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Emory’s New Student-Run VC Fund: Dedicated To Minority Entrepreneurs

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Venture capital investments have quadrupled in the past 10 years, but that hasn’t led to an explosion in support for under-represented minority entrepreneurs. Quite the contrary. Women and minority founders receive less than 3% of capital investments, while Black entrepreneurs are rejected for loans almost 20% more often than White entrepreneurs and only 1% of VC-backed founders are Black. Fewer than 2% are Latinx.

Racial inequality in the business world is a systemic problem requiring a systemic response. But it certainly helps turn the tide when elite business schools pitch in. Which is why Emory University Goizueta Business School has launched a student-run venture capital fund to help confront the problem. Created in conjunction with the Roberto C. Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, the $1M Peachtree Minority Venture Fund is dedicated exclusively to Black, Latinx, and Native-American entrepreneurs.

“There’s a troubling trend in venture capital,” says Humza Mirza, Goizueta full-time MBA student and one of five Peachtree managing partners. “Money is being disproportionately allocated, and one of the biggest issues that we’re seeing is the lack of community access to capital. Black, Latinx, and Native Americans don’t have the same access to the initial seed fund as others have.

“If you don’t get that initial boost of capital, you don’t have the same fuel to fund your business.”

BIRTH OF A FUND

Robert Kazanjian

“We’re trying to address the inequities and deficiencies in venture capital by putting money into the companies that need — and deserve — it,” adds Robert Kazanjian, Peachtree academic advisor, Goizueta professor of organization and management, and academic director of the Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

The idea for the fund came from four Goizueta students who are now Peachtree founding partners: Chis Anen, Kristen Little, Alan Quigley, and Willie Sullivan. After their proposal for the fund was formally approved and announced by Goizueta Dean Karen Sedatole in August 2021, the school allocated $1 million to the fund, proceeds of which will be invested in the companies chosen by the fund’s student team.

When Peachtree’s founding partners started marketing for the managing partner roles in spring 2021, Mirza was astounded by the data they were showing in relation to the racial inequities in venture capital. “The opportunity to provide community access to capital is an amazing way to make an impact and be an ally, especially after the death of George Floyd,” he says.

Five managing partners were chosen — Mirza, Alexia Brown, Dylan Cowley, Jack Semrau, and Miguel Vergara — in spring of 2021. This month, the partners hosted their first kickoff event to source students from the MBA, law, and BBA programs to join the team. The fund — which will be run by student managing partners, senior associates, and analysts — will research hundreds of minority entrepreneurs, do their due diligence on each, and make investment recommendations to a committee composed of Goizueta faculty, staff, and alumni. “Ultimately, the investment decisions are student decisions,” says Kazanjian.

$5 TO $50K INVESTMENTS GEARED TOWARDS ENTREPRENEURS IN NEED

Students involved in the fund will also take a venture capital focused course in which they’ll receive technical, financial training in venture capital investing within a curriculum focused on systemic racial inequities in business. The course will begin in January 2022 once the team is fully formed, and the investments will be made in the spring. The fund is looking for companies that are pre-revenue and in the early stage of angel, friends, and family rounds; for the latter, they’ll provide between $5 – $15K, and for series A rounds, they’ll provide between $25 – $50K.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to do events that highlight the companies we’re investing in,” says Kazanjian. “We are in the process of creating an advisory board that will be mostly composed of 8-10 venture capitalists. We’re also looking to do a series of events where we let some of our companies present to a much larger audience of venture capitalists that we can connect with and invite in.”

So far, there’s been over 100 applicants interested in being a part of the inaugural cohort. To gain acceptance, each individual has to submit an application, resume, and develop an investor deck. “We want to see how the individual believes that a company fits our mission,” explains Mirza.

After the application process, the managing partners interview interested applicants and then decide on a team of three to four senior associates who will manage a team of four to five analysts. “Overall, we’ll have a class of about 25-30 individuals,” Mirza continues.

The fund also includes three academic advisors, including Kazanjian, Amelia Schaffner, director of Entrepreneurship Programs and The Roberto C. Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Jill Perry-Smith, senior associate dean for strategic initiatives. Their role is to provide support on how to structure the fund and connect the team with key academic and mission-focused stakeholders within Atlanta.

THE NEED FOR EARLY-STAGE SUPPORT

Kazanjian shares that when an article in Fast Company was published two years ago declaring Atlanta the US capital of entrepreneurship, a conversation at Goizueta was started about how to engage with the entrepreneurial community. “We encounter lots of people with strong entrepreneurial interests,” says Kazanjian. ”But there’s a lack of support at the early stage of funding for underrepresented minority entrepreneurs.”

According to Kazanjian, the Peachtree fund mirrors VC funds at other universities, including Michigan Ross, Cornell, and Rochester. However, what sets Peachtree apart is that it’s industry agnostic and is focused on supporting entrepreneurs in need across the nation, not just locally. “Early on in the fund, the investment companies will likely be more Atlanta centric as that’s where the school has the most connections. Ultimately, the long term desire is to quickly get out across the rest of the U.S.,” he says.

Mirza hopes that the Peachtree fund can serve as inspiration to other business schools across the country. “We want to prove this concept and show that other business schools will see the effect and the impact that we’re creating and the learning opportunities that ensue. Very quickly, our one million dollars will multiply as this model spreads through higher education nationally,” he says.