Angel Investing – Tackling the “Big Idea”

Group of business people in shape of light bulb ideaLast week, I had the opportunity to attend the “Big Idea Innovation Tournament”, a pre-term exercise for the incoming 2015 MBA class at the Wharton School. The incoming students were asked to come up with a “big idea” on the topic of climate change and then present those ideas first to fellow students and then to a panel of alumnae/i and faculty judges. Students were given a very limited amount of time to come up with their ideas and formulate a presentation. For the final presentations, the student teams were given 2 minutes and 5 powerpoint slides to discuss their concept and convince the judges as to both the impact and the feasibility of their idea. The judging panel, on which I had the privilege to sit, then had the very difficult task of picking the winner from ideas ranging from managing energy usage, conserving water and our other scarce resources as well as measuring the carbon footprint of the foods we consume.

As an angel investor, I am often asked what I look for in an entrepreneur or founder team. The qualities that come to mind such as a big idea, real passion for the mission, understanding of both the overall market and competitive landscape as well as the ability to communicate and work as a team, were all demonstrated last week by this group of very talented incoming M.B.A. students. Whether or not any of the “Big Idea” teams move forward to try and commercialize their innovative ideas, the skills they have learned in this exercise and those that will follow over the next two years will position them well for their next step.

There has been a lot of conversation as to whether an MBA is relevant, especially for those individuals considering the startup world.  In a recent WSJ Blog entitled “Why M.B.A. isn’t good enough anymore , the authors posit that disruption will be required for those M.B.A programs that hope to survive. As a proud alum of the Wharton School ( albeit a student there in a time long before Huntsman Hall and YouTube!) I have seen my alma mater respond to the ever changing landscape and would hope that all the entrepreneurs I have the opportunity to invest in bring to their companies the excitement, passion and “big idea” thinking that I witnessed in Philadelphia last week.

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