Meet the 24-year-old venture capitalist using UC Berkeley as his own incubator
Universities have in recent years awakened to the fact that students can help them make money through more than just tuition and board.
Stanford University started investing in students’ start-ups in 2013. Harvard University does the same through its Xfund. Last year, the University of California launched a $250-million venture fund to invest in companies that grow out of the UC system.
Now, UC Berkeley entrepreneurs could benefit from a new fund -- one led by 24-year-old Los Angeles native Jeremy Fiance.
FOR THE RECORD
4:57 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said UC Berkeley is investing in the fund. The school is only advising.
The Cal alumnus, who graduated in 2014, recently raised $6 million for his venture, the House Fund. Its goal is to provide pre-seed and seed funding to start-ups emerging from UC Berkeley, including student, faculty and alumni projects.
“Cal start-ups created pretty significant value over the last decade -- companies like Caviar, Indiegogo and Lily Robotics were all founded by Cal alumni,” said Fiance, who has courted Silicon Valley venture capitalists for his fund since graduation. “Yet, Cal has never captured any of that value. So the concept for this fund is to create a cycle of reinvestment.”
To that end, all of the House Fund’s investors and advisors are Cal alumni, including Jeff Brody, founder of venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures; Terry Garnett, co-founder and partner at Garnett and Helfrich Capital; and Prakash Janakiraman, the founder of community social network Nextdoor. UC Berkeley is not an investor in the fund, but is among its advisors.
Fiance is the House Fund’s sole general partner and sees himself as a bridge between the school and the venture capital world. Most investors are deep in Silicon Valley, removed from what’s happening at Cal by geography and culture.
The UC system’s fund, led by entrepreneur Vivek Ranadivé, looks across the entire network of schools for investment opportunities -- leaving room for a Cal-focused program, Fiance said.
“They’re looking to our fund as an on-the-ground source,” he said.
The House Fund has already invested in Cal start-ups such as Lily Robotics, best known for its flying drone camera; Instant eSports, a kind of ESPN for eSports; and Eko Devices, a smart stethoscope.
Though $6 million may seem small compared with the multibillion-dollar funds managed by the largest VC firms, it will allow the House Fund to invest in pre-seed and seed rounds, which are typically in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Fiance is confident he can grow the fund, and his investors are too.
“He’s done a remarkable job,” Garnett said. “The model in the VC world is we want someone in the dorm finding out who the bright young minds and ideas are, and we’ll pay them to find it for us.”
"Jeremy convinced a lot of young entrepreneurs that he could bring a lot of value, and a lot of them were keeping a spot for him, so even if he didn’t have the funds to invest in them yet, they would give him a spot in the deal six months later,” he said. “That spoke volumes for me."
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