No one can deny Boston is a college town, and one full of innovative students with change-the-world ideas. Anyone can start rattling off big-name brands—Dropbox, Facebook, HubSpot, Stripe—whose founders made their initial moves while studying here in the Hub. And now, a unique student partnership is looking to help foster those future beginnings and invest.
Powered by General Catalyst, the newly announced Rough Draft Ventures will be investing in college students who need anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000. Along with that money will come mentorship and support, just as any venture capital firm would provide for its portfolio companies.
The Rough Draft Ventures team is comprised of seven local college students: Peter Boyce and Zachary Hamed of Harvard; Emma Tangoren of Boston University; Ryan Dawidjan of Babson; John Brennan of Tufts; and Edward Burnell and Delian Asparouhov of MIT. Together, they’ll be working with General Catalyst’s Nitesh Banta and Bilal Zuberi to make funding decisions on a case-by-case basis.
“We keep meeting students who are working on five to seven projects at a time, but many don’t turn into companies,” says Zuberi, who admits General Catalyst has seen amazing success with student startups in the past. “It’s taken us a few years of being in the student community to know what they want.”
What students want is, often, not $100,000. Instead, they need the money to buy an iPad or pay for a back-end developer. They have ideas, but they’re not prepared to present in front of a VC fund. By investing just $5,000 then, this new partnership can help advance students to the next level so they can, one day, be ready.
Rough Draft will be making around 10 to 20 investments a year, and has a current focus on software and hardware startups. The funding is in the form of a convertible loan, with no discount or cap, and the team has made clear they will only be making initial investments—no follow-up investments.
Boyce, who’s been spearheading the fund, says the group will “be going where students are already building stuff” and looking for these entrepreneurial-minded pockets on each of the city’s campuses. “For now, it’s a matter of going and being present and supporting students where they’re already building stuff,” he says.
Tangoren claims each team member will be on the campuses themselves, holding coffee hours to meet with students. Brennan says he’s already discovered a lot of hidden talent at Tufts behind closed doors.
“It can be discouraging for students,” Brennan admits. “They know it’s hard for VCs and angels to invest in students,” largely because investors are typically weary of students’ ability to build companies all while being in school. “We’re providing one of the first options for those students to get funding outside of business plan competitions.”
Rough Draft has brought on an impressive list of advisors, including HubSpot’s Dharmesh Shah and David Cancel, RunKeeper’s Jason Jacobs and iRobot’s Helen Greiner. When it comes to investing in student talent, however, Zuberi confirms that they’ll leave the decision making to the students. “Students are already catalysts in their community,” Zuberi says. “Really, they know who these guys are—who’s coding away and who’s hacking away.”
Although Boyce and Hamed finished coding the site just this morning, the team is ready to hit the ground running. “We’ll be investing in students super soon,” Boyce says, encouraging students to keep this news in mind as they go home for winter break.
Interested in applying? Visit the site, and reach out to one of the partners at firstname.lastname@example.org.