February 3, 2016
Rough Draft Ventures: Students Empowering Startups

College-student-turned-entrepreneur stories like Mark Zuckerberg’s are more common today than they were a decade or so ago for a variety of factors (the booming tech industry, for one) - especially here in Boston. One group that’s helping to drive students’ start-up success is Rough Draft Ventures. The firm, launched in December 2012, invests in college students’ early-stage startups. It funds up to $25K and gives entrepreneurs access to support, mentors, and a network of other startups.

“The capital shouldn’t be the barrier to company creation,” explains Peter Boyce II, Rough Draft co-founder. “If you are brilliant, you should be able to find the support to get your company off the ground.”

Boyce started the firm as a senior at Harvard to help fill the funding void between business plan challenges that award nominal funds and raising seed or series A funding.

Helping Students Outline Startup Success

Core to Rough Draft’s process is its team, made up of local students with preexisting interest in and dedication to their respective university’s startup and entrepreneurship communities. It vets potential investments at its weekly meetings.

The group reviews inbound applications and pairs team members up to conduct exploratory calls with founders. Those founders with the highest potential are invited to give a 25 minute pitch to the team. Then the decision to invest is made quickly - usually within 48 hours.

“We don’t need weeks and weeks to do due diligence,” explains Boyce. “We invest in interesting, product-centric, enterprising young founders coming out of school with conviction and a strong idea of what they want to improve.”

Once Rough Draft makes an investment, it helps on-board the startup by adding its team to email lists and a Slack group. It provides them with other resources, like affordable access to services.

Rough Draft also leans on local entrepreneurs and investors to provide its portfolio companies with mentorship and guidance. The firm holds events each semester to bring student founders and the local startup community together.

“It’s so easy to forget how much students have going on. It’s easy for them to spend all their time in the student bubble,” he explains, adding that it can also be daunting for students to attend events alone.

To counter that, Rough Draft’s founders, student team, and other campus ambassadors work to round up groups to attend events together.

“A positive experience at one event increases likelihood of joining the [Boston tech and startup] ecosystem,” Boyce says.

The Next Draft

Rough Draft’s on-going goal is to grow and create the largest network of student entrepreneurs.

“I want us to be the default support for folks who have the conviction to build great businesses while they’re in university or graduating from university,” he says.

Since launching, 25 local Rough Draft students has backed more than 50 startups (including two recently featured on VentureFizz: Freebird and LovePop) which have gone on to raise more than $135M in follow-on funding, according to a post on Medium by Rough Draft's Community and Content lead, Natalie Bartlett. (LovePop was a contestant on ABC’s SharkTank in December and accepted a $300K investment offer from Kevin O’Leary.) Last year alone, the student team met with more than 300 founders and brought more than 50 startup teams to its weekly pitch meetings. It closed 2015 with an additional 16 companies in its portfolio.

While the long-term success of Rough Draft’s portfolio companies may still too soon to tell in most cases - some investments were made in just the past few weeks - Boyce is optimistic.

“I really expect and feel that the work these teams are doing hold a lot of intangible value,” he says. “It’s still hard to quantify, but successes will come in the form of what and who these people are down the road.”

Kaite Rosa is Director of Content & Marketing at VentureFizz. Follow her on Twitter: @KaiteRosa.

Image via Peter Boyce II

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