The city’s college students don’t need another startup accelerator—General Catalyst Principal Bilal Zuberi has made that clear. What they need is more honest feedback, one-on-one, sustained mentorship and a potential shot at funding. What they need, according to the venture capital firm, is their Student Entrepreneur in Residence program.
General Catalyst launched the program last year, welcoming two graduate school students into the office: Prahar Shah from MIT Sloan and Cynthia Samanian from Harvard Business School. For 10-hours a week throughout the academic year, they spent time working with the General Catalyst team, learning more about how to build a business all while fostering ideas of their own.
“I jumped at the opportunity to work with smart, seasoned investors,” says Shah, who’s currently the co-founder of Mobee, a mobile app that rewards users for reviewing businesses they already frequent. When asked what he gained from the program, Shah listed off at least a dozen benefits, including “intense, intellectual and enlightening whiteboard sessions with crazy smart people,” introductions to investors, help with hiring decisions and honest, critical feedback.
And he received that all without General Catalyst demanding any equity in his company.
The sentiment reflects General Catalyst’s tag line: “Entrepreneurs investing in entrepreneurs.” Although the firm has had success backing students in the past—take HubSpot, who recently raised another $35 million—this program is focused more on the firm’s pay it forward mentality.
“We have our roots here, and one of the greatest assets we have are these students,” says General Catalyst Associate Nitesh Banta, admitting they “didn’t want to create another program just to create another program.” What Banta wants participants to feel is that they have continual guidance and support, which is why General Catalyst work hands-on with every student.
Because they’re working so closely, however, the program “is almost intentionally not scalable,” according to Banta, who says, “It would lose some of its power if we made this a program for every single student in Boston.”
This year, General Catalyst is working with three new students: Alejandro Resnik from MIT Sloan, as well as Stefanie Botelho and William Dinkel from Harvard Business School. Resnik is striving to develop a well-thought marketplace business to launch either here or abroad in Latin America, while Botelho develops Mr. Fitzroy Toy Delivery and Dinkel tries to do for meeting coordination what Dropbox did for file sharing.
All three students are heads-down, working on their business, which is what General Catalyst is looking for and noticed when they ran the trio through the application process. And now, those students have two others they can talk to who already went through the process.
As Shah admits, “I have nothing but the highest regard for the Student Entrepreneur in Residence Program at General Catalyst and what people like Nitesh, Mina [Hsiang], Bilal and others want to do for student entrepreneurs.”
And we’re sure other student entrepreneurs would agree.