If you’ve been to a student innovation contest or university entrepreneur club meeting recently, you’ll know that colleges are bursting with entrepreneurial talent. With companies like Facebook and Microsoft being conceived and started by students, wouldn’t it make sense to have a venture fund focused on these startups, to provide them with pre-seed funding, connect them to mentors, and introduce them to the entrepreneur ecosystem?
That’s where Campus Founders Fund comes in. Kickstart Seed Fund handpicked a team of ten students from various Utah universities, gave us $500,000, and then sent us out in search of student startups. We function the same way as any other venture fund – sourcing our deal flow, holding weekly pitch and partner meetings, and conducting due diligence.
What’s different about CFF is that in some ways, it’s like a startup in and of itself. Being the first cohort means that the team has a precedent to set, not only in how we run the fund, but also in what we can do for the entrepreneurs who pitch to us. For example, there was a company we passed on funding because its business model wasn’t a good fit for venture, but one of our members liked the idea and helped connect the founder with potential community partners. Those are the kinds of connections CFF wants to facilitate; rather than just giving entrepreneurs $20k, we want to help them grow their businesses and see them succeed.
Being a part of the fund has also pushed us farther into Utah’s startup community. All of us on the investment team are in tech and/or business and a few of us have our own businesses or have worked in venture before, but CFF has motivated us to network and contribute even more, making us integrated members of the entrepreneur space here in Utah. We frequent e-club meetings and 1 Million Cups events – and if you’re going to StartSLC at the end of this month, you’ll catch us there too.
CFF’s funding is limited to startups with at least one student (current or very recently graduated) on the team, which might lead to the misconception that we have no interest in non-students. In reality, many of the startups that pitch to us are looking for good people to add to their teams, so we always keep our eyes open for coders, designers, and other professionals who are excited to work with student entrepreneurs. We also aim to be Utah’s most approachable VC firm, which means we’re open to hearing and giving feedback on pitches or ideas, whether or not they’re from a student.
Although Campus Founders Fund could be considered an experiment, the effects and impact are very real. In the few months that CFF has been in existence, we’ve already funded two companies: Bettrnet, a cyber-security software geared towards parents, and 6S Medical, a device company making trocars with innovative wound closure techniques, with more to come. Hearing their pitches and going through due diligence for these two startups was as much a learning experience for us as it was for them. In the end, that’s really the goal of CFF – not to give away $20,000 convertible notes, but to educate college entrepreneurs on both sides of the table on the intricate workings of the venture process. And of course, hopefully we’ll be able to look back and say that we funded the next Facebook.
Minna Wang is a partner at Campus Founders Fund, a student-run VC fund and a biomedical engineering undergraduate at the University of Utah. To pitch to CFF or for more information, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.campusfounders.com.