First Round Capital‘s Dorm Room Fund launches its third city today. The fund, which gives teams of college students $500,000 to invest in companies on campus, is now taking applications in San Francisco. This follows the original fund in Philadelphia, which has now made two investments, and the second chapter in New York, which launched in February.
The idea behind the fund is not only to give First Round access to on-campus deal flow, but to help students who want to stay in school while working on their startup do so without dropping out. The firm selected students to make the investment decisions because they have the most intimate understanding of what’s bubbling up on their campuses.
Other firms have built similar programs. General Catalyst has a Boston-focused program called Rough Draft Ventures and The Experiment Fund, backed by Accel Partners, NEA and Polaris Venture Partners, focuses on the projects of college students.
First Round is expanding as rapidly as it can, says First Round Partner Phin Barnes, so that the students (both investors and founders) can benefit from access to a network in multiple cities. The firm is looking at North Carolina universities, as well as Boston, Chicago and Austin, for its next two cities, which will launch in the Fall. “We believe in the value of a Stanford student connecting to a student from Harvard and Penn and communicating, so we’re trying to get to scale as fast as we can so we can show that utility and value,” he says
The network idea fits well within First Round’s network-based philosophy of providing services to its portfolio companies.
The firm has stayed away from the agency model of providing in-house PR, recruiting and design services to its portfolio companies, because that doesn’t scale well, the firm’s founder Josh Kopelman (a PandoDaily investor) explained at a recent PandoMonthly. But with a strong network of connections between portfolio companies, they’re able to help each other. Then, each additional company added increases the value of the community.
First Round offers a private Yelp for service providers, a “HackPR” website connecting reporters with startups, a venture concierge which uses MBA students to do market research for startups, a trusted message board for employees in specific roles to talk to other employees in that role at different companies, and even a First Round portfolio company ecommerce site during the holidays.
The decision to go to New York second and San Francisco third was based on requests from students. It seems a little bizarre that students on the Berkley and Stanford campuses would be so hungry for startup funds. After all, as the New Yorker declared last year, there are no walls between Silicon Valley and Stanford, which the magazine called “Get Rich U.” And yet, students there like the idea of investments that are chosen by other students, says Barnes. “Their view is that getting funded is not necessarily a challenge and they have connectivity to Sand Hill Road. But students investing in students is viewed as better than scouting done on behalf of venture capitalists, he says.
To that end, the program’s first chapter, Philly, has now made two investments. The first was for Firefly, maker of a screen-sharing software run by outspoken and highly recruited college junior Dan Shipper. The second, announced today, is for Whamix, maker of an authoring platform which allows content makers to easily create interactive video content. The company is working with film studios and publishers to repackage their content into interactive tablet versions, says co-founder Ashish Parikh.
Parikh and his co-founder Apurva Shah plan to move operations to San Francisco when they graduate from Wharton this year. Already the startup has secured partnerships with Disney, Pixar, The Wisdom Tree, Illimina Visual and FoundHealth, although the company can’t yet reveal the exact nature of the partnerships. Dorm Room Fund’s investment in the company contributes to a $750,000 seed round which the company is in the process of closing.