School Ties

You probably never considered your alma mater as an option for raising capital. Today, schools nationwide offer funding help.
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5 min read

This story appears in the November 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you are a college graduate, chances are your alma mater has called you asking for money. But have you ever called them for money? If not, maybe it's time to turn the tables and learn what the "U" can do for you.

Across the country, colleges and universities are recognizing the value of entrepreneurship. Your alma mater might be able to help you learn fund-raising skills or network with potential investors. The school may even be able to finance your company.


Go Bucks
The University of Michigan's Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor supports the Wolverine Venture Fund, a multimillion-dollar effort co-managed by students, faculty and professional VC advisors. Likewise, the University of Maryland in College Park helped launch the $20 million New Markets Growth Fund, which leverages many of the school's resources into investments in the Maryland, northern Virginia and Washington, DC, areas.

Taking this concept to the extreme is the University Venture Fund, which recently announced that it has some $18 million to invest in new and growing companies. The UVF pulls investors, student managers and portfolio companies from four campuses: Brigham Young University, The University of Utah, Westminster College and Wharton School of Business. Jared Hutchings, the fund's managing director, says the fund will roll out offices at two more schools in 2007.

Hutchings says the fund's key advantage is its deep ties to the university communities and student bodies. "We don't mandate that capital go to alumni," he says. "But we certainly give preferential treatment to people associated with the [universities]."

The on-campus presence of funds makes them more accessible than most professionally managed funds. Entrepreneurs who can make it back to campus will have no trouble finding someone from these funds' large teams of managers. "The way you get preferential treatment [for your company] is that we have students working in the fund, so presenting your ideas to these students is the first step," advises Hutchings. "We like to think that if there's anything happening on campus, we'll know about it."


Network It
Of course, not every college supports a venture fund--most do not. But what most schools do have is an on-campus entrepreneurship center where business owners and would-be entrepreneurs can go for advice and contacts. For a list of schools with these centers, check out the National Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers, housed at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Balky Nair was an MBA student at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City when he founded high-tech sensor designer Emisensewith Ashok Joshi. During that time, Nair came across the University Venture Fund and the university's Department of Technology Venture Development, which works with local companies.

Currently, Nair is trying to raise $5 million for new manufacturing capacity, and he continues to rely on his network at the university to keep him moving in the right direction. "I'm closely connected with faculty and definitely use them as a resource--mostly to bounce ideas off of and do reality checks," says Nair, 35. "They scrutinized [my business and funding plan] in great detail." Nair, who projects nearly $1 million in sales for 2006, credits his network at the university with helping clarify the fundraising process and the viewpoints of VCs.

Like Nair, Nate Thurgood, 26, found that the University of Utah had the right outlets for fundraising. Even though he had been closely associated with the UVF as a student, it was a college professor who introduced Thurgood to a VC firm willing to fund BelleHavens, a luxury destination club in Salt Lake City that needed substantial cash to acquire vacation properties around the world. With the VC's financial support, Thurgood took on the project as co-founder and vice president of strategy. "A lot of professors are well-connected in the business community," says Thurgood, who projects sales between $5 million and $10 million for 2006. "The more prestigious the school, the more connected [it is]. But even at smaller schools, there are professors who can link you up with angels or institutional money."


Get Educated
Stanford University, a longtime leader in entrepreneurship and technology, is well-connected among VCs and high-net-worth investors in Silicon Valley. Now, anyone can leverage those relationships to learn fundraising secrets by browsing Stanford's "Educators Corner", offering full-length audio recordings, short video clips and volumes of PDF case studies from the area's business leaders. The video lessons from VCs and high-growth entrepreneurs are especially valuable. Currently available on the site are monologues from visionaries like Guy Kawasaki of and Larry Page of Google, plus VC stars like Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Heidi Roizen of Mobius Venture Capital.

"If someone's interested in raising money, they can get these words of wisdom from people who have been there," says Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. Part of the School of Engineering, Seelig's department is responsible for organizing guest lecturers, recording their speeches and archiving the files online. "We have had 400,000 podcasts downloaded this year," she says.

Stanford also offers continuing education courses and free public resources to help entrepreneurs understand fundraising. Says Seelig, "They'll go out looking for money much better prepared."


Back to School
These days, schools understand the vital and interconnected roles investors and entrepreneurs play and are offering continuing education classes, library resources, business plan competitions, incubators and an array of advisors. In the end, going back to school might pay off like never before.

David Worrellis author of the e-book Finding Funding.


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