Student-run venture capital firm launches on campus

KAREEM OSMAN/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR A-Level Capital launched on the Beach with a performance by the Lion Dance team and refreshments.

KAREEM OSMAN/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR
A-Level Capital launched on the Beach with a performance by the Lion Dance team and refreshments.

By SYDNEY RIEMER

A-Level Capital, the University’s first student-run venture capital firm, hosted a kick-off party on the Beach on Saturday. The new organization, composed of both undergraduate and graduate students, plans to invest in startup companies proposed by current Hopkins students as well as young alumni.

“We’re 100 percent like any other early stage investing firm. It’s actually a company, not just a student organization,” A-Level Capital Founding Partner Elizabeth Galbut said.

Galbut developed the idea that became A-Level Capital as an MBA/Masters student at the Carey Business School and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) while leading a student group called Innovation Factory. She found that many students were coming to her with startup ideas but had trouble finding early stage funding. She later helped run a venture capital investment competition in which real-life entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to student investors.

“We barely marketed at all, but 80 students participated. This is when we realized there was an interest in the Hopkins community about how to become an investor for a startup,” Galbut said.

Though new to Hopkins, A-Level Capital is not the first organization of its kind. Another student-run venture capital firm called Dorm Room Fund started in 2012 in Philadelphia and has since expanded to other cities including New York and San Francisco.

The funding for A-Level Capital came from alumni, and the group hopes to invest in about 80 student and young alumni startups within the next five years. Saturday’s event attracted many interested entrepreneurs.

“I make apps, so if they invest in me I can invest my idea and time in them,” sophomore Astha Berry said.

Parth Deshpande, a master’s student in engineering management, is optimistic that A-Level Capital could invest in his company.

“It doesn’t seem too hard to get funded,” he said.

In addition to money, startup groups will also receive mentorship. Junior Kiran Jagtiani, a member of the A-Level Capital investment team, emphasized the importance of providing students with guidance.

“Venture capital is a good way to get into the startup world, and we hope to not just fund startups but create entrepreneurs,” he said.

Sophomore Arisa Morgan believes A-Level Capital will provide a valuable outlet for students’ creativity.

“I don’t think I’m creative enough to get involved in this, but it’s good for other people because it encourages entrepreneurship and creativeness on campus,” Morgan said.

Galbut spoke about how involvement with A-Level Capital could influence students’ career prospects.

“The other founding partner of A-Level Capital, Demilade Obayomi, just graduated in 2015. He was set to start his full time job at Goldman Sachs in July,” she said. “He was able to do an internship at 500 Startups in the two months he had between school and starting his full time job because of A-Level Capital.”

Establishing connections with companies is an important mission of the organization. Currently it has ties to Freedom Digital Media, a company based in Maryland that is filming a promotional video for the firm. Digital Media has had notable clients like the Baltimore Ravens and ESPN.

Saturday’s launch party largely functioned as a promotional event to spread the word about the organization.

“The main part is to really just let the Hopkins community know that this exists because what we’ve found is that communication is a big barrier, and we want everyone to know about the opportunity that exists for them. We’re doing this because we love Johns Hopkins,” Galbut said.

Carey Business School student Kelvin Fu, a member on the A-Level Capital investment team, felt the launch party provided a valuable opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to mingle.

“Graduate students are good resources for undergraduates because they have experience, but I feel like there is a disconnect between them on campus,” Fu said.

The Hopkins Lion Dance troupe entertained attendees, performing in front of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library as part of A-Level Capital’s promotional video. Jagtiani donned a purple unicorn suit and danced with the group.

“In venture capital terms, a unicorn is a billion dollar company,” sophomore and A-Level Capital partner Siavash Parkhideh said while sporting a blue unicorn horn on his head. “We want students to know that unicorns exist and that we’re here to find them.”

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