Harvard University has announced a partnership with New Enterprise Associates to begin a seed-stage venture fund which may entice the next Zuckerberg to stay and complete a degree at the prestigious academic establishment.
It must be grating that both famous Harvard-dropouts, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, decades apart, decided to take flight from Harvard before going on to build two of the most significant and well-known technology companies currently in existence.
However, in an attempt to keep the next generation of entrepreneurs with this kind of potential in academia, Harvard and New Enterprise Associates have introduced 'The Experiment Fund' -- a new funding initiative designed to support and encourage start-ups while they complete their degrees.
The Experiment Fund calls itself an agile seed investor, and 'a bridge between America's oldest universities and storied venture capital firms', who supports would-be business founders 'with seed capital, consistent guidance, and unparalleled access to experts'.
The Experiment Fund will operate independently of Harvard University, although it will receive support from the institution. Harvard owns no financial stake in the project. NEA, founded in 1970, is one of the largest venture capital firms in the world, and is known for its early outsider investment in Groupon -- of which they now own a 14 percent stake.
The current projects NEA is involved with include Tivli, an online web service, and start-ups such as Omada Health.
By offering a reported 4-6 start-ups with a maximum of $250k each over the next two years, there are hopes that the funding will provide a more extensive support structure for entrepreneurs, and allow them the capital they need to launch their businesses.
The initiative will focus on business ventures in the Cambridge, Mass. area close to Harvard, which also includes many other schools such as MIT.
According to the Harvard Crimson, Co-founder of NEA, Patrick S. Chung, outlined the concept behind the fund, indicating it will fill a void in innovative spirit on the campus with "support, capital, and expertise that have not existed on this campus ever before."
Another co-founder of NEA, Hugo Van Vuuren, explained the difference between this option in funding and other alternatives would-be Zuckerberg's could apply for:
"We are not an incubator or a grant giving organization. We ultimately invest and help them grow with seed capital, consistent guidance, and unparalleled access to experts."
A few years ago, starting a company wasn't as acceptable as it is today. Whether this is due to an increased need for innovative solutions in a rapidly-digitizing industry and way of life, or simply a desperate move by qualified members of the labor force who can't find employment, the attitude to becoming an entrepreneur has changed. It can only be beneficial if there is more support for these people trying to break in to business.
The particular institutions and advisers involved in the project are yet to be announced, however, there is no doubt that venture capital firms can benefit from being involved in the next big idea -- who knows if this fund could help create the next Facebook or Microsoft? In the current economic climate, entrepreneurs need all the help they can get.
Image credit: Will Hart
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