If you’ve read any Medium post or book on the entrepreneur reading list, you’ve heard of the term “fail early, fail fast.” There are lots of other ways to say it — finding product-market fit, defining your pain point — but all it really means is getting all the bad ideas out of the way so you can find your biggest good idea. But what you do after you’ve found that idea, how do you move forward? Do you raise money, find office space, do a crowdfunding campaign? It’s a big leap from pitching at the U’s Get Seeded to talking to institutional VCs and incubators, so to bridge that gap, Campus Founders Fund was born.
Campus Founders Fund (CFF) was started in October 2014 when the folks at Kickstart Seed Fund (not to be confused with Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform) saw that gap. They were kind enough — and crazy enough — to give 10 college students from across Utah $500,000 to invest in student-run startups. Right now, our investment team represent three schools and a half a dozen different majors, ranging from mechanical engineering and materials science to accounting and supply chain management from the U, BYU and Utah State.
In our two years, we’ve invested in eight companies, including SimpleCitizen (winner of the 2015 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge), Whistic and AncestorCloud. We make convertible note investments of $10,000 to $20,000 with no cap and no discount — the most favorable and entrepreneur-friendly terms you’ll find anywhere. Simply put, we’re venture capital for students, by students.
At our first-ever event in March, Josh Little (CEO of Boombox) came and talked about what makes for great cofounder relationships, and he said that there are two mistakes people make: they don’t work together enough and they don’t play together enough. Once every week during the school year, CFF meets as a team to hear pitches, talk about our portfolio companies, and update each other on deal sourcing and due diligence. But we do more than that — we have retreats, we throw events, we go to each other’s weddings. It’s a tight group of incredibly smart people from all of these different backgrounds, and we’ve all said at one time or another that CFF feels like family.
When CFF started, we didn’t have a lot of organization or direction — just a handful of well-intentioned 20- and 30-year-olds with hardly any venture or investing experience between us. But over the last year and half, we’ve figure out our mission (supporting student entrepreneurs through both investment capital and human capital), restructured the fund (to include a managing partner, partners, and associates), and — most importantly — train and teach ourselves to think like investors. For example, when we see pitches every week, the companies fall into two buckets: the ones that we move into due diligence (a four week to six week deep-dive into the company and founders) and the ones we pass on. For the latter, we always call and give three pieces of constructive, strategic feedback so the entrepreneurs don’t walk away confused and empty-handed.
When I started with CFF, I went in because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I thought learning how an investor on the other side of the table thinks would prep me for if I ever needed to raise money. But what I got out of it was a lot more than that. Instead of working with medical devices and FDA paperwork, I was working with people and ideas they were passionate about and I loved it. The thing that struck me the most was the pain we’re solving and the people we’re helping, and I could do that surrounded by amazing people.
In a way, CFF is a student startup in itself, started by a smart, driven team with great mentors and advisors. Our early fails, although minor, taught us great lessons and we’ve managed to land on our feet and invest in some great companies. So here’s to all the fantastic student entrepreneurs in Utah, because without you, CFF wouldn’t exist. Fail early and fail fast, but then find what you’re passionate about and build it like crazy.
Learn more at campusfounders.com.