Van Clouse grooms business students to compete; receives Trustees Award
Van Clouse will be the first to tell you he’s not a traditional faculty member.
Clouse, the Cobb Family Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Louisville College of Business, wasn’t hired to do research or publish scholarly articles. He was brought in to show students how to beat the pants off their peers in business plan contests.
Since he joined UofL in 1986, Clouse has built the business school into a virtual powerhouse of entrepreneurship—a feat that has earned him the 2012 UofL Trustees Award.
Last year, a team of master of business administration students under his tutelage, TNG Pharmaceuticals, won the global Venture Labs Investment Competition, earning more than $800,000 in prize money along the way.
“In the beginning, he didn’t know we would become the best in the world, but he sure treated us that way,” said Jenny Corbin, the UofL MBA student who led TNG. “I was not the smartest student nor did I have great GMAT scores, but he gave me the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Max Brudner, another TNG member, said Clouse was more than a professor and mentor.
“He defines what a professor should be. If we had a question or concern, he was always there with a suggestion. It seemed like he was always around the corner.”
Over the years, Clouse’s students have won or placed at dozens of business plan contests across the country. What’s more, his current or former students have started no fewer than 33 businesses, including Bluegrass Brewing Co., Genscape and NanoMark Therapeutics.
College of Business Dean Charlie Moyer, who nominated Clouse for the Trustees Award, called him “the heart and soul of our nationally acclaimed entrepreneur program.”
Over the past five years, Moyer said, “our teams have won more business plan competitions and competed more at the national level than any other school.”
In 1997, Clouse founded the Ballard Morton New Venture Competition, an event that offers an initial competitive experience for UofL business students. He also founded the Cardinal Challenge Business Plan Competition, a regional contest held in Louisville every year since 2008.
Clouse uses a wide range of techniques to prepare his students for competition. He videotapes their sales pitches and offers feedback. He teaches them how to explain their business start-up ideas in less than 60 seconds (called “the elevator pitch”).
He urges them to communicate “what investors want to know, but said in words your grandmother can understand.”
He even shows them how to size up competing teams so they can figure out a way to gain an edge over them.
“Over the years, we’ve developed a pretty thorough approach (to preparing students for contests),” he said. “Now we work with each team for a year to get them ready. We’re pretty tough on them.”