This group of student venture capitalists have been given a taster into the world of investment. Jess Clayton-Berry spoke to them to find out more.

Four University of Essex students have been selected to become venture capitalists and invest £50k – £150k in early start-up technology businesses. The programme was arranged by Campus Capital, a national Venture Capital Fund which specialises in high-growth technology businesses.

Greg Cave (computer science), Brian Lau (law), Sarthak Kothari (economics) and Asja Karanusic (economics) were chosen after a series of workshops, applications and interviews. “I was trying to put myself out there and learn new skills and break into venture capital and finance… When I saw they were doing the Student VC programme, I had already gone to the workshop and put myself out there so I thought I’ll go that little bit further and try and get involved,” said Greg.

Essex is one of three universities currently in the programme which has been running for three years, though there are talks to expand Campus Capital to other universities across the country. Giles Moor, Chief Operations Officer at Campus Capital said that the University of Essex was chosen due to its unique position outside London, “we’re trying to raise awareness in the region; to bring up pitches from there so that people understand there’s an investment firm actually in Essex so they don’t have to travel to London… If you are a start-up with no money, spending £10 is a fortune. So the idea of having to then go to London back and forth for meetings takes up a huge amount of time and money that a lot of start-ups don’t have.”

The students will be analysing pitch decks and building a network with entrepreneurs and investors within the industry throughout the programme. Once they have a clear idea of what’s missing from a pitch deck, they will meet the business founders to gather more information. Throughout this process, Campus Capital members will mentor them in what they should be looking for, what they have missed and better ways of asking questions to get more information. “I’ve learned the skills to analyse because the founders will send a pitch deck to us and we have to do additional research on their competitors as well,” said Brian.

“We want to help them get to the stage where they do this off their own back and make that judgement or call. I think this is one of the most exciting parts… The good thing with working with students is that they look at it very differently because they are excited by it and haven’t got conflicting views – so they actually judge every business and pitch deck purely on what it is rather than on what they’ve seen previously,” said Giles.

The Innovation Centre also played a key part in Essex’s involvement with Campus Capital. It was opened last year and offers office space and support to start-up and early stage technology businesses. “The fact that there’s so much money, time and investment gone into that we felt it was the perfect opportunity to house start-ups,” explained Giles.

The Innovation Centre played a key part in Essex’s selection in the Campus Capital programme. Brian (far left), Asja (second left), Sarthak (middle), Brian (far right).

The diverse team includes students from various backgrounds so their unique strengths can form a team with a multitude of skills. During the selection process, they are marked on how they performed individually as well as in a team. Sarthak mentioned how the group’s different backgrounds were a huge benefit; “we know each other’s strengths and I think the co-ordination goes surprisingly well given that before this we didn’t even know each other.”

They each explained their different approach to analysing a pitch deck; Greg uses his computer science background to look over the technology being built, Sarthak prioritises USP and how the product will be introduced, and Brian keeps an eye on potential competitors and whether the idea will legally and financially work in the long-run.

Giles pointed out how Campus Capital is a great way to get a foot in the door in the world of investment; “most wouldn’t learn about venture capital until about ten years on and then start at the bottom. This gives them the opportunity to start that now so when they finish their university life, not only do they know about the start up world and investment, but they’ve also built up a network as well… That gives them a real pedestal to reach their career from.”

Each member of the team explained what their aspirations are and how the Campus Capital scheme will help them reach it. Greg is looking into going into financial services and hopes to use Campus Capital’s networking opportunities and the experience of analysing pitch decks to set up his own start-up after university; Sarthak has an interest in agricultural technologies and would like to work in a finance firm in the future; Brian, who has ran his own business back home for five years, is looking to gain more experience in various locations as the business landscape in Asia is much different than the UK’s; and Asja, the latest addition to the group, is interested in working in investment or venture capital after university with the possibility of also starting her own business – so is keen to see how it works from the inside and the right ways to scale a business.

The group have not been together for long but have already begun working well in a team.

Campus Capital are still looking to expand their Student VC team at Essex, their next workshop is on Wednesday 26th February which aims to introduce students on how to grow in entrepreneurship, what to avoid, targeting different investments, and how to raise an investment. This two hour event will be the next opportunity to get onto the application process and become a Student VC.

If you are an aspiring entrepreneur or someone interested in creating your own start-up, their Open Office Hours will be on Wednesday 18th March where you will be able to book a twenty-minute time slot to talk about your pitch deck or business plans with the Campus Capital founders and Student VC team along with everything you will need to know about starting your own business.

Jess Clayton-Berry