At least for the moment, Kevin Cook was in the hot seat.
Just over 10 years ago, Cook, BC ’04, was near the front of a room in Fulton Hall as a cluster of budding MBA candidates critiqued his every move throughout his presentation.
The criticism and feedback were a daily occurrence in Wally Coyle’s business communications class—a reminder of how important presentation and the clear communication of ideas can be in the entrepreneurial field.
As Cook stood in front of the group, he embraced the criticism, and by the end of the program he was able to hone one of the most important skills to thrive in the startup field—the craft of the pitch.
“One of the things that students who are looking to start a company absolutely need is the ability to communicate a pitch to investors,” Cook said. “This is one skill I know BC provides to set its students up for success in the entrepreneurial community, and over the past year we’ve noticed more and more of these motivated students take on the Boston startup scene.”
Now, Cook is giving early-stage ventures with ties to BC a new form of funding to kick-start their entry into the Boston startup scene. He is managing director of the The University Fund for Alumni of BC, the latest affinity venture fund designed to support early-stage startups by Boston College students and alumni searching for funding.
“BC has an understated reputation for entrepreneurship,” Cook said. “There has been an impressive number of startups coming out of the university in the last year alone.”
The fund is currently raising $2 million in funding, and aims to make 12 to 18 investments over the next year. Under Cook’s leadership, the venture capital firm Launch Angels is creating funds for specific groups that want to invest in BC-based companies.
“People are really proud of where you worked and where you went to school,” Cook said. “There is a definite affinity for BC alumni, and there are a lot of BC alumni who want to invest in BC-based companies.”
All companies led by BC students and alumni will be considered for a potential investment. Each month, the fund investigates three to five early-stage companies. At the end of the month, the Advisory Investment Committee—a team comprised of BC alumni with experience in early-stage investing and entrepreneurship—makes a recommendation to various investors. Beyond financing, the fund is offering mentorship in the field, as well as office space and investment support.
“In recent years, universities have been placing a strong emphasis on their entrepreneurial departments,” said Launch Angels CEO Shereen Shermak in a statement. “While this has led to a substantial increase in the number of university-based startups and an explosion of new entrepreneurs, funding has remained a challenge. Our goal is to make funding more accessible.”
The fund is the first major investment fund tailored specifically for BC ventures. Earlier this year, another group of BC alumni founded the Soaring Startup Circle, a summer program designed to accelerate student-led startups. These BC companies received funding and the ability to work in offices of Boston companies with similar paths from universities.
Neither the Soaring Startup Circle nor the University Fund for Alumni of BC are affiliated or sanctioned by the University—both organizations highlight the willingness of alumni to establish a prominent startup community in Boston, however.
Over the past year, BC-based companies such as Jebbit, NBD Nano, and Vsnap have caught the attention of investors across New England. In an area previously dominated by universities in Cambridge, Cook believes that BC’s emergence into the Boston startup scene is something that Harvard and MIT cannot ignore.
“This year, many of the companies coming out of the University received a lot of money,” Cook said. “There is definitely a contingent of investable companies here, and I’m looking to build up that subculture of entrepreneurship at Boston College.”
Despite being the first of its kind for BC, the fund is the second university-based fund through the venture capital firm Launch Angels. The Dartmouth University alumni-focused Green D Fund was the first to offer students investor support as part of Launch Angels’ University Funds. With an increasing number of university-affiliated startups, Cook expects hundreds of other universities to follow in the steps of BC and Dartmouth in the near future.
“More and more colleges are trying to differentiate themselves through startups—supporting them and encouraging a culture of innovation,” Cook said. “My goal for this fund is to cultivate this idea and make BC even more well known across the country.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the University Fund for Alumni of BC by a different name. This article has been edited to reflect that change.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic