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Dempsey Startup Competition

Dempsey Startup Competition puts finishing touch on EMBA experience

One Saturday every June, a few days before graduation, students in the Executive MBA Program take over Mary Gates Hall on the UW campus and prepare to pitch business plans to panels of faculty, alumni, venture capitalists and senior executives. The annual EMBA Dempsey Startup Competition gives students the opportunity to integrate what they’ve learned about accounting, finance, marketing, operations and strategy over the preceding two years, apply it to the creation of a new business and put their knowledge and skills on display for the experts. Throughout the morning, study teams present their business plans to the competition’s judges in smaller classrooms. One team from each classroom advances to the final round. Excitement builds for the afternoon final round in which teams present in an auditorium to their fellow students and an expert panel of judges.

Academically, the Dempsey Startup Competition is a “capstone experience,” but for these study teams, it’s also an emotional moment. The teams have been working together throughout the program, helping each other with class assignments and projects, and learning a lot about building effective working relationships along the way. By this stage, the bonds are tight. Most teams have been working on their plans for many months, and it’s their final assignment as a group. The students are excited about the plans that are the product of their collaboration, eager to show off their work and get feedback, but also nostalgic about the road they’ve traveled together to get here.

For some students, though, this competition is more than an academic and emotional peak experience. A few of the business plans presented here will one day turn into real businesses.  Whether they build new companies based on their plans or integrate their new knowledge and skills into their careers in other ways, the competition instills confidence in their ability to apply what they’ve learned in the EMBA Program. As 2012 EMBA graduate Chris Mills says of his team’s business plan, “The takeaway in a nutshell is that I believe I can go do these things.”