Special Report: At Stanford, venture capital reaches into the dorm        

Fri Dec 12, 2014 12:23pm EST
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By Sarah McBride

(This story was refiled to restore the dropped “i” in the spelling of Alain Meier’s first name and changes semester to quarter.)

STANFORD, California (Reuters) - At the end of their first year at Stanford University, a half dozen students snagged an apartment-style dormitory on the third floor of Griffin House, overlooking the campus golf course. A little over a year later, in the autumn of 2014, just two were left at Stanford. The others had gone to work on their startups. 

They had a big advantage: Fellow roommate Chris Barber, 21, was a budding venture capitalist, already learning about the business of injecting funds into promising new firms. He funded companies run by three of his roommates.

Long one of America’s elite universities, Stanford has grown into the leading alma mater, by far, for entrepreneurs receiving early-stage funding from top venture capital firms.

What most outsiders don’t see: how early the investment community starts cultivating Stanford students, how committed the students are, and how deeply the VC culture has burrowed its way onto campus.

At Stanford now, venture capitalists are teaching, investing in students’ startups, volunteering as mentors, occasionally even visiting the dorms. Professor-turned-VC Balaji Srinivasan visited Griffin House last autumn, shortly before he joined top venture firm Andreessen Horowitz. He was invited to discuss the emerging currency bitcoin.

The dedication can come with a price. Last year social gatherings at the suite, Griffin 304, were rare. A small fridge held mostly soda, not beer. For most of the academic year, Barber was the only roommate with a regular girlfriend. One of his roommates, Jesse Leimgruber, complained that girls drain hours in the late evening, “the most productive time for a startup.”

For VCs, the attraction of academia is simple: Some of the hottest tech start-ups are founded by college kids. Student-run firms that met venture capital backers at Stanford include Snapchat, the photo-sharing service. Chief executive Evan Spiegel dropped out two years ago to work on the venture. His first VC backer, Jeremy Liew, is a Stanford alumnus.   Continued...

Chris Barber, a student at Stanford University, uses a laptop computer as he conducts business from his dorm room in Stanford, California, June 11, 2014. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach