Two sophomores at Stanford led the launch in June of College Ventures Network (CVN), a global network of student accelerators that provides access to capital and support for student startup founders.
Grant Gordon ’23 and Michelle Schwartzman ’23, current and former co-directors at Cardinal Ventures, led the project. Cardinal Ventures is Stanford’s only student startup accelerator.
“Software is more global than ever and talent has always been,” said Gordon. “It’s about time the opportunity was in Venture, too.”
CVN is now a network of over 30 student-led accelerators – organizations that help startup founders accelerate their growth – in the US, Canada and the UK, Gordon said. In addition to expanding startup funding opportunities, CVN enables knowledge sharing, helps founders address common challenges, and provides guidance on creating new student-led accelerators, Gordon said.
The impetus to found CVN came from the challenges Gordon’s team observed among student accelerator founders. The most common problem was the lack of risk funding opportunities for students far away from Silicon Valley – those in non-target schools or in emerging startup ecosystems, Gordon said. Cardinal Ventures, re-launched last year as Cardinal Ventures 2.0, was well positioned to assist these accelerators in developing and ultimately coordinating the formation of CVN.
“I’ve noticed … that a lot of students are trying to create startups without really making a big, tangible impact,” CVN founding member Michelangelo Valtancoli wrote in an email to The Daily.
Valtancoli, who heads the British podcast Near Founders for first-time founders and startup enthusiasts, attributed the founders’ lack of implementation to limited funding opportunities. But with CVN, access to venture funding will better turn startup ideas into reality and make students feel like their projects “can make a real difference in the world,” wrote Valtancoli.
As part of its launch, CVN held a “Demo Day” to enable startups to introduce their companies to a geographically diverse group of Venture Capitalists (VCs) – investors who fund startups. According to Gordon, the event reflected the network’s vision to democratize access to capital, which was attended by 18 startups and nearly 200 investors.
The event also offered students the opportunity to connect with investors, said startup founder Nicolas Barone, who showcased his startup universe for 3D and virtual reality online classes.
“The goal of Demo Day was to model a venture ecosystem where every undergraduate, no matter where they study, has an equal chance of success,” said Gordon.
CVN member Arthur Chen, founder of smart irrigation startup Verdi and a native of the University of British Columbia, said CVN offers him valuable opportunities to meet founders from around the world. Seeing others run their own businesses and gain momentum with them – especially because they are his age – inspired him to keep refining his own startup, he said.
“It’s not just us … it’s there [are] also these other people out there who are following something really cool, ”said Chen.
Like Chen, Valtancoli comes from outside the US and also praises CVN’s internationality.
“For us Europeans, the idea of having access to the Stanford student founders network is just great,” he said.
CVN founding member Brian Li, who represents the Stevens Institute of Technology’s Accelerator Launchpad, helped expand CVN’s network of founders and investors. He said that Launchpad startup Quae has heard from numerous VCs since joining CVN, and Launchpad received so much attention that it was featured on the Stevens website.
“It really showed how top business schools can work and work together, especially due to the fact that we are all virtual,” said Li.
As part of its vision of being a platform for every student, in every location, to build a local entrepreneurial ecosystem, CVN plans to release definitive guide to starting a student-led startup accelerator, Gordon said.
Rice University’s accelerator, Rice Ventures, is one of their early success stories, according to Gordon. The managing director Christa Westheimer said that she had a lot of lessons learned from Cardinal Ventures for the revision of her program. Westheimer later helped launch CVN, saying that member accelerators at various stages of development are very valuable for learning and feedback.
“College Ventures Network is exactly what the college startup ecosystem needs right now,” wrote CVN member and startup founder Andrew White. “I can’t wait to see the tremendous impact these efforts will have in helping student founders in the years to come.”