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Swiss VC Wingman to launch new student-run fund

Students will scout — and invest in —  upcoming startups from some of Switzerland’s top universities. 

By Freya Pratty

Zurich-based VC firm Wingman Ventures is launching a new student VC fund, the Wingman Campus Fund, aimed at nurturing the next cohort of VC talent. The students it picks will scout — and invest in —  upcoming startups from some of Switzerland’s top universities. 

It’s a model pioneered in the US by initiatives such as Dorm Room, a fund launched by First Round Capital that’s run by students across American campuses. Dorm Room’s invested in companies that have raised a combined $300m.

Other student VC initiatives from North America include General Catalyst’s Rough Draft Ventures and Canadian VC Real Ventures’ Front Row fund. 

But student-led VC funds are less prominent in Europe, with UK-based Creator Fund one of the only examples.

Inspired by Dorm Room

“We came across the Dorm Room fund model,” explains Edouard Treccani, head of partnerships at Wingman, which currently has $83m of assets under management. 

“For us it’s a triple win: the startups get capital, we get to be a launchpad for students who want to become VCs later on and we get closer to the startups.”

Under the new scheme, which launches in April, 15-20 students from across three universities will be chosen. They are ETH Zurich, EPF Lausanne and the University of St. Gallen — all of which have a reputation of developing startups.

The students will make five investments per campus of around 20k swiss francs each (around 18k), into startups from the student community. The VC students will undergo training across a year-long fellowship, including lectures from Wingman and other European VCs.

Full autonomy

One thing Wingman is set on, inspired by the Dorm Room model, is that the students will be fully autonomous when it comes to investment decisions, something they believe will make the cohort as motivated as possible. 

Giving the students full autonomy isn’t something that’s replicated across all student VC initiatives — in some a partner from the main fund is always part of the end decision making process. 

“My hope is that, at the end of the traineeship, they will have accumulated enough experience to seamlessly join an internship at a VC or get a position as an analyst,” Treccani says. 

Boosting diversity

Treccani hopes the initiative can bring more diversity into Swiss VC, especially in terms of gender balance.

“We debated internally if we should go for students with experience in consulting or VC firms, or if we should go for high potential students, whatever their professional experience,” explains Treccani. “We went with the latter.”

“What we want is motivation, diversity and a sense of community and fellowship,” he says. “Those are criteria we’re selecting based upon.”

This is also one of the aims of the £1.5m Creator Fund, which launched in 2020 with backing from London-based company builder Founders Factory and now Eric Schmidt’s Schmidt Future. It now trains student investors across 28 universities in the UK and Sweden.

To date, it has trained more than 40 student investors, invested in eight startups and deploys £1m — £2m each year. This year, it plans to launch an initiative to support Black founders, as well as launching in Eastern Europe too.

“The growth of Creator Fund, who encourages students to invest in their peers’ innovations, clearly shows us a way to get early-stage funding and support to a more diverse range of founders and ideas, beyond the Oxbridge campuses where VCs so often focus,” says Henry Lane Fox, chairman of Creator Fund.

Areas of interest

The industries the students will invest into are broad, Treccani says, though they’ll probably fall into two categories. 

“Firstly, your typical software startup, where students code an enterprise SaaS or a marketplace,” he says, “but you also have great deeptech spinning out of the labs of these universities, even though these have longer cycles, we’d like to fund them.” 

This includes things like greentech solutions to plastic waste, new energy technologies and quantum computing.

Measuring the success of the students’ investments isn’t something Treccani is particularly concerned about. 

“I’m not thinking about metrics at this stage, I want to make sure it’s a great experience for the students, the goal is to have the students learning a ton.”

Freya Pratty is Sifted’s news reporter. She tweets from @FPratty

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Toby Moore
Toby Moore

Who’s paying for the students’ VC apprenticeship: the GP or the LPs?