By guest writer Christa Westheimer
The pool of venture capital (VC) fellowships for students and young professionals is exponentially growing–here is a list of 14 Venture Capital Fellowships for Emerging Entrepreneurs! After engaging and finding great value in the New Stack Ventures Fellowship, an unpaid program for college students to get hands-on experience in this field, I understand why. I had initially joined the program because I had my eyes set on building out a startup, and with everyone in the entrepreneurial ecosystem tossing around the term “VC”, it seemed important to know what “VC” actually meant. Because of this intention, I approached my experiences through the lens of a future founder. And in hindsight, I’m glad I did because it led me to form this opinion: joining a venture fellowship program (such as the one I joined) can help any founder increase their chances of securing future venture capital funding. Here are four ways this happens.
1. You learn how to differentiate the good startups from the great.
After sifting through hundreds of startup websites and Crunchbase profile pages, I have learned a few initial differentiators that make viable startups stand out. For example, startups with an intriguing one-line value proposition at the forefront of their websites instantly grab the attention of potential investors. While this may seem like an obvious lesson to most, over half of all of the websites I have viewed have been convoluted and complicated (which made them easier to dismiss).
So when (fingers-crossed) I create a startup in the future, I will make my value proposition as clear and as upfront on my webpage as possible. I will apply all of the lessons I have learned from my fellowship program that exposed me to so many different companies to make my startup stand out from the thousands and thousands of others in order to best position myself for VC funding.
2. You build a network of VCs (who know other VCs who know even more VCs).
Outside of my fellowship’s firm, I was encouraged (by my “bosses”) to network with external VCs and exchange investment opportunities. Though daunting at first (reaching out to very high profile people as a mere sophomore in college), I can definitely say I expanded my network. Now, I’m connected to VCs on LinkedIn, I have their contact information, and I even join them in regular virtual coffee chats. Honestly, I don’t think they would have responded to my emails or my LinkedIn requests had I not been a Venture Fellow associated with a venture capital firm.
And, if I have a startup down the line (that could potentially go big and benefit investors in the long run), I now have a network of VCs to call for diligence and potential funding.
3. You gain insight into what VC firms are looking for.
Granted, this insight is contingent on the fact that all VC firms are very different. A startup may thrive and receive funding from one VC firm but never even pass the first round of diligence in another. So when I say that you can gain insights on what VCs are looking for, it gets a little complicated because every VC is looking for different things.
However, there are a lot of core characteristics that most VC firms desire in their future portfolio companies. For example, most VC firms tend to want responsive and passionate founders. Most VC firms tend to want to know how your startup is going to change the game, make money, and outcompete any potential competitors.
After receiving feedback on my sourced deals and shadowing diligence meetings as a fellow, I can say with confidence that I know what New Stack Ventures looks for in their investments. More than this, I have learned what core characteristics make startups investable. By knowing this information, I will make it a priority to embody these core characteristics in my future startup (so that I can best position myself for VC funding).
4. You can attract attention to your startup.
But, after all of this, if you’re not a fellow (and don’t want to be), you can still use fellowships to secure VC funding by connecting with Venture Fellows and sharing information about your startup.
Deal leads and associates often receive several emails and connection requests from startup founders on a daily basis. At least from personal experience as a Venture Fellow, I can say that my inbox was usually empty. Reaching out to Venture Fellows can be often overlooked and mutually beneficial: you help Venture Fellows source more deals (to meet quotas), and your startup gets looked at and sent through the VC pipeline for further consideration. It’s a win-win!
As someone who hopes to one day found a startup, I have found fellowships to be invaluable in helping me learn how to stand out, network, gain insights, and one day attract attention to my future startup. I believe you can do the same. And you can start by applying for one (or more) of the many venture capital fellowship programs with open applications, today. Here’s a list of 14 Venture Capital Fellowships for Emerging Entrepreneurs to get started.
Christa Westheimer is a sophomore at Rice University studying Sport Management, Managerial Studies, Business, and Entrepreneurship. Christa is passionate about the intersection between entrepreneurship and social impact. Aside from her fellowship with New Stack Ventures, she is currently exploring this passion by building out 4Words, a student organization focused on adult English instruction. She is happy to connect on LinkedIn.
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