Technical.ly: Johns Hopkins has a new student-run venture fund

By: Stephen Babcock

With the robes back in the closet and commencement exercises completed at Johns Hopkins University, Elizabeth Galbut and Demilade Obayomi are heading off for new chapters in New York and San Francisco.

In their time at Hopkins the pair saw the student-based entrepreneurial community grow. And as their time wound down, the pair founded a new fund that they hope will leave an impact well beyond their time in Charles Village.

"A lot of students are not necessarily knowledgable about how to raise funding and what resources are available in the ecosystem."

Demilade Obayomi, A-Level Capital

A-Level Capital is a venture capital fund that’s run by students, and in turn helps support student-run startups. The idea is to help businesses that have a good idea of what they want to do, but are too early-stage for angels or traditional VCs. (It’s an idea similar to Philadelphia’s Dorm Room Fund.) The money could help over the first 6-18 months of a startup’s life, before companies pitch accelerator programs like AccelerateBaltimore, or the Blue Jay Syndicate, an angel fund focused on Hopkins founders.

“If we could be helping deal flow at the student level, it would be much more effective once they’re a little more developed to pitch to the Blue Jay Syndicate, and get a larger investment,” said Galbut, who completed a dual master’s program at JHU’s Carey School of Business and MICA’s Design Leadership program.

As managing director of the student-run Innovation Factory, Galbut has seen many of the student-run startups that have emerged. After being introduced to Obayomi, who founded a chocolate business called Jama Cocoa, the venture fund began to coalesce.

They assembled an 11-member student investment team from schools and program across the university, six of whom are student partners. To raise money, they began tapping JHU alumni and mentor networks for support. Galbut approached Dave McClure of famed San Francisco accelerator 500 Startups, who is an alumnus. Now he is one the fund’s first investors.

"After getting to know her and her team better, I knew I'd be a fool not to support them."

Dave McClure, 500 Startups

“After getting to know her and her team better, I knew I’d be a fool not to support them,” McClure said. “As a JHU alumnus, I’m excited to be an advisor and investor for A-Level Capital. They will be the catalyst that propels the growth of entrepreneurship at Hopkins, and I get to benefit from the upside of their passion, ideas and hardwork.”

They’re aiming for a first close of $100,000, and hope to raise enough money to support 80 companies over 4-5 years. Most of the investments will be about $20,000. If they raise enough money, there could be follow-on investing for companies that demonstrate progress.

Galbut and Obayomi hope the fund can also be a resource for students, and they plan to secure space on campus where companies can work.

“A lot of students are not necessarily knowledgable about how to raise funding and what resources are available in the ecosystem,” Obayomi said.

Having founded the fund, the two are now passing on the reins to other members of the group. Obayomi is off to San Francisco for an internship with 500 Startups, then he’ll start a full-time job at Goldman Sachs.

But as members of the fund’s advisory board, they are well-positioned to stay connected to Hopkins’ entrepreneurial community. And they hope the model they have created is also replicable for other colleges with lots of startups.

One happens to be just down the road. “The idea is that we can create similar versions of this with similar business models, say, at the University of Maryland, with our students partners there,” Galbut said.