“The thought of being a partner at a VC as a college student was very enticing to me,” said Sweyn Venderbush (YC ’18). Dressed in a crisp sweater, Venderbush leaned forward in the armchair with a smile. The junior is currently a Managing Partner at Dorm Room Fund (DRF).
DRF is an early-stage venture capitalist fund run by students, for student entrepreneurs, and it has invested in over 120 student-founded companies. It is backed by First Round Capital, which founded Dorm Room Fund in 2011. Their average investment size is $20 000.
When asked what distinguishes DRF from other student-run VCs, Rei Wang, Director of Dorm Room Fund, said “Dorm Room Fund is its own independent fund…The student partners get to make their own independent investment decisions…First Round places that much trust in the students because we believe that students know students best.” Still, student partners from DRF can reach out to partners at First Round to discuss particular cases in areas where they lack experience. Wang added, “But the student partners think through these cases on their own first, before they approach the First Round Partners. It’s kinda like how you deal with professors.”
Many of the startups that DRF has invested in end up in Y Combinator and top-flight VCs. When asked about the nature of the contribution that DRF makes to these student-run startups, Wang acknowledged that the $20 000 convertible note may not be as significant, especially for research-intensive hard science startups which require millions of dollars. However, she said that DRF’s major contribution lies in the connections that it helps foster. DRF connects startups with like-minded peers, on-demand experts (who are founders themselves), and DRF alumni, who provide mentorship. For instance, some DRF alumni help to vet DRF startups’ applications to YCombinator. Wang added, “These founders and advisers provide a lot of specialized knowledge.”
Wang shared that DRF startups continue to hold a lot of promise. She said, “Students are making a concerted effort to be on the forefront of social entrepreneurship. And they are not shying away from taking on big problems. They are starting B2B companies. Very complex companies that seem like you need a lot of experience to execute.” She said that she has worked with the founders of Biocellection, who are taking on water pollution through modified bacteria, and the founders of Movebutter, who are tackling the issue of food deserts with a new grocery service.
From his experience working with Yalie-led startups, Venderbush noticed that the trends in the entrepreneurship scene at Yale echo those on the national level. He said,”Yalies like taking on really hard problems. They are using trendy technologies to solve previously unsolvable problems. Many of them are partnering with graduate students or professors to commercialize products that come out of research.” He gave the example of Trinity Mobile Networks, which improves mobile access via a multi-network overlay SDN platform.
When asked about the entrepreneurship infrastructure and recourses at Yale, Venderbush said “Yale makes it very cheap and painless to take research into market…Yale has made available many social entrepreneurship prizes.” However, he notes that while it may be advantageous to be between New York and Boston, Yale entrepreneurs have to travel out more to get involved in the startup scene outside of campus.
DRF is looking to expand to more college campuses in the coming months, and they are currently looking for 20 new partners to join the DRF teams in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and the Bay Area. Their information session at Yale will be on Tuesday (11/29) from 6-7pm at the Yale Entrepreneurship Institute. Partner applications will close on Sunday, December 11th, 11.59PM EST.