Alumni Net Surprising Returns as NVC Volunteers

Michael Quinn, BA ’84, (pictured above at the 2015 competition) has volunteered as a judge and mentor for the GW New Venture Competition, even serving as an advisor to teams after the competition has ended.


The GW New Venture Competition (NVC) creates a platform for GW students to develop, test, and launch startup ventures. A thrill for the students, yes, but with the final round scheduled for April 19, this intense competition also inspires seasoned professionals to enjoy fresh thinking, youthful energy, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Remember how much fun that used to be?

GW alumni volunteers like Daron Coates, MBA ’96 (pictured) are essential to the success of the NVC.

“I love listening to the business plans,” says Daron Coates, GWSB MBA ’96, who has served as both mentor and judge for the NVC. “The contestants don’t have any money on the table and they’re not scared yet.”

Mr. Coates, a founding partner at the ThinkBox Group, successfully led the energy services company from start-up through growth for over seventeen years.  “I get to hear different strategies, different presentations, see the styles they’re using, the graphics,” he says of the competition. “We get good ideas from the kids, which stimulates our creativity and helps us remember how we were when we got started.”

The competition is the fifth largest collegiate business plan competition in the country; each year cash prizes are awarded, and hundreds of students across GW’s ten schools participate. And each year, generous alumni and other benefactors donate resources—time, money, office space—so these upstarts have a chance to make the world a better place.

This year, among the 106 teams that entered the NVC on January 19, a group of 59 judges evaluated 36 semifinal submissions to select the ten finalists.

“Being a judge exposed me to the incredible entrepreneurial talent in the GW eco-system,” says Ed Barrientos, GWSB MBA ’90, who has been a panel judge since the competition’s inception. “I see an enormous amount of talent having a major impact. Meeting these entrepreneurs just as they’re leaving school is really exciting.” One business plan in particular captured Mr. Barrientos’ imagination; after the contest ended, he approached the ‘non-winner’ and offered funding to develop the concept.

Ed Barrientos, MBA ’90
“Being a judge exposed me to the incredible entrepreneurial talent in the GW eco-system.” – Ed Barrientos, MBA ’90

In other words, the engagement does not always end when the winners are announced. NVC mentor and judge Michael Quinn, ESIA BA ’84—a member of the Elliott School Board of Advisors and the executive committee of the GWSB Board of Advisors—spent time advising two of last year’s competition winners on how to deploy the funds. “Mentoring the students once they win is fun,” he says. “It’s like working with my own early-stage investment banking clients as opposed to many of the corporations I typically work with in my day job!””

“There’s nothing more important than coming up with an idea and thinking it through from a 360 degree approach,” Mr. Quinn says about the competition.  “What problem do you solve? Is there a real need? How will you sell it? Who will you sell it to? Can you make money?” Mr. Quinn believes that if he had gotten this type of guidance early on, he could have avoided a lot of pitfalls that took place in his own wireless startup in Latin America.

To that end, the NVC creates a means for established business people to help young entrepreneurs gain a foothold at the beginning of their careers. By getting involved, alumni are able to mentor students, foster innovative solutions, and as an added bonus, reignite their own inspired thinking.

Mary Follin

The final round of presentations for this year’s New Venture Competition, which are open to the public, take place on April 19. Click here to register.

Alumni interested in volunteering as judges or mentors for future competitions can click here or contact Lex McCusker, director of the GW New Venture Competition at

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