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The Youngest Managing Partner of a Venture Fund Shares His Best Advice for College Entrepreneurs
In 2010 Jeremy Fiance arrived on UC Berkeley's campus as a college freshman. He already had an entrepreneur spirit and was surprised he couldn't find a community or set of resources to plug into.
Berkeley alumni had been responsible for founding Apple, Intel, Tesla, and too many other successful companies to count. Yet, there was very little established on campus to cultivate this spirit.
Fiance decided to do some homework.
Was Berkeley really a good breeding ground to start a company?
In his quest for answers, he built the largest database of Berkeley startups ever. He discovered that, over the past decade, Berkeley founders had been involved in 26 major exits ($100M or more), in 12 IPOs, and in 10 active unicorns.
These and other findings ultimately fueled Fiance to author an 85-page senior thesis around why Berkeley was, in fact, a hotbed for entrepreneurship.
Yet in contrast to other top schools (especially nearby Stanford), Berkeley did not have a venture fund focused on investing in students and alumni. This realization was the genesis of the House Fund, a college accelerator focused on investing in Berkeley’s top student, faculty, and alumni startups across a multitude of different industries.
I recently sat down with Fiance to get his best advice for college entrepreneurs looking to build a business.
Put yourself out there.
Most students don't arrive on campus knowing they want to start a company. They don't tend to be self-identified entrepreneurs (Fiance notes that Stanford is an exception). Instead, they tend to be risk-averse and, in many cases, haven't been around the block enough times to seriously consider the entrepreneurial path.
By scheduling countless coffee dates, searching high and low for aspiring entrepreneurs, and developing connections to various campus organizations, Fiance has been able to uncover students who are solving problems that might transpire into business opportunities (even when the to-be founders don't realize the opportunities exist).
Jeremy explains, “It takes a leader to put oneself out there and discover untapped entrepreneurial potential.”
Putting yourself out there is an effective way to vet your ideas, discover new potential business opportunities, and find future co-founders.
Build a community.
Unknown "House" Fund is meant to convey the notion that founders are part of something bigger than themselves. They are part of a family. According to Fiance, a strong sense of community is critical.
Unlike many college accelerators, the House Fund is not insular. Many of its events (ranging from speaker events with iconic Cal founders such as Warby Parker CEO Dave Gilboa to boot camps) are open to the public. By fostering a strong sense of community, The House Fund strategically brings people of varied interests and backgrounds together and encourages the sharing of ideas.
Entrepreneurs should strive to build a community presence. Attending startup meetups and industry events will increase your exposure to other entrepreneurs and new promising ideas and opportunities.
Create a physical presence.
For Fiance, it was important that the House Fund have a physical presence on campus. The House Fund occupies an award-winning space designed by a team that was also responsible for designing and building offices for Dropbox, GitHub, and many other breakthrough companies.
Fiance likens the fund's distinct physical space to a watering hole. According to Fiance, a physical presence is important because it discourages entrepreneurs from building and working in isolation. By working alongside other people who are passionate about hacking and building, there's greater opportunity to share ideas and ultimately improve overall performance and success.
Regardless of whether you are part of an incubator or accelerator program, there’s value in physically embedding yourself in a community of entrepreneurs who you can bounce ideas off of and who will inspire you with new avenues of exploration.
Leverage industry experts.
The House Fund invests in a wide range of technologies and industries. It’s impossible to be an expert in all domains. I asked Fiance how he goes about selecting startups to invest in. How, for instance, does he assess ventures that are building a technology that he doesn’t entirely understand, or that are tackling a market he’s unfamiliar with?
The key, according to Fiance, is to leverage industry experts. The House Fund actively manages relationships with industry experts, as well as with representatives from many Fortune 1000 companies. These experts assist Fiance and team with vetting prospective startups and determining whether they have legs.
Entrepreneurs who develop strong connections to industry experts are better able to determine whether their product or solution has legs and a path to market.
Fiance explains, “there isn’t a playbook for launching a fund.” Similarly, there’s no playbook for launching a business. No two entrepreneurial approaches or paths are the same. Regardless of your approach or path, Fiance’s advice offers a useful blueprint for how you can position yourself for success.