University entrepreneurship programs are picking up steam across the country — more and more students are foregoing corporate careers for startup life in hopes of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg story. But thus far, most university-centered programs have focused on the would-be entrepreneur, not the other side of the startup equation — the funder.
A new venture firm has launched to change that, bringing the ability to serve on the VC side directly to undergraduate students. Contrary Capital was started by a 25-year-old entrepreneur and is backed by founders of companies like Tesla, SoFi and Twitch. The fund, which officially launched last week, has only made investments in two companies thus far (out of UC San Diego and Brigham Young University), but spent last year recruiting high-potential students at over 50 of the country’s top universities to serve as LPs.
This includes Georgia Tech undergraduate Indra Sofian. A business major, Sofian was contacted by Contrary’s founder over a year ago about becoming a partner.
A startup founder himself, Sofian serves as Co-Director of Startup Exchange, the university’s student entrepreneur community organization, where he says he helps connect members with resources like VC firms and accelerators such as Techstars and Y Combinator. He has experience working at a Silicon Valley venture firm.
Sofia and Georgia Tech’s other Contrary partner, Wesley Samples, will now hunt out the most promising student-led startups to invest in. Checks could be anywhere between $50,000 to $200,000. It’s a solid intermediary amount between typical university entrepreneurship programs (Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X program, for example, funds up to $20K) and a typical startup seed round.
Sofian says he and Samples will use their network and boots on the ground research to find these companies.
“We go to demo days, startup showcases, and other similar events, but most of the time we just keep our ears to the ground and use our personal networks to find companies. In some cases, they reach out to us,” says Sofian.
“Aside from our own personal research and networks, we also rely pretty heavily on the network that Contrary provides us,” he says. “For example, if we’re researching a consumer tech startup here at Tech, we can put out a call to our Contrary network and probably find Partners or their associates that are experienced in that industry.”
Sofian says that student founders are not the only entrepreneurs that could be served by Contrary Capital — anyone in the university ecosystem would qualify. That means graduate students, faculty, or even recent alumni.
“We believe that the most important part of any startup we look at is the team. We want founders who have a maniacal focus on their company’s vision. Within these companies, we want to see something that indicates success — incredible proprietary tech, traction, growth, things like that,” says Sofian.
Sofian and Wesley will both graduate this year, at which point they will age out of Contrary Capital and be replaced by new student investors. They plan to focus on growing their company, a content marketing and video production agency.
“We see Contrary Capital as a great way of helping our university entrepreneur ecosystem, something we’re both passionate about,” says Sofian.