The Bay Area is filled with successful startups created by campus alumni — TubeMogul, Caviar and Indiegogo, to name a few — but until recently, aspiring UC Berkeley entrepreneurs did not have access to funding allocated specifically for them.
Noticing this untapped niche, Jeremy Fiance, a 2014 UC Berkeley graduate, decided to unify the campus startup culture by launching the $6 million House Fund, the first venture capital fund focused on campus student, alumni and faculty startups, according to Fiance.
“Folks didn’t realize how exciting the opportunity in Berkeley was,” Fiance said.
At UC Berkeley, Fiance and his friends — who, at the time, were interested in starting their own company — looked for resources on campus to help guide them. This ultimately failed search led them to start the Kairos Society, a network of students and entrepreneurs, as well as Free Ventures, a startup launchpad for UC Berkeley students.
Through his experiences with both Kairos Society and Free Ventures, Fiance realized that there was major potential for successful entrepreneurship on campus. He and his friend Sean Linehan compiled a database of UC Berkeley startups and wrote a thesis to prove to potential alumni investors the importance of creating a venture fund for the community.
This intensive research laid the groundwork for the House Fund, Fiance said, ultimately resulting in numerous alumni investors funding the $6 million project.
“Our aim is to be as open as possible for access,” Fiance said. “Cal is such a big campus, it can be confusing. We want to help guide people through the university ecosystem of resources.”
Potential company founders, mentors or investors can fill out a form on the House Fund website to get in contact with the fund. The office hours that the company holds also aim to direct people to the pre-existing resources on campus, such as the Kairos Society and Free Ventures, which can offer connections and frameworks, but not funding.
In the eyes of Rhonda Shrader, the director of the Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program, the House Fund will be a unifying mechanism for the numerous individual entrepreneurship initiatives on campus that previously lacked funding.
“Having funding from someone we know and trust like Jeremy is great and is going to inspire people in the community to build startups and collaborate,” Shrader said.
Eva Zheng, a campus junior and former director of Cal Hacks, said she knew of many students with great ideas who did not have the knowledge to translate them into a business plan. Therefore, she expected that the House Fund would become a valuable resource for the campus.
For all aspiring entrepreneurs, Fiance recommends that they take advantage of the resources available to them.
“There now exists so many great opportunities for entrepreneurs on campus that didn’t exist five years ago,” Fiance said. “Keep your eyes open and start exploring.”
Brenna Smith covers business and the economy. Contact her at [email protected].