At the start of National Small Business Week this week, the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship at James Madison University is launching the Bluestone Seed Fund, a donor-backed investment fund that will provide equity investments in student and alumni businesses, while also providing hands-on venture investing experience for JMU students. The program is the first of its kind at JMU.
Students can pitch their businesses for investment as a Student Founder or participate as a Student Venture Associate for real-world experience in the investment process.
“This is not a student scholarship competition,” said Suzanne Bergmeister, executive director of the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship. “Students will be pitching their real, legal businesses and raising real seed capital for their startups. On the investment side, students will be gaining unique experience in venture investing. The work these students do with the Bluestone Seed Fund will benefit them greatly no matter what career or industry they choose to enter post-graduation.”
With the launch of the Bluestone Seed Fund, JMU joins other elite universities nationwide that support venture investing for student-led startups.
“We looked at successful seed funds at other universities and then added the Madison touch. What’s unique about the Bluestone Seed Fund is the opportunity for large numbers of students to be involved,” said Mary Ann Alger, who helped develop the concept. “In addition to those students seeking capital for their own ventures, other students can source deals, perform due diligence, and monitor the investment portfolio, all of which are impactful learning experiences. Alumni and other outside advisors will assist with every aspect of the Fund, thereby providing additional mentoring for students.”
Investments in entrepreneurs’ for-profit companies will vitalize the Bluestone Seed Fund portfolio.
Startup selection will be highly competitive. Student Founders will apply and then pitch to the Bluestone Seed Fund’s investment committee, made up of JMU alumni, donors, faculty and community experts. Businesses selected for investment will receive $5,000 in exchange for a 5 percent equity stake in their startup. Student Venture Associates will help recruit, vet and select Student Founder finalists to pitch ideas. They’ll be in the room when pitches are made and privy to the deliberations and selection process and will monitor the investment portfolio.
For the first round of investments, the fund is open to current undergraduate or graduate students and 2021 alumni. It will open to any JMU alumni who graduated within the past five years, no matter current location, in the spring 2022 semester. The first Student Venture Associate cohort will be announced later this month. Investment decisions are expected at the end of the year.
“Our students will now have the opportunity to either pitch or the be the shark, to succeed or fail fast, learn from that experience and be ready for the next opportunity. As an entrepreneur, I know the value this type of experiential learning brings,” said Michael Rebibo, chair of the Gilliam Center for Entrepreneurship Advisory Council and owner of Rebibo Ventures, LLC.