The average student or graduate of UC Berkeley can easily point to the university’s contributions to the periodic table. But the tech industry?
That’s not so easy.
But that’s not because its students and alumni haven’t founded successful tech startups—they have. Rather, it’s because of the lack of a culture that encourages entrepreneurship as a path for students, and an alumni network that’s not as strong as it could be, according to Jeremy Fiance. Fiance, who graduated from the school in 2014, spent much of this time as an undergraduate student roaming around UC Berkeley’s startup scene as an entrepreneur, investor, and even scholar—he wrote his senior thesis on startups that have come out of the university’s community.
And now Fiance has a small seed capital fund of his own, called the House Fund. With $6 million in tow, Fiance plans to invest at the earliest stages in startups founded by at least one UC Berkeley student, alumnus, or faculty member, though it’s not affiliated with the school.
In line with the fund’s theme and Fiance’s belief that the university needs pull its successful alumni back into actively contributing, most of its limited partners are alumni of UC Berkeley. They include early Uber investor and Sherpa Ventures managing partner Shervin Pishevar, Redpoint Ventures managing partner Jeff Brody, True Ventures founder John Burke, Cota Capital founder Bobby Yazdani, and former Venrock general partner Terry Garnett.
“Unless you’re there, you need someone like Jeremy [Fiance] to be there and gather all the resources,” Brody told Fortune when asked how Fiance’s fund can be useful to alumni like him seeking to invest in UC Berkeley’s startups.
He’s also gathered advisors, including Nextdoor co-founder Prakash Janakiraman, former Bessemer Ventures general partner Rob Chandra, and Craig Walker, who co-founded GrandCentral, which eventually became Google Voice.
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But getting alumni to support and nurture entrepreneurs and startups coming out of their alma mater is only one piece of the puzzle Fiance is assembling. In some ways, his new fund is only the latest addition to this puzzle he’s been working on for a few years with the goal of making startups a viable “career” option for UC Berkeley students. Free Ventures, the accelerator program he co-founded in 2013 with classmates Sam Kirschner, Cameron Baradar, Kirtan Upadhyaya, and Jasmine Stoy because they weren’t fully satisfied with the ones already on campus, has been a crucial piece. Specifically, he wanted to create a place and time during which students could work on their ideas and develop their budding companies. The program even offers academic credit to participating teams to keep them from feeling like they’re sidelining their studies.
“I was building these things that I wished existed for me,” Fiance told Fortune.
Fiance is also working on other projects to tackle more of the missing puzzle pieces but declined to publicly share the specifics.
Though Fiance and others associated with the fund prefer not to turn it into a competition with Stanford, it’s hard not to compare the two. Unlike UC Berkeley, Stanford is not only a known breathing ground for tech startups, but it’s developed a veritable pro-entrepreneurship culture and set of resources for students. It has a well-known accelerator program for Stanford-affiliated startups (whose alumni include Periscope and Life360), with a fund partially backed by the university itself. Successful alumni like PayPal co-founder and famed investor Peter Thiel and Y Combinator president Sam Altman have also taught classes about startups.
At UC Berkeley, it’s largely been a different story. “People are less prone to risk,” Rick Ling, who co-founded Instant eSports with two classmates and has received funding from Fiance, said of his alma mater’s culture.
And nevermind that, according to data from Pitchbook, UC Berkeley is in second place when it comes to yielding venture capital-backed startups. Unlike other schools with much stronger public relations, entrepreneurs from Fiance’s alma mater aren’t in the habit of publicizing where they went to school—another shortcoming in UC Berkeley’s culture, according to him.
With that said, the University of California as a whole, seems to have finally woken up to the fact that it needs to invest and capitalize on its community’s contributions to the tech industry. In 2014, it announced a $250 million commitment to a fund aimed at investing in research and tech companies coming out of the university system’s schools. A few months ago, it appointed Vivek Ranadivé, the founder of TIBCO and current owner of the Sacramento Kings, to run it.
When asked if the fund Ranadivé runs is an investor in his own startup, Fiance declined to comment.
Still, Fiance is well aware of the obvious weaknesses in his qualifications on paper. At 24, he’s the same age as the entry-level scouts, or “associates,” working for other venture capital firms—not leading them. And despite his myriad of entrepreneurial endeavors, including founding his own health device startup, starting the local chapter of First Round Capital’s college-focused fund, and founding an on-campus accelerator program for student startups, Fiance isn’t exactly the typical startup-veteran-turned-investor often hailed as the ultimate profile for anyone who wants to run around writing checks to startups that could strike it big and telling them how to run their business.
But he says his track record working for other firms—First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund and CrunchFund—should speak for itself, as well as the handful of investments he’s already made out of this fund’s capital. They include Lily, a camera drone that garnered more than $34 million in pre-orders, and Instant eSports, a news site for competitive gaming that participated in Y Combinator last year.
He plans to invest in a total of roughly 50 companies out of this first fund, he tells Fortune.
An earlier version misspelled Rick Ling’s last name. The story has been corrected.