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Dorm Room Fund is growing up, but the students are still in charge

A New York City Dorm Room Fund meeting

The College Knowledge

Some great companies started in a dorm room – Facebook, Dell, and WordPress, to name a few. But far too often founders have to choose between school or entrepreneurial dreams. We’re looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Rei Wang, the director of Dorm Room Fund, told us. “Instead of having to decide between the two we make it easy to do both,” she added.

Dorm Room Fund is a $3 million venture fund run by college students that specifically targets student-run startups. The fund is supported by First Round Capital, a seed-stage venture firm that acts as DRF’s limited partner, said Wang. But she emphasizes, DRF is “for students and by students,” and “students have 100% full ownership.”

Wang’s role is to advise students on funding and help with selection and recruitment of investment partners. Turnover is frequent; investors can only be part of the fund if they’re full-time students.

So why have students invest in startups anyway?

“Students know students best,” said Wang. Student investors have found entrepreneurs at pitch fest, hackathons, and literally in their dorm room or residence hall.

After just four years, the fund has already picked some winners: The fund invested in Lily Camera, founded by Antoine Balaresque in the University of California, Berkeley robotics lab when he was a student. The flying camera pulled in $34 million in pre-sales at CES this year.

Another DRF funded company, FiscalNote, a big data analysis company that determines the impacts of government actions, was co-founded by Timothy Hwang while he was at Princeton. Forbes recently named him one of 30 Under 30 in Law and Policy. The magazine also talked to Hwang about balancing school and entrepreneurship.

Currently, the investment team charged with finding the next Lily Camera, FiscalNote, or Facebook is 250 students strong, with teams based in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and the Bay Area. Students are selected as partners based on their interest and curiosity in venture capital and investing. Partners meet in their respective cities to decide what startups to back. The team has invested in over 110 startups, usually at about $20,000 apiece.

The weekly DRF investment team gatherings look a little different than your typical venture capital firm meetings – most noticeably there are more women, said Wang. She believes the DRF is uniquely positioned to help add diversity to venture capital firms, by “demystifying the venture capital world and making things as accessible and approachable as possible.”

DRF also stands out compared to university run funds–specifically with speed, said Wang. They usually fund startups in 2-4 weeks.

“We eliminate all the friction involved with funding,” she said. A quick funding process helps busy collegiate entrepreneurs get right back to their startup, or their schoolwork.

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