The University of Michigan’s student-led Social Venture Fund notched its first-ever win at the 2017 MIINT competition in April, receiving the Best Diligence Award for its high-caliber, professional-quality impact investment recommendation to an expert panel of judges.
The U-M presentation team of four Ross MBAs competed against 25 student teams from other leading business and policy schools around the world. The contenders made pitches for real-life impact investing opportunities to judges in hopes of winning a $50,000 investment for their selected company from MIINT’s sponsors, the Moelis Family Foundation and Liquidnet for Good. The annual competition, now in its sixth year, caps six months of digitalized training in impact investing for students. It was held April 8 on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia.
The Michigan team’s stellar performance also earned the People’s Choice Award for best presentation in the health-care vertical in a vote by their student peers at the competition.
In a bit of a twist, the Wolverines actually made a strategic, and difficult, decision beforehand not to recommend investment in the San Francisco Bay Area health-care startup company they selected to bring forward at MIINT. But the U-M team still earned kudos from the judges and fellow competitors for the depth and breadth of their due diligence, their well-balanced, objective proposal and the seamless teamwork they displayed during their 10-minute investment presentation and 15-minute question-and-answer session.
“It was incredible to get informal feedback from the judges on our process,” says Allison Zimmermann, MBA/MPP ’18. “I was told it was the most thorough diligence and presentation that one judge had seen at MIINT in many years of participating.”
MIINT (the MBA Impact Investing Network and Training program) is co-sponsored by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative at UPenn’s Wharton School and Bridges Fund Management, a dedicated sustainable- and impact-investment firm. The program seeks to prepare the next-generation of impact investors through its online curriculum and annual impact investment competition.
The Michigan team attributes their win to a number of factors, including the hands-on training and experience they received through the U-M Social Venture Fund and the well-grounded education and vast resources offered by the Ross School of Business and the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. The cross-campus collaboration and expertise of the University of Michigan community and the willingness of others to “chip in” were key factors in their success. When considering the Bay Area health-care company for an SVF investment earlier this year, 10 other fund members contributed to the diligence process, which culminated in the MIINT win.
“We are fortunate to have year-long engagement with the Social Venture Fund, so we’re getting the best training,” says Monika Johnson, MBA/MS ’19. “Not all schools have this type of program. The fund is building a talent pipeline for impact investing, and our school is at the forefront.” Johnson says SVF students leveraged the University’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to conduct due diligence on the health-care startup selected for the MIINT competition, as well as other candidates considered for investment by the fund. “We took advantage of resources at Ross, the Law School, the Medical School and U-M Tech Transfer to do our due diligence,” she explains.
Luke Sawitsky, MBA/MS ’18, credits the SVF’s peer-led education system for helping to prepare him and other team members for the MIINT competition. “When you join the fund, you attend mandatory student-led training sessions, which are very valuable,” he remarks. “We build teamwork through a buddy system, where incoming SVF members are partnered with more-experienced members who guide them. This peer-to-peer learning was apparent throughout our MIINT presentation, because we asked other SVF members to hear [and critique] our investment proposal in advance of presenting it to the judges.”
“Our education through the SVF enabled us to structure a very comprehensive due diligence, which ensured that our investment memo for the MIINT competition was logical, thorough and synced with our presentation,” explains Mike Ilardi, MBA/MS ’19. “Our receiving the Best Diligence Award is largely due to support from the other fund members and our faculty adviser, Professor Gautum Kaul, who is fantastic. He offered guidance and support when we were working on our presentation, but generally, he is hands-off and adamant about having the fund be peer led.”
The Social Venture Fund was launched in September 2009 by a group of Michigan MBAs, with support from Professor Kaul and the University, for the purpose of investing in for-profit enterprises pursuing positive social or environmental missions that address unmet societal needs. As the first student-run social venture fund in the nation, the SVF has provided countless Michigan students with an action-based learning experience that prepares them for careers as socially/environmentally driven impact investors, entrepreneurs or corporate citizens committed to making a positive difference in the world.
The Social Venture Fund is one of five student-led investment funds overseen by the Zell Lurie Institute. One of the SVF’s early architects was Brian Trelstad, who is now a partner at Bridges Fund Management and a co-creator of MIINT.
During the school year, SVF students work in small teams to source and screen deals, conduct rigorous financial and social due diligence on promising startup companies and then make investment presentations on their top candidates to the entire fund membership. The group decides as a whole whether to invest in a particular company. Since its inception the SVF has invested $350,000 in seven innovative for-profit enterprises that have demonstrated the ability to deliver blended social and financial returns.
Preparing for and participating in the MIINT competition proved to be a value-added experience for each of the presentation team members.
“I feel the MIINT experience opened up a lot more doors that I didn’t know existed,” Johnson says. “I now have a better grasp of what it means to be an impact investor.”
“The opportunity to co-lead the initial due diligence process internally ─ with a lot of support from the second- and third-year fund members ─ helped me immensely,” Ilardi remarks. “It made co-leading the MIINT presentation team with Monika Johnson that much more successful.”
“I gained great exposure to the field of impact investing at the MIINT competition,” Zimmermann comments. “Living the real-world version of venture investing also has had an impact on my classroom experiences at Ross, enabling me to be more comfortable and get more out of my courses.”
“The Social Venture Fund has fostered getting your hands dirty, learning from your peers and taking a chance on something,” Sawitsky concludes. “It’s the best learning experience I’ve had at Michigan, and MIINT further distilled it.”