Move over, Shark Tank. There are new investors in town, and they’re looking to Duke to fund entrepreneurs.
Contrary Capital, a university-focused venture capital fund, launched last Monday. The fund is decentralized, employing 100 investors who are current students at universities around the country, including Duke. The four student partners at Duke—MD/MBA candidate Tracy Han, senior Yixin Lin, senior Austin Wu and junior Steven Yang—will scout promising talent at the University.
Will Robbins, managing partner at Contrary Capital and a current undergraduate at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explained that Contrary had reached out to Wu and Lin for their involvement in entrepreneurship at Duke.
“We found two really good students at Duke—one was Austin Wu and another was Yixin Lin—and we were impressed by the fact that they were very involved with the entrepreneurial ecosystems and the tech community at Duke,” Robbins said. “So we brought them on, and we trained them…and they’ve been our investors on the ground since.”
Robbins added that he is excited to see what kinds of startups will come out of the University.
“Duke has a lot of really interesting research projects, and that’s one of our specific interests,” he said.
Lin, who joined Contrary in the summer of 2015, said that although Duke has a lot fantastic research, turning that research into actionable, real application may require venture capital. He added that Contrary had a lot to offer undergraduates as well, who he noted tend to be more interested in consumer-grade tech startups.
He expressed that the process of meeting with and helping select students for potential investment has been a rewarding experience.
“It’s been a super fun and exciting journey just being able to talk to all the cool people, both involved in Duke entrepreneurship from a venture side, and also the ones building companies as well,” Lin said.
Selected students will have the advantage of Contrary Capital’s star power. According to Robbins, 80 percent of their backers have co-founded billion dollar companies. Investors, who also serve on the advisory board, include Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard and Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear.
However, one of the venture’s strongest assets is its network of undergraduate and graduate student partners, Wu explained.
“Because we have this network, we’re able to leverage…resources of, let’s say, faculty members that we know in our network throughout the country for anyone specific,” he said.
Once students are selected, Contrary invests via a standard deal. Entrepreneurs will receive $50,000 for 2.5 percent equity, $100,000 for 5.0 percent equity and $200,000 for 10 percent equity.
However, investing is not the venture fund’s only aspiration. Wu explained that Contrary has two goals. While one goal is to support university founders, including students, faculty and undergrads, he stressed that Contrary has another equally important goal of improving the overall ecosystem of entrepreneurship.
“While it may seem like, as a venture fund, you are just concerned with finding companies, we are really here to grow entrepreneurship at Duke,” Wu said. “That’s why I’m involved in the first place.”
Robbins noted that many universities are realizing that after graduate school and getting a job, entrepreneurship has become a third option after graduation for many students, but these schools don’t have much experience building these entrepreneurial ecosystems.
The University’s entrepreneurship ecosystem has many resources, Wu noted. In addition to the several student organizations that support student entrepreneurship, tech companies in the Triangle are a resource for aspiring students. He added that Duke has had several founders in the last few years who have done well.
Wu added that there is room for improvement in Duke’s entrepreneurship landscape, but that the gap is closing quickly.
“I’m really proud of Duke. We’re growing very quickly, and we have a lot,” Wu said. “We certainly have a lot of room to grow, but I would say that out of any university I’ve seen in the country, we probably have the fastest upward trajectory of our entrepreneurship ecosystem growing.”