A Start-Up Fund That Lets College Students Make the Decisions

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Most college dormitories are a mixture of unmade beds, fireproof carpeting, beer pong, ramen noodles and that poster of John Belushi in “Animal House.” Investors want to add two more ingredients: successful start-ups and budding venture capitalists.

“We’re trying to help students feel what it is to run a start-up, to take an idea that starts in a dorm room with a bunch of friends and move it out to the market, into the hands of real customers, and hopefully learn what it feels like to build something people really love,” said Phin Barnes, a partner at the venture firm First Round Capital, which is based in Philadelphia.

In September, First Round started the Dorm Room Fund, putting $500,000 in the hands of an 11-member investment team of college students from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. The board has already considered some 200 student-led ventures in the Philadelphia area and selected six for investments averaging $20,000 apiece. The recipients include Firefly, a developer of co-browsing customer support software, and Dagne Dover, a handbag and accessories brand. And starting this spring, First Round is taking the Dorm Room Fund nationwide.

“When we launched in Philadelphia, we asked students to reach out to us if they wanted Dorm Room Fund to come to their cities or schools,” said CeCe Cheng, the fund’s director. “The New York universities had an overwhelming response.”

Applications for a new student-led investment team in New York City closed on March 11. Slots were limited to candidates from Columbia University, Cornell Tech Campus, New York University and Princeton University, though students at any college in the region will be eligible for funding.

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