Most college students are hyperfocused on their own interview prep during the school year. But interviews looked a little different this semester for the 29 Emory students involved in the Peachtree Minority Venture Fund.
As part of the first student-run fund dedicated to supporting underrepresented entrepreneurs from Black, LatinX, and Native American communities, these students are learning what it takes to source deal flow, interview founders, analyze startups, and ultimately deploy early-stage capital into diverse founders across the country.
We had a chance to sit down with several students involved in the fund to hear about how the first semester went and what they are taking away from this hands-on experience.
MEET THE TEAM
The team is tackling the two-fold problem in the VC space. Minority founders receive less than 3% of all US venture capital investments, while those from underrepresented backgrounds continue to struggle to get seats on the VC side of the table.
Students in this inaugural class come from Australia, Romania, Costa Rica, India, Iran, Jamaica, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, and across the US. And they represent a range of professional backgrounds. Simran Modi is an entrepreneur-turned-law student. Ash Shankar and Yael Cohen are both current BBA undergraduate students. Aliya White studied international relations and computer science before starting her MBA, while Ardalan Javadi worked in the investment space in Iran before returning to school.
The team is made up of 5 Managing Partners, 6 senior associates, and 18 analysts evaluating startups in FinTech, CPG, manufacturing, energy, IT, and other important tech verticals.
The five managing partners this year include Dylan Cowley (COO), Alexia Brown (MP of Curriculum), Jack Semrau and Miguel Vergara (MP deal sourcing and portfolio management), and Humza Mirza (MP of Marketing and Recruiting).
Mirza told Hypepotamus that working with the fund over the last year has put him “on another trajectory altogether and in the best position possible to break into venture capital. More importantly, I’m better equipped to address the glaring issues regarding the inequitable access to capital to underrepresented minority founders.”
Throughout the semester students attended classes about the ins and outs of investing, the importance of DEI efforts in entrepreneurship, and met with current VCs and founders alike.
“We knew there was a disparity in terms of how money is being allocated across different communities. But just seeing how wide it is, that was really eye-opening to us,” said Vinay Srivastava, an MBA student concentrating in finance. “And hearing from both underrepresented founders and investors about their experiences in raising money…that was also very surprising.”
In one class, Professor Demetrius Lewis had the students draw out their personal networks. The exercise was about more than just understanding “who’s who” within their list of friends and colleagues; it was about learning what strengths they can bring to the investing table.
MBA student Nikhil Mathur said this showcased that “what makes a good investor is someone with a diverse network. Someone who doesn’t go in close-minded saying: This person doesn’t look like me, I don’t want to invest. Or they didn’t do what I did before or didn’t go to the right schools, so I don’t want to invest.”
Cosmin Ticu, data science by training, said the class has helped him realize that investing is beyond just thinking about portfolio returns.
“Coming from a background of statistics, where you try to quantify yes or no decisions, played as a bit of a bias for me. I realized that the best investors are the ones that invest in people and make connections very early on,” Ticu told Hypepotamus.
Other students have had a similar experience. BBA student Keyi (Vicky) Chen told Hypepotamus that she learned that “VC can do more than just invest money. We can pay back to society.” Especially since the fund is working with early-stage companies, Chen added that “investing in people is much more important than just focusing on the financial performance.”
For Chris Sanchez, it has been an opportunity to experience a bit of the “really aggressive pace” VCs have to work at in order to join certain deals. “As a senior associate, we have to be a mediator between “Big Emory,” our MPs, and trickle-down any changes in schedule to our analysts.”
ABOUT THE FUND
The $1 million fund, housed in The Roberto C. Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, looks at pre-seed and seed deals from across the country. The team plans on writing its first check in the coming weeks.
MBA student Saif Nazrul was attracted to the fund because of its hands-on approach. “Most of the composition of the board, decision-makers, managing partners, are university students. So that means you can just get your hands dirty from the get-go,” he said.
The fund may be new to campus, but it has already been a good recruiting tool. First-year MBA student Julian Smith said learning about the fund was actually a big draw for Emory during the application process.
The fund is part of a campus-wide shift as more students show interest in impact investing, VC, and the innovation economy. Goizueta itself now has 15 courses focused on entrepreneurship, and students who are part of Peachtree Minority Ventures say these classes often carry a waitlist due to popularity.
In the last two years alone the university also opened The Hatchery, an innovation center for students across all academic disciplines, and the Roberto C. Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.
Importantly, the fund is far from a one-semester experiment. Just this week PMVF announced next year’s managing partners will be Stephanie Schorsch, Julian Smith, Aliya White, Tim Lam, Nikhil Mathur, and Jack Semrau.
As the fund gets ready to deploy its first checks later this spring, the team is poised to change the narrative around who has access to the VC space moving forward. Many students plan on exploring careers in VC after graduation, and many will be returning next year to continue to hone their skills and help build up the next generation of startup founders.