This July, Gordon Xiang ’19 was interning in Beijing, China, when he was asked to co-found a venture capital fund in New York City.
The question was posed by May Li, a senior at Georgetown University who had raised money with the goal of starting a venture capital fund. Li needed help to operate the fund, so she called on Xiang, a former classmate from Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
The fund is called J20 Ventures, and is based off J20 Society, a community of high achieving students interested in entrepreneurship across leading universities in the United States, with a focus on east coast schools like Yale and Georgetown. Li’s work with the J20 Society earlier in the year helped her raise the capital necessary to start J20 Ventures.
Xiang left Beijing soon after Li proposed co-founding the fund, and joined Li in New York in July where Li and Xiang got to work.
Xiang and Li first worked with lawyers to create the legal structure for J20 Ventures. To do that, they had to network extensively to get in contact with people who could offer expert advice on how venture capital firms are structured.
“We spent most of our time building the legal framework, sourcing, and getting to meet people in New York involved in entrepreneurial communities,” said Xiang. So far, we have met some very interesting people, and it’s been an incredible experience.”
In addition to networking and working on the legal aspect of the fund, Li and Xiang have also been building up the functional part of the fund: making investment decisions, creating an investment thesis, and sourcing deals.
“At first it felt like I was kind of an imposter trying to learn everything on the fly and it was very overwhelming, but the learning curve was steep. It was a very rewarding experience to learn how actual investment vehicles function in the real world,” said Xiang.
J20 Ventures made its first investment in July a real-estate technology company called Surecave. In August, the fund made its second investment in a Y-combinator company that ships sofas, called Burrow.
“For investments, three of the most important factors we look at are the entrepreneur, distribution channels, and competitive advantages,” said Xiang. “Currently we are industry agnostic, but we want to focus on college students and young adults,” he said.
Xiang has always been interested in entrepreneurship. In high school, Xiang started a nonprofit called Deerfield Foods. During his first year at Yale, Xiang launched a mobile application similar to Uber Eats, called Delivr, where students delivered food to classmates from Good Nature Market and Salsa Fresca. Although Delivr ultimately failed, Xiang believes it served to cement his interest in the field.
Xiang said his involvement in J20 feels like a natural progression within the entrepreneurship space. He hopes that hearing about J20 will inspire other Yale students who have similar interests.
“Entrepreneurship has grown really quickly at Yale but its something that Yale has not been traditionally known for. Yale doesn’t have a really strong startup eco-system, but it’s interesting to see how that’s changing currently. When I was a freshman at Yale I felt like there was this small burgeoning community with regard to entrepreneurship, and this feels like a natural extension of that community and a way to encourage students to go in that direction,” he said.
“Ultimately, we want to help the growth of entrepreneurship at Yale, and that could be through funding through the fund, or through introductions to great entrepreneurs,” Xiang continued.