In charge of a $500,000 venture capital fund, a group of 10 students from Utah universities are trying to find and fund the best entrepreneurs on local campuses.
As investment associates for Campus Founders Fund, they meet weekly to hear pitches from students and then collectively decide whether or not to fund them.
If funded, student businesses will receive up to $20,000 and mentorship from industry experts such as Instructure CEO Josh Coates, BoomStartup founder Robb Kunz and Lucid Software Director of Operations Dan Cook, according to the fund’s site.
“I think we’re filling a huge gap,” said Alex Spencer, a 25-year-old student associate of the fund.
For numerous reasons, student-run businesses often struggle to find funding and rely on family and friends to get off the ground. One of those reasons is traditional funds are hesitant to invest in full-time students, said the fund’s director Morgan Davis.
Campus Founders Fund acts as the starting point for these types of businesses, providing them with just enough funding to test their idea, build a prototype or improve their marketing, he said.
The fund is sponsored by Kickstart Seed Fund, where Davis also works as an associate. It exists because the local seed fund saw a need but couldn’t allot time or resources to such a small deal, he said. When investing, the seed fund typically stays in the $100,000 to million dollar range.
So in August, Campus Founders Fund was born. Its investment team is currently made up of students from Brigham Young University, University of Utah and Utah Valley University, with the potential to branch out into other Utah schools soon, Davis said. Students from any school in Utah, public or private, high school or university, are eligible to pitch to the investment team.
The team hears about three student pitches a week, and has yet to choose one for funding. According to Spencer, if an idea or student startup is not quite ready, the group will provide feedback and then encourage presenters to come back and try again in a couple of weeks.
“We take it very seriously,” he said.
One of the fund’s differentiators is that it is made up of student investment associates from multiple backgrounds and specialities, Spencer said. Team members are studying majors ranging from finance to engineering.
Because he studies electrical engineering, Spencer said it’s important to him that student presenters have something tangible — either a basic product, prototype or measurable metric — in order for him to recommend funding.
“Venture capital is a career where you’re empowering people to build something from nothing, and that’s pretty cool,” he said.
An entrepreneur himself, the BYU senior is currently involved with two startups and thinks working as an investment associate now will only continue to prove beneficial in the future.
“When I’m raising money myself I’ll know what it’s like to be on the other side of the table,” he said.
Davis said the investment team is designed to be self-sustaining; team members are responsible for finding replacements when they graduate. When originally seeking out the first 10 team members, Davis said he looked for students who are passionate about venture capital and entrepreneurship.
Instead of having interns, Campus Founders Fund will act as a partnership with Kickstart Seed Fund, providing student investment associates with real responsibility and experience, Davis said. He hopes it will also keep the seed fund involved with student entrepreneurship in the area, he said.