One of the country’s top student-run venture capital firms is coming to Yale, the company announced today.
Viveca Morris ’15, a staff columnist for the News, and David Chi ’16 have been named University representatives of Dorm Room Fund — a national firm with an investment focus in student entrepreneurship. Over a two-year period that will end in 2015, the DRF will be responsible for distributing $2 million in grants to student companies across the nation. DRF members and entrepreneurship experts interviewed said that Yale student-led innovation is rapidly growing.
“Dorm Room Fund coming to Yale is a testament to the exciting growth of entrepreneurship here,” Morris said. “Companies funded by Yale students are getting recognition beyond New Haven. [DRF’s] belief is that students can both stay in school and start companies that have major impact at the same time.”
According to DRF members, the organization aims to inspire and support startups by giving students small amounts of capital that can help bring their businesses out of the dorm room and into competitive markets. Morris said that part of her and Chi’s role as investment partners will be to seek out Yale companies that can pitch their business ideas to the broader investment group. After these presentations, team members vote whether to grant money — an average of $20,000 — towards the ventures.
In addition to the two Yalies, the New York-based team includes nine students from New York University, Columbia University, Princeton University and Cooper Union. Beyond the New York team, the DRF has groups of students in the Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco areas that vote on whether or not to fund a student company. The student-run fund is financially backed by First Round Capital, which is often ranked as one of the top venture capital firms in the United States.
Chi said that there are many recent examples of successful startups founded by Yale students. He said companies like SilviaTerra, which works to broaden society’s understanding of forests and ecosystems, and PaperG, a company focusing on moving print advertising online, illustrate how successful Yale student-run business ventures are not new to campus.
Morris said that Yale students are good at pinpointing a given issue and figuring out how to solve it, often through startups and small businesses. The two agreed that the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and the Yale Medical School are good resources for innovative students.
“There is all this energy and talent being put into solving these problems,” Chi said. “It’s a really important time at Yale.”
DRF Director CeCe Cheng said that DRF chose to come to Yale because the company saw a talented pool of young entrepreneurs in the student body.
Cheng added that students should not be discouraged when trying to launch a new business, especially when surrounded by resources like the YEI and DRF.
“Fail or succeed, you are guaranteed to learn more in a startup environment than anywhere else,” Cheng said.
Deputy Director of the YEI Erika Smith said that her office is excited that DRF chose to come to Yale. Smith said that DRF and programs at the YEI, namely the Venture Creation Program, will be complementary in that DRF can build off of the network of student entrepreneurs who already exist at Yale.
Speaking more broadly on the growth of student companies, Smith said that interest in startups is at its all time high. Smith added that twice as many teams applied for YEI funding through the Venture Creation Program — an opportunity for early-stage businesses.
“It’s increasing exponentially,” Smith said of student entrepreneurship. “The fact that you can have ideas, receive capital and not have to quit school or go on a road show is quite important.”
Rebecca Su ’16, who was a 2014 YEI Summer Fellow working for a tech startup, said that it is an exciting time to be a student entrepreneur on campus. She said that before she became involved with the YEI she was unaware of students’ involvement in entrepreneurship, but now she sees the movement building momentum.
DRF was founded in 2012.