Venturing into Venture Capital

The following is a guest post by first year NUS MBA student Nikhil Kapur, on his reflections about participation in the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) 

It all started when Mondy (aka Subhajit Mandal, financial trader from Singapore and the loudest in our team) and yours truly decided to contact the VCIC authorities individually about our interest in participating in the competition. For the uninitiated, VCIC allows Business School teams to play the role of a Venture Capitalist, analysing real startups, complete with due diligence and partner meetup rounds. The VCIC folks were slightly befuddled by two individual queries from the same school and connected us together. Hence, both of us set out to find the perfect team to enter the competition with. Long story short, we found the team in Ricky Wong (IPO specialist from Hong Kong and a really heavy (pun intended) drinker), Jose Antonio Borrero (Ecuadorian Project Financing specialist and a hardcore party person), and Pornteera Pawijit (Biotech PHD and Thai, enough said).

VCIC team-photo

(L to R): Ricky Wong, Pornteera Pawijit, Nikhil Kapur, Jose Antonio Borrero Cordova and Subhajit Mandal.

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Total Grant Sky Competition

The following are reflections by Julian Ragragio, NUS MBA Student, 2014 Intake.

The whole project started out before business school, when I was still employed to work on solar pumps for Sunelec Photovoltaic Solutions. During my final year with that company, two important things happened. First was the release of an innovative new product which could facilitate pay-per-consumption system for solar pumps and therefore open up opportunities for development banks to participate. Second was the 20th anniversary of our main partner, Lorentz GmbH, who decided to give out 20 solar pump systems across the world free-of-charge for communities in need.

I spearheaded both the release of the new product and the 20th anniversary donations by sourcing out and selecting communities which could benefit from both initiatives. It was during this time that I began coordinating with our eventual partner, SIBAT, who had recommended to me several communities under its wing. Unfortunately, I never got any chance to see these efforts bear fruit, as I had to leave for my MBA midway through these initiatives.

At the back of my head, I always wanted to find some way to finish what I started. When I got into the NUS MBA program, I saw potential to resume this project – the cohort was blessed with a lot of latent capital – human and financial. Somehow, I wanted to harness that and turn it into a tangible project that could contribute real value. Initially, I sought to run as president for the energy club with the intention of building a platform to pursue this project. However, I got an offer to work with the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore so I decided to abstain from running as president of the energy club, lest I be burdened with too many commitments.

Our first breakthrough with resuming this project came sometime around the second semester, when I stumbled upon a grant initiative by Total SA while looking for internships. Between that time and my entry at the NUS MBA, the project was mainly on-hold, with many of the companies that I had approached rejecting or ignoring my idea. There was one particular instance when a banking executive outright refused to acknowledge my request. However, the grant initiative by Total presented that silver bullet, a chance at finally making things happen. Once I had absorbed the complexity of the grant details, I got in touch with the Social Impact Club to discuss this project – and I got a solid response. From that point onwards, a team would drive this project.

Between academic requirements, case competitions, and personal commitments, our team managed to submit all of the grant requirements in time and with sufficient quality to build confidence in our success – and no doubt this can be attributed to the team’s coherence and alignment towards its goals. To qualify us for the grant, we had to come up with the following: 1) Primer for the project. 2) Plan and write- up to inspire/source votes. 3) Technical proposal. 4) Operations and maintenance proposal. 5) Project beneficiary. 6) Partners. 7) Complete budget. 8) Proof of feasibility.

We got a call from Team Total SA in early March announcing that we had been short listed to move on in the final selection process. Although we had done our best in preparing for the grant, we were still aware that competition was stiff – there was one particular project outside of ours which was highly innovative and well funded by multinationals like EDF. That project utilized a flexible solar panel inflated on a hydrogen balloon, and was aimed at providing energy for emergency situations such as disaster response. We had to bring our proposal up a notch by focusing on our main advantage – that the solution we were proposing was 100% feasible and utilized proven technology.

During our final defense, we ran into several problems that gave us some doubt as to whether we were going to succeed in securing the grant. First was a matter of proximity. The competing teams were mostly based in France, and therefore had the advantage of being able to present in-person. Second were timing issues. The defense started a full one hour ahead of schedule; luckily we were assembled in advance, or we would have missed our defense. Third were technical issues. During the defense itself, we had to tackle interconnection problems and feedback coming from the simultaneous use of multiple laptops. Last was the issue of innovation. The panel raised a particular concern about whether or not we were utilizing enough innovative capacity to sway the judges towards our side. By the end of our defense, we had mixed feelings. I sent a final email to the judges to provide clarity towards unsettled matters related to our defense. After that, it was simply a waiting game for us.

Around a week after our defense, we received an email from Total SA announcing us as the recipients of the grant. It was a joyous moment for us – though short lived. Now, we are moving towards finalizing the conditions of the grant. From here on, we will be tackling the implementation phase.

As per our most recent meeting, in which we have assigned individual responsibilities for the team, the most immediate challenges would be dealing with the complexities of coordinating our team with SIBAT. Several activities are in order – including: 1) Finalizing the deployment schedules with SIBAT and our team. 2) Developing a budget for marketing and technical requirements. 3) Implementing a system of checks against use of funds. 4) Promoting transparency of procurement activities. 5) Building a website to increase the visibility of the project and its stakeholders via social media. 6) Raising additional funds for a pipeline of projects which we would like to tackle moving forward.

The overriding goal of this project is to promote the use of technology in addressing problems related to energy and water access for developing countries. Energy and water are primary catalysts of human development; it is an enabler of economic growth, healthcare access and higher standards of living. Now, more than ever, productivity in remote areas can be enhanced with autonomous energy through the use of solar. Local growth is a snowball effect of using this technology, and we believe we can contribute towards this goal by pursuing this project with a focused and committed mindset.

NUS MBA Students Fly the School’s Flag High

We wrote earlier on this blog about four NUS MBA Social Impact Club students recently embaring on a mission to raise funds for solar water pumps for Tolosa, one of the worst-affected regions in hurricane typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines.

Here’s a fantastic update on this project: Their social mission recently got recognised with a grant of EUR5000(about SG $7257) from Total, world’s fourth-largest oil and gas company!  With an interesting project and innovative solutions for the local community, the team – comprising first year MBA students Adrian Albano, Ashima Wadhawan, Julian Ragragio and Marco Ordonez – won maximum number of votes in the Total Grant Sky Competition and impressed the judges as well. 

Team Tolosa hard at work (L-R): Adrian Albano; Ashima Wadhawan; Julian Ragragio; Marco Ordonez.

Team Tolosa hard at work (L-R): Adrian Albano; Ashima Wadhawan; Julian Ragragio; Marco Ordonez.

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So you want to be an entrepreneur… ?

Did you know that innovation is a strong feature of our community and a core value of our school? Following are some excerpts from a blog post by Christian Halberg, an NUS MBA student who perfectly embodies the school’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Collaborative Environment

One of the big perks of being in NUS Business School is the thriving community of smart, intellectual peers who sometimes share the same passion. I found these peers – our team, comprising of me (from NUS Business School), and three fellow engineers (from NUS Faculty of Engineering), got together at Lean LaunchPad (LLP), a new initiative by NUS Entrepreneurship Centre.

“Flipped classroom” Approach

National University of Singapore is the first university in Asia to have adopted this experiential ‘flipped-classroom’ teaching methodology, as a way to match-make teams of engineers and business people. Continue reading

Cerebration 2013: Bigger, Better and Bolder!

As an organizing committee member of one of the largest student-run MBA Case competitions happening on November 13-14, you might be wondering why am I writing this blog post when I should be busy finalising event details.

I felt the need to update you all and give you a peek into all the hype about Cerebration 2013. For those of you who still don’t know what Cerebration is (is there anyone who still doesn’t know?), Cerebration is the largest student-run MBA case competition organised by MBA students of NUS Business School. MBA student teams from all over the world compete to solve challenging business cases submitted by world leading organizations. After two qualifying rounds, top nine semi-finalist teams are flown to Singapore (with all-paid expenses). One winner is selected from top three final teams by judges and awarded SGD $10,000.

So, what is so special about this year’s Cerebration?

First off, we have a very impressive line-up of events mixed with networking opportunities for the participating teams with top executives of sponsor companies, the School’s faculty and students. For the semi-finals (to be held on Nov 13th) and finals (to be held on Nov 14th), nine teams selected across each of the three cases of the competition are being flown into Singapore.

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