Students face off in venture capitalist competition
UpRound, a new University of Michigan student organization for any undergraduate student interested in learning more about venture capitalism, hosted its first annual training and a competition on Saturday.
Engineering sophomore Jonah Erlich founded the group along with LSA junior David Silverman, Business sophomore Adarsh Rachmale and LSA senior Bradley Baum. Elrich said the group decided to start the organization after competing in a similar one competition at Carnegie Mellon University.
“We need to teach the broader university about what venture capital is, and engage the community with what’s going on in the entrepreneurial ecosystem today,” Elrich said.
Erlich and Silverman are members of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program and wanted to open up the world of venture capitalism and entrepreneurship to any University students.
“We founded this six months ago and it’s been a sprint ever since,” Erlich said. “(The Ross School of Business) ran a similar competition and we came in and said, ‘Look, we think we would do a great job at appealing to a wider audience and getting more students involved that aren’t in Ross,’ and they took a chance on us, and we increased the application numbers.”
The co-founders said they were expecting about 50 applicants, but received over 80.
“We hosted three open training sessions,” Silverman said. “Through those three, the dinner and tonight, we will have over 200 different students interact with UpRound in some capacity.”
To those involved in the organization, UpRound’s large applicant pool suggests the University might be a growing hub for entrepreneurial innovation and high growth potential investments.
“If you look at Silicon Valley, the model of it is that you have Stanford and Berkeley feeding San Francisco and here we have the power of (the University of) Michigan; we have the research powerhouse to fund Grand Rapids and to fund Detroit,” Silverman said.
The UpRound competition serves as a publicity event and training for students because it brings venture capitalists to the University to engage with students, witness the talent and expose students to successful businessmen and women, many of whom were University alumni.
“Bringing them here to see the Michigan ecosystem in addition to having this competition, they’re realizing that this is a place to start investing in,” Silverman said. “Behind every great startup is an investor to help them reach their milestones.”
University alum Tess Hatch, who now works for Bessemer Venture Partners, spoke about her investments in commercial space and frontier technology like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, robotics and drones.
“I invest in science fiction,” Hatch said. “All these deep technical industries that an engineer understands, which is why my background is unique, and I now invest in those industries at Bessemer.”
The competition itself was set up to mock what an actual pitch and investment consideration process would look like.
“The student teams are acting like they are VCs,” Erlich explained. “They’ve been researching companies that are here today pitching.”
After hearing the pitch, the students participated in a due diligence session, where they could ask questions and try to determine which company is the best investment. Once they decided, they had the opportunity to pitch their choice to a panel of judges who acted as senior members of a firm would in this situation.
“The judges choose a winner and then that winner gets further training by Ross and will be sent to the national competition to represent Michigan,” Erlich said.
At the UpRound competition on Saturday, there were about 25 students competing for the chance to attend the national competition. One such student was Business freshman John Marinescu.
“I had been bombarded by emails, by requests to come to UpRound, and it wasn’t just one-sided, I really appreciated the opportunity and I have an interest in entrepreneurship,” Marinescu continued. “It’ll be great to see a lot of pitches from great startups, be able to hear feedback from venture capitalists and also meet a ton of new and great people.”
At the end of the competition, two student teams, Angell’s Group and Harbaugh’s Capital came out on top. Their team members will be filtered into one team to compete at the regional competition.
Rachmale said he hopes the event and organization will help create a name for the University as a venture capital hub.
“We always hear the big names, but in reality a lot of people here don’t realize that Michigan is also a huge name. We have all these alumni who are running these top VC firms, we want this event to prove that Michigan is top.”