student from Orem, Utah. And baby Allison, Whitlock’s ten-month-old girl who helped team members unwind through games of peekaboo and was the inspiration for Team Allison, the BYU group’s team name.

Together the team adds the win to the ever-growing reputation of BYU Marriott, its MBA program, and the emphasis it places on VC education.

“Before deciding to do a BYU Marriott MBA, I had my eyes on Harvard, Stanford, MIT or Wharton,” Whitlock says. “But everything started to click into place, and I found BYU Marriott to be just as good as the other schools, particularly around academics and network. There’s a high-quality network, and the students and professors are great. I came for a fun transformative experience, including ones like VCIC, and it’s exceeded expectations for me.”

VCIC team with check
BYU Marriott Team members (left to right) Taylor Murphy, Corbin Coil, Rachel Whitlock, Sarah Wasden, Jared Fowler, and Matt Phillips.
Team at UNC
The competition was held at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Media Contact: Jordan Christiansen (801) 422-8938
Writer: Jordan Christiansen