It’s a rare event that lets you connect with Duke’s broader investment community, learn lessons from top investors nationwide, and shoot hoops in Cameron Indoor Stadium—but the Duke Private Equity and Venture Capital (PEVC) Conference offered its attendees all this and more.
“Duke is a place that fosters a strong sense of support, and I was deeply moved by the profound impact this conference had on uniting over 500 students, alumni, and investors for a day of enriching conversations," said conference chair Shelly Mittal MBA ’23.
Through pitch competitions, panels, and, yes, networking and basketball in Cameron, the audience explored trends, takeaways, and opportunities in PEVC.
Spotlighting Student Ventures
The conference—which was co-hosted by the Fuqua PEVC Club and Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (Duke I&E)—opened with the Best Ideas Showcase highlighting work done by students in Fuqua’s Private Equity Buyouts Lab. Student teams presented their investment theses for acquiring companies in the healthcare, technology, industrials, and consumer industries. Out of 12 MBA student teams in the class, three were highlighted in the showcase for their unique perspectives and the investment merits of their proposed buyout targets:
- Freshwater Capital (Connie Wang, Cori Wixon, and Heny Zhu) pitched Mitek, which operates the market leader in mobile image capture for check deposits along with a growing digital identity verification business.
- Bull Capital (Jack Ramsey, Joey Newfield, and Takumi Watanabe) pitched Carriage Services, a provider of funeral home services and a well-positioned consolidator in this highly fragmented market consisting of 80% independent operators.
- Blue Devil Capital (Natalie Behan and Sekou Diarra; winner of audience choice for investment) pitched Lantheus Holdings, a company that is leading the niche market of innovative diagnostics imaging agents with products in precision medicine and radiopharmaceuticals.
To close out the day, attendees saw presentations by student founders in Fuqua Fast Pitch, a celebration of entrepreneurial activity across Fuqua. Students presented a range of exciting ventures:
- E-Sentience (Sloane Tilley, Global Executive MBA ’23) empowers people to improve their health by reporting on their bodies’ fluctuating levels of hormones and neurotransmitters.
- Harness Farms (John Lewis, Master of Management Studies ’23) improves food security and creates jobs by introducing modern tech, best agronomic practices, and investment to the agriculture sector.
- Himayat (Arya Diwase, Daytime MBA ’24) is a comprehensive human resource management and employee benefits platform supporting female domestic workers and their employers in India.
- Lobby (Yash Jain, Daytime MBA ’24) aims to be the Atlassian of design ops, helping design teams scale.
- Minatar Technologies (Asad Quaisrani, Weekend Executive MBA ’24) is bringing the lab to the sample with a mobile mass spectrometer that provides real-time chemical analysis and detection for environmentally sensitive and hazardous gaseous materials.
Arya Diwase’s Himayat was the winner of not only the grand prize, but also the audience choice award and the Dean Yep, Jr. Prize.
“It was meaningful for the conference to be bookended by these exciting presentations showcasing student innovation,” remarked Ben Thomason, Duke I&E’s Managing Director for PEVC. “Hearing pitches for these buyout targets and promising ventures served as a reminder about the role of PE and VC to drive growth and create impact in the world.”
Keynote by David Rubenstein ’70
David Rubenstein ’70, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of The Carlyle Group, joined moderators Shelly Mittal MBA ’23 and Sophie Teague MBA ’23 for the conference’s keynote. Rubenstein—who, Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding noted in his introduction, “invented patriotic philanthropy”—spoke to learnings from his decades in business.
- “I look for people who have the ability to think of something other than their own career—people who have some degree of humility and modesty. […] If you feel you are really more talented than the average person, and you can’t feel humility—fake it.”
- “Entrepreneurs start companies when people are willing to walk through walls and take risks and don’t know what they don’t know. [ …] You have to ignore the consultants of the world who are going to tell you why you can’t do this.”
- “You can get kicked out of your own company, so you have to make yourself valuable. […] I wasn’t a back-slapping, golf-playing, liquor-drinking guy, the kind of thing I imagined fundraisers were doing, but I learned, and I learned the best way to be a fundraiser is to let people talk so you can gauge what you want to say based on what they have on their mind.”
Panelists broad consumer trends along with specific opportunities—such as Formula 1, pickleball, and Asian cooking ingredients. Some highlights:
- Michael Fertitta, Managing Director of JDH Capital: “The trend towards premiumization is turning down. We’re working to find products that average, middle-class Americans need and want.”
- Mary Rachide MBA ’03, Managing Director for ICV Partners: “It used to be that you could have an ad on CBS and you knew 20% of Americans would see it. Now, messaging and products need to be more targeted.”
- Matt Short, Partner with Main Post Partners. “You can’t invest in consumer brands without thinking about ESG. You should care about this because your customer cares about it, and the customer sees through lip service.”
The State of PEVC
Panelists discussed the consequences of the current difficult fundraising environment. Some highlights:
- Dave Nowak MBA ’08, Managing Partner at Brookfield Private Equity: “It’s been relatively easy for a long time. We were all earning on returns and it wasn’t terribly challenging. Now people who violated the core principles—don’t put your balance sheet at risk, liquidity is paramount—are being pushed out of the space. But the rational folks in the ecosystem will get to the other side.”
- Kerstin Dittmar ’06, Managing Partner at L2 Point: “I think we’re going to see more on the M&A side. [Previously] companies could always keep raising to get to IPO, but that’s no longer happening, and many companies make more sense as part of larger companies.”
- Sarah Hinkfuss, Partner at Bain Capital Ventures: “A market like this can create some of the most interesting opportunities. It creates a lot more disruption in companies.”
Advice to Students Interested in PEVC
Many of the panelists shared their insights into how to break into and succeed in private equity and venture capital. Some highlights:
- Dave Nowak MBA ’08, Managing Partner at Brookfield Private Equity: “There are two paths. Elbows up, you’re a shark, make hay while the sun shines—but that’s not a sustainable legacy. [Instead] you can be someone who does what they say they’re going to do.”
- Adam Pilchman ’03, Managing Director, Partners Group: “Every meeting is a pop quiz. Prep beforehand what you may want to say and what questions you have. Try to do the best job at whatever you’re doing.”
- Kerstin Dittmar ’06, Managing Partner at L2 Point: “I had no idea the breadth of different types of things you could do all under the broader umbrella of PEVC. One of my early mistakes was thinking there was only one path, working for a big firm. Keep an open mind, always be willing to look at new opportunities, and see what might spark your interest. There’s not one way to do PE or VC.”