As an 18-year-old senior at Yale, Nick Slavin ’02 started Bulldog Exploration Co., an oil production company. Now, he hopes to use his expertise to guide the next generation of innovators on college campuses around the world.
Slavin, who has since founded an energy and sustainability-oriented venture capital fund, is launching a new fellowship program for student entrepreneurs in colleges and graduate schools. Unlike other programs, Slavin Fellows are expected to be current students, and this year, the fellowship is expected to choose three to five inaugural fellows. Winners of the fellowship will receive a $2,500 scholarship and mentorship from a community of entrepreneurs organized by Slavin.
“One challenge that student entrepreneurs face is having so many life options and having to make important choices with limited information and experience,” Slavin said. “Part of the foundation’s value to fellows will be offering a guiding hand to students evaluating options for their company and their life.”
Slavin said the idea for Bulldog Exploration came rather unexpectedly from his senior project in the economics major about barriers to entry in oil exploration and production. After interviewing industry executives for the thesis, he realized that he had learned enough to build an exploration and production company from scratch. He started to work on a business plan and a private placement memorandum alongside his thesis. After attracting enough investors, Slavin launched the company in 2001. For the next 10 years, he built the company into an onshore oil exploration firm that operated in Texas and Louisiana.
What makes Slavin’s story more remarkable is that, at the time, student-created startups were far more of an anomaly then than they are today.
“I started my first company as a college student at a time when there wasn’t a lot of support for student entrepreneurs,” he said.
His experience as a student entrepreneur with little support is a driving motivation for the creation of the fellowship, he said. Slavin said that though college campuses now benefit from more support, citing programs such as the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, he believes students with brilliant ideas are often not attracted to these programs.
The Slavin Fellowship, launched through the Slavin Family Foundation, targets “entrepreneurial students who do not wish to drop out of school,” according to Jeff Andrews FES ’94, special advisor to the foundation.
“In my opinion, the often-heard choice between obtaining a traditional university education and pursuing the entrepreneurial spirit is a false one,” he said.
Slavin said many entrepreneurs have dropped out of school, including a successful Thiel Fellow that he now works with. However, he said, he wants to show that this is not the only option. A large part of the fellowship’s goal is to help fellows balance their school life with their entrepreneurial ventures, a common challenge for student entrepreneurs, School of Management professor Olav Sorenson said. Sorenson serves on the fellowship’s Board of Advisors.
Sorenson notes that the fellowship, which has no special quota for Yale students, would complement the growing interest in entrepreneurship on campus. He said the SOM has made a large push in promoting the startup climate by adding courses on entrepreneurship and hosting a wide range of seminars and activities. However, these activities and connections remain largely local, and the Slavin Fellowship would give Yale entrepreneurs a broader network.
“Students interested in starting their own ventures often find themselves torn between classes, paying for school and pursuing their entrepreneurial passions,” he said.
He added that the fellowship could help ease that tension. For example, the small scholarship that fellows receive can free up time for ventures, which otherwise might be spent on an on-campus job.
The fellowship is intended to last for one year.
Correction, Sept. 22: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the class year of Jeff Andrews. He is FES ’94, not ART ’94.