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Thunderbird Pitch Competition is a T-bird Family Affair

December 2, 2019

Students, alumni keep entrepreneurial spirit alive in month-long business idea competition 

The winners of Thunderbird’s 2019 Pitch Competition were ready to share the lessons learned as they created their first place business, Kalitunsi Tree Fund.  

T-birds Paul Gasaatura and Nicholas Vandam created Kalitunsi Tree Fund as a means to scale eucalyptus forest investments in Uganda. Natural forests and woodlands across Africa can no longer keep pace with the required demand and the resulting deforestation is degrading the environment.  

Paul and Nicholas were there to pitch their investment fund, which is designed to sequester Co2 emissions, provide transmission poles to electrify the region, and generate a strong financial return for investors. The Kalitunsi Tree Fund is based on an ESG investing model, a category of investment choices that blend environmental, social and governance factors with traditional investment evaluations. 

They were ready for the panel of judges. Ready to share how their business is different from similar projects. Ready to explain what problems they aim to solve and how. And ready to explain how they value their business and why investors should join them in their quest. 

Kalitunsi Tree

Paul and Nicholas knew that their best tactic was to be brief and as clear as possible. They knew what their strengths were and planned to accentuate them. Following their 5-minute pitch, Paul and Nicholas, founders of Kalitunsi Tree Fund, were ready to answer any questions that came their way during the 8-minute Q&A. And they won first place.

The competition’s top three finalists were: 

First Place 

Kalitunsi Tree Fund

Founders: Paul Gasaatura, MGM; and Nicholas Vandam, MGM

Second Place

SampleSpace

Founders: Fred Zlaket, MGM; Tiong Poh Sheng; Vinu Raj Subramaniyan Radha, MGM 

Third Place

Pauline Foundation, a nonprofit created to help empower at-risk youth in Uganda

Founder: Pauline Nalumansi, MA in Global Affairs and Management 

Strength from the Thunderbird Family 

Paul and Nicholas came away from the event with first place, $3,000 and lots of lessons picked up along the way as they prepared to share their business plans with the alumni judges. But the biggest lesson they learned was not one you often find in blog posts about meeting with venture capitalists (VCs).

A few days after the contest, after the dust had settled and Kalitunsi Tree Fund had won first place, Paul said: “It’s great to have the opportunity to work with others you are friends with and trust. Look for partnerships within those people.”

“ ‘It’s great to have the opportunity to work with others you are friends with and trust. Look for partnerships within those people.’ ~ T-bird Pitch winner” Click to tweet

Paul’s sentiments about partnering with trustworthy friends seemed to define the whole process. Thunderbird students joined forces to create enterprises and alumni returned to campus as judges and sponsors. 

Alumni judges included Andrew Ogawa, James Geraghty, Megan Groves, and Rabie Zahri who supported all teams during the pitch competition and provided valuable feedback during preparation.

Andrew Ogawa, ’98, co-sponsored the event along with Thunderbird’s student-led entrepreneurship club, Thunderpreneurs. 

Pitch Day Workshop, Pitch Day Qualifiers & Pitch Competition

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The Nov. 8 Pitch Competition and victory for Paul and Nicholas came after a 4-hour Art of Pitching Workshop on Oct. 3 and a Pitch Day Qualifier on Oct. 25. The process was open to all on-campus MGM, MAGAM, and undergraduate students who have a business idea, whether it is for-profit or non-profit. 

“ ‘Pitch Competition taught me the value of a solid business plan when pitching to investors and gave me the foundation I needed to become a successful entrepreneur.’ ~ T-bird Pitch sponsor.” Click to tweet

The top three businesses were awarded $3,000, $1,500 and $1,000 and the rest of the students who qualified for Pitch Day received $500 in prize money.

“One of my fondest memories as a T-bird was the Pitch Competition,” Ogawa said, explaining why he sponsors the competition. “It taught me the value of a solid business plan when pitching to investors and gave me the foundation I needed to become a successful entrepreneur."

Thanks to Thunderbird Alumni Judges 

Andrew Ogawa, 1998 MBA 
Board member at CarlIQ and managing partner at Quest Venture Partners. TGAN - Thunderbird Global Alumni Network Member

James Geraghty, 2006 MBA in International Business
Founder and General Partner at Equipo Ventures LLC
Co-founder and Partner, Equipo Ventures, venture capital and private equity firm 

Rabie Zahri, 2010 MBA in Global Strategy 
Global Corporate Development (M&A Operations) at Hewlett Packard Enterprise 
MSE, MBA | Global Corporate Development

Megan Groves, 2012 MBA in Global Marketing and Business Strategy
Founder and CEO, Modular Marketing an acceleration team and growth partner that augments emerging tech companies 

Pauline Nalumansi

 


Q&A from the First Place Winners of the Thunderbird Pitch Competition  

T-birds Paul Gasaatura and Nicholas Vandam created Kalitunsi Tree Fund as a means to scale eucalyptus forest investments in Uganda. Paul Gasaatura explained their goals and lessons learned. 

In one or two paragraphs, what is the Kalitunsi Tree Fund?

Paul Gasaatura: Kalitunsi is an investment fund designed around ESG principals. We are aiming to hit a triple bottom line by addressing environmental, social, and financial issues through growing forests in Uganda. Kalitunsi will do this by investing in the scaling of a pilot forest in Southwestern Uganda. Through investing in eucalyptus trees at scale, we can grow forests that will offset Co2 emissions, provide much-needed transmissions poles to spread electricity through eastern Africa, and through those two activities generate a strong ROI for investors. We believe that sustainability should be able to coexist with capitalism in Africa and aim to provide that synchrony through our forest investments.

What problem is your project solving? 

Paul Gasaatura: We are aligning sustainability with profitability. Hopefully, by proving out the model we inspire further investment in the region. 

How has your time at Thunderbird helped define your project or support your goals?  

Paul Gasaatura: We spent the summer in Zambia interning for a private equity fund managed by a Thunderbird grad. During that time we spoke often of investment opportunities in the region. We are bringing together a common practice of farming eucalyptus forest with the idea of large corporations looking to offset Co2 emissions. We see this as a great opportunity to invest in Africa, provide a social benefit, and bring a return to investors in the hopes that they will continue to invest in the region. 

What lessons would you like to share with other students?  

Paul Gasaatura: In creating a pitch or an idea, think simple. How can you present an idea as simply as possible, while focused on the material that investors want to hear? Also, you don't have to reinvent the wheel, just think on how to combine common things in a unique application. And lastly, leverage your strengths. 

What will you and your team do with the cash winnings? 

Paul Gasaatura: Invest in travel to Uganda, and look to begin to draft the legal framework in order to raise capital for the investment.

Anything else you'd like to share about your project and the process of pitching it? 

Paul Gasaatura: It’s great to have the opportunity to work with others you are friends with and trust. Look for partnerships within those people.

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