What would happen if a university entrepreneurship program let students play venture capitalist for a semester – with real money?
That’s exactly the opportunity awaiting students at Ben-Gurion University, which has launched a $1 million investment fund to be managed by students in the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship.
The fund is called Cactus Capital, after BGU’s location at the tip of the Negev desert. It’s a joint venture with Fresh.fund, which is backed by PICO Partners and invests in early-stage tech companies founded by Israeli students, academics or recent grads.
Fresh.fund will oversee the new BGU VC and will run a course to give students the hands-on experience they’ll need to invest the $1 million wisely. After completing the course, students will join the Cactus Capital board of directors and play an active role in investment decisions.
The fund will offer three funding tracks: Ignite – up to $5,000 for technological startups in the ideation stage; Validate – up to $20,000 for startups looking to validate a key assumption about their market or product; and Social Impact – up to $5,000 for social entrepreneurship projects.
The initiative was launched earlier this year by BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi and BGN Technologies Director General Netta Cohen at the SilicoNegevBGU conference. BGN is the technology-transfer company of BGU.
Dana Gavish-Fridman, VP entrepreneurship at BGN Technologies, says the program “will give our students a noticeable advantage.”
Fresh.fundis connected to all of Israel’s leading academic institutions. It typically invests between $20,000 and $100,000 in early-stage tech companies and up to $500,000 (together with other investors) in exceptional cases. The process is usually no more than six weeks from application to money.
The Center for Entrepreneurship will run courses, hackathons and other initiatives to connect student software developers to the broader startup ecosystem in Israel.
“We need to change the way we educate our students,” GavishFridman says. “Employers today wish to see a lot of experience, not just academic achievements. We need to connect our students to the commercial world and make sure they get that exposure.”
BGU has some 20,000 students, 4,000 faculty members, 150,000 graduates and, soon, a whole lot more startups.