Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Data Collection: Process and Findings

For data collection, I interviewed a total of 6 student leaders across the Collegiate Capital Partners ecosystem (2 Harvard, 2 UPenn, 1 MIT and 1 Princeton), one professional and one student entrepreneur. The guiding thesis for the interview was to uncover how each individual goes about sourcing and what specific techniques or platforms they use. 

My first interviews were with sourcing analysts at UPenn and Harvard. Because I began my data collection process intending to make sourcing practical, I had an especially focused lens on platforms. One analyst, for example, cited LinkedIn, Crunchbase and the college's alumni database as the most relevant platforms for use. On the topic of platforms, another analyst maintained that "what we are using now won't work in 2 years' time". While my initial interviews focused on platforms and tools, both analysts cited their networks as integral to their sourcing techniques. It wasn't until I talked to Sam Jacobs, PUCP president, that I realized the inevitability of your network when it comes to sourcing early-stage companies. While Sam had completed 100+ cold reach outs to companies, he saw only a 10-20% hit rate across email, and used LinkedIn/Rocketreach for contact information purposes only. Ultimately, his success came from immersing himself in the founder community at Penn, Wharton, and beyond. Specifically, he found success through his friends in PUCP, the Blockchain club, and entrepreneurial events/pitch competitions. It was through Sam's interview that I was able to shape the following Collegiate interviews from platform-based interviews to successful sourcing techniques more broadly. A subsequent interview with a sourcing MD at Harvard confirmed what Sam had said; while many of this student's initial strategies consisted of going to different startup related events (i.e., pitch competitions) and emailing founders, as they grew older and emersed themselves "in the Harvard ecosystem" high-quality companies slowly became inbound. 

Sam put me in touch with an investor from XFund, a venture capital firm focused on investing in startups at the collegiate level. When speaking with the investor, it was clear they had an emphasis on relationship building. Specifically, sourcing techniques were far from scraping LinkedIn or email lists. Instead, XFund hosted 4 or 5 events a month across different colleges (i.e., Founders Dinners, Spring Startup Fairs, talks with college business school professors, etc.). The investor herself said that their "#1 priority is meeting college students with other college students." These events seemed to be a possible answer to my solution of how to best source startups– if sourcing was inherently a network-based activity, then creating networks should be the #1 priority. However, even talking to the XFund investor, it was clear that something was off: events hosted by XFund have the undertone of corporate finance and/or professional networking. Furthermore, many entrepreneurs don't have a formalized idea and are far from looking for funding. When I interviewed a student entrepreneur at Harvard, these beliefs were confirmed– they hadn't attended XFund events merely because they weren't looking to interact with VCs. While I believe in XFund's mission of bringing entrepreneurs together, regardless of how strongly VCs feel they can integrate with a student ecosystem, ultimately events organized by funds will inherently have corporate undertones. 

In one of my final interviews, I met with the CEO of Collegiate Capital Partners. She informed me of a similar solution to centralizing the ecosystem of collegiate entrepreneurs that Collegiate had tried to integrate  called "The Founders Network". The founder's network relied on Airtable, the platform all Collegiate Capital teams used to manage their sourced investments. Within Airtable, Collegiate would use contact information to contact every student entrepreneur discovered throughout the year and put on an event. Through that event, they could be introduced to more founders, and, more importantly, founders could meet each other and solidify the college's entrepreneurial ecosystem. The idea ultimately fizzled out as Collegiate grew because, with increased size, these events became challenging to implement. However, an event like this has benefits beyond those just for sourcing investments or creating companies. When I interviewed an analyst from Princeton, for example, they weren't even clear if there was a startup ecosystem. Being the first member of Princeton's capital partners branch, they saw the startup community as "less developed" and relied less on Princeton-specific startups due to this belief. As a result, they seemed discouraged from entrepreneurship at Princeton; an event like this could spark enthusiasm for entrepreneurship as a whole.

So, upon looking for the best way to source companies, I unravelled a strategy I didn't anticipate. Rather than a single platform or guidebook to source companies from, the best method for collegiate venture capitalists to source startups comes from engaging themselves in a close-knit community of entrepreneurs. Having this community sparks enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and accelerates company growth by forming valuable connections within the college. For investors and undergraduate sourcing analysts, a more established community means a more centralized database, more efficient company growth and a higher total quantity of startups from which to source.

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