May 26, 2020

Financial RSOs Hosted Inaugural UChicago Investing Forum via Zoom

Several investment-focused RSOs, including The Blue Chips Investment Club (TBC), Maroon Capital, and Learn to Fly (LTF) Ventures hosted the inaugural UChicago Investing Forum during the week of April 11 through April 18.

The virtual forum featured workshops and panel discussions on topics such as private equity investing, investment research, and venture capital. Guests included Alex Fitch, an associate director of U.S. research at Harris Associates; Chris McGowan, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the Chicago Booth School of Business; and Michael Vander Roest (M.B.A. ’16), vice president of Baird Principal Group.

The forum opened and closed with “Fireside Chats” from Steven Kaplan, Neubauer Family Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at Booth, and Steve Strongin (A.B. ’79, A.M. ’82), a senior advisor at Goldman Sachs, respectively.

At the closing Fireside Chat on April 18, Strongin addressed several contemporary issues. When asked about ongoing discussions about reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, Strongin said, “There is no economic program that’s going to tell you to open a bar in a major city…. You have to answer the medical question.”

Originally, the forum was slated to take place on April 11 as a full-day, in-person event with short face-to-face Q&A sessions following each workshop and panel discussion at Booth. However, with concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the forum was instead moved to a weeklong series of dispersed events, all taking place over Zoom.

Events largely followed a lecture-style format. While face-to-face interaction was not possible, several, such as the venture capital workshop hosted by LTF Ventures, featured visual aids and other special features, such as slideshows, screen-sharing, and case studies. Each event also concluded with a Q&A session, either consisting of questions read aloud by audience members, or submitted through an input feature in Zoom.

When asked about the decision to spread the forum out over a week, Agnay Mohindra, fourth-year student in the College and senior board member for the forum, said that it had to do with concerns about audience engagement: “We thought that that would increase engagement, as somebody is less likely to stay engaged for, like, nine hours in a row. So, we made it a daily thing.”

Third-year Brandon Bleyer, president of TBC, echoed these concerns, saying, “The main problem I have with Zoom seminars is that you lose the instantaneous human feedback. It’s difficult to know how the audience responds or if they comprehend the information that I’m sharing.”

However, Bleyer also said that the online platform may have facilitated engagement. “I appreciate how [Zoom] allows people to join from anywhere,” he said, “[It] definitely increased the event’s accessibility.”

On the topic of maximizing audience engagement, Mohindra discussed an attempt to leave ample time for Q&A sessions, as well as an effort to check in with panelists before each event about engagement and interactivity: “The panelists joined [the Zoom event] like five, 10 minutes before, and we discussed with them how things are going.”

When asked about the logistics of moving to a weeklong, online format, Mohindra said that, while preliminary discussions about changing the format began roughly six to eight weeks prior to the forum, the final decision was made during spring break, once the gravity of the pandemic was known.

“Things were still unclear before spring break,” Mohindra said. “Initially, our plan was that maybe the first 100 attendees get to come to Booth, and then the rest of it would be virtual…. During spring break, when we realized that basically, there would be no one on campus and Booth was closed, we were forced to move it online.”

Mohindra also said that, because the events were independent of one another, the transition to a weeklong format was relatively seamless.

“There were no real [logistical] links between any of the events. The venture capital workshop had no bearing on the quantitative finance workshop, the quant workshop had no bearing on the value investing workshop…. They were individualized, which is why we were able to have an event a day,” said Mohindra. “If it were more linked…like the panels follow on from each other, then it would have been impossible, in my opinion.”

In particular, Mohindra credited fourth-year College student and forum co-founder Henry Gao with ensuring that the events were independent of one another, allowing this transition to be logistically feasible.

Despite the relative success of the event, Mohindra said that “nothing can replace an in-person forum.”

“The forum is not only a chance for students to learn, but it’s also a chance for students and panelists to meet each other,” he continued. “Even for the panelists, they want to interact with people in the same industry as them. They want to expand their network, and I think [that adds] a huge amount of challenge to that.”

Specifically, Mohindra mentioned that plans originally included opportunities for panelists and other guests to meet between sessions in order to interact and network. However, this became impossible with the long-distance format.

However, despite saying a live, single-day forum would be “more effective” in his opinion, he also said that he was “very pleasantly surprised at the engagement,” especially during the Q&A sessions.