Two night ago, I attended the 2nd UCLA Student + Alumni Entrepreneurs Dinner. Last time I was here, a year ago, the event was my baby at Bruin Entrepreneurs for which we had raised some money from, the ever supporting, UCLA VC Fund, to host! The only difference was this year, I was back as an alumni*. A good reminder of how far we’ve come, I’ve come, and it encouraged me to write about what we built over the last couple years when I was on campus. Some of you may find nothing new or groundbreaking here, but if you’re interested in my perspective or have thoughts and comments about it, that’d be awesome!
Also, groups on other campuses’ such as BASES @ Stanford, MPowered @ UMich, Harvard Ventures @ Harvard, CORE @ Columbia, Founders @ UIUC, Spark @ USC* have all built amazing ecosystems. I learned a lot from their work and you might be able to as well. I’m going to write another post on how they + campus focused funds have made it possibly the best time to start something when in college.
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to restart an organization at UCLA called Bruin Entrepreneurs. Working with amazing people, both on-campus and off, to try and build the structure for on-campus entrepreneurs has been an experience I will hold with me forever. It taught me a lot, particularly about people, early days of companies, and the value of networks. There was a vision I had of what it should look like and why. I wanted to share this for those who might still be running organizations on campus or wanted to build one on their own. What’s outlined here is not perfect, but a starting point. A lot of it succeeded, some of it failed, and in the last year, I’ve watched an amazing group of people build some more. None of this would be possible without a long list of people who were directly and indirectly involved. On the Bruin Entrepreneurs website every single past board members, details can be found!
Bruin Entrepreneurs – Foster an entrepreneurial community that’s interested in solving problems with technology.
People fell into two groups:
- Curious in dipping their feet into some part of this ecosystem
- Those who had already dipped their feet/built a product or hack, but now wanted to make a business out of it.
1. For those who were curious in dipping their feet – we’d do the following programs:
Weekly Speaker Nights (Fall, Winter-Spring)
This exists as the platform at UCLA for every curious student to meet and interact with each other. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a hacker, hustler, or a designer, on north campus or south, in med school or business school, everyone of us has something to learn from each others entrepreneurial thoughts, pursuits and more. What better way to do it than over Pizza and Cookies. We also aimed to use this program as an opportunity to invite speakers – entrepreneurs, VCs, PhDs, and more. This served three important purposes – bringing smart people to campus would 1) create collisions between students and them, 2) encourage them to share their stories, which is the one of the best way to inspire the crowds, and lastly 3) get them more involved with what we were trying to do. We could also use this content to build a brand around BE/UCLA in general – much like DFJ’s series at Stanford.
We could also raise some money from sponsors as this would be a good event to have your name associated with – plus we sent an email to 3,000 students on campus so your logo in there would be cool too.
Outcome: We ran this really well for a little under a year having some amazing people come by. The turnouts were pretty varied in numbers with between 30-60 people attending for most of the year. However, towards the end, we started nearing 15-25 on a weekly basis which proved a little disappointed to our sponsors who were paying for the pizza & cookies. I think we could’ve done a better job by not having the best speakers we could get be concentrated into the beginning of the year and could’ve spaced them out over time.
Overall though, I think this event was one of the best ways people got to know people. Also, it was at one of these nights that Mahbod – who was speaking, joined Sam – who was in the audience, and catalyzed Everipedia into even more glory 🙂 My big take away from this was realizing the value of physically forcing people to meet – if you have a permanent space this whole ecosystem would work better!
Bruin Startup Fair (Fall)
Founded this with Sigma Eta Pi and ESUC. However, I personally thought it was in the best interest of what we were trying to achieve to not run the startup fair but do the fellowship instead – so we pulled out of it. Jury is still out – but I think most other orgs on campus run a startup career fair – might make sense for you too.
bVentures (Winter to Spring)
Student-run accelerator. An easy way to connect students with mentors and other services deemed important to them. We wanted to bring in the power of alumni as well as build a sense of camaraderie between founders on the same campus. We also had a weekly meeting where we could track the progress of teams (by their own measure) and have a speaker with respect to some part of the business they were building. Ideally, we’d be able to give each of them $5,000 grants.
Outcome: We signed up nearly 100 alumni who opted in to become a part of the network that receives updates from people in the program and requests for help. The program still runs. The most successful company that has taken part now has 5 employees and generates revenue, and found it to be incredibly valuable! We also partnered up with AWS, a local law firm, and had VCs come out for the demo day in the end. However, we weren’t able to raise money to do this nor get the students class credit. However, if we could do both – it should become invaluable as is one of the best ways a team on campus to find a supporting network right when they get started.
On the flip side I do realize that teams that receive a lot of traction early will most likely skip something like this – but for most, it usually takes a bit of time and this will be important to them. For those cases rise of Dorm Room Fund/House Fund/Rough Draft Ventures/other campus focused funds will be major key!
Perfect Pitch – We shut this one down. There was too much happening.
LA Hacks (Spring)
Hackathons – what better place to get started than here, specifically for technical skills. This was an event for which we partnered with another organization on campus called – Sigma Eta Pi. Outcome – The mission over here wasn’t too much BE related – except for HackCamp which Nish Patel (OG Founder of BE) ran for 100 UCLA students who were coding for the first time. After two years of BE being involved, it has now spun out into its own organization. However, given that 20% of all students who attend it at Bruins, this event is still very important. There’s a lot of successes we enjoyed here! Those who had already dipped their feet/built a product or hack, but now wanted to make a business out of it.
BE LA Fellowship (Summer)
The goal over here was two fold 1) some people were entrepreneurial but didn’t want to start a company yet, but they had skills that could be valuable to others and 2) that they could grow them by working for somebody else (especially if they were freshman and sophomores). We wanted to screen the best hackers and hustlers. On the company side, we could build trust with up and coming companies in the local community. The goal was to pre-select 5 companies who were willing to interview the screened candidates, pay them a fixed amount, and weren’t above a certain size like 100 employees but weren’t too small so as to not being able to support an intern and give them a mentor. Also, this offered people to learn if they even wanted to take on the burden of starting a company – as opposed to working at a bigger tech company or a startup.
Outcome: We had somewhere between 100-200 people apply. We placed 3 or 4 interns. This was way harder than we imagined – making this work requires a lot of trust from the company side. We should’ve started smaller. To grow, ideally, partner with local VCs/Angels to partner (adds legitimacy too) as they will always have new (small in size) portfolio companies every year looking hire interns – should the program work that is. On the student side, partner with 1 or 2 more schools in the area to increase the supply of outlier freshman/sophomore students to place into firms – as most of the juniors are taken by the big cos anyway.
30+30 Alumni + Student Entrepreneur Dinner
The goal was very simple – connect future entrepreneurs with current alumni who are entrepreneurs/VCs/or in some other way add value. Lots of new connections to be made and will ensure that they have a starting network post college!
Outcome: First year was definitely successful – we were able to invite many alumni and it was a great experience for students as well!
Overall, I think this forms a good basic foundation of what an organization on campus would look like! However, there are tons more you can still do 🙂 GO out there, support your fellow entrepreneurs.
* SparkSC started with some Bruin guidance at an In n Out in Westwood. This deserves another post in itself.