The Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES) held its 15th VC3 event on May 25, reviving the program after a one-year hiatus to connect 16 student startups with venture capitalists (VCs) in “speed dating” sessions.
According to ASES President-Elect Kuan Peng ’15, the event often attracts investors interested in companies that can operate in the Asian market. Investors listen to three-minute product pitches from startup founders that rotate through their tables before giving three minutes of feedback on each presentation.
“VC3’s unique perspective allows people to get their ideas [across] more quickly,” Peng said. “This clearly helps give [the founders] a network and is something that not every event achieves.”
As well as connecting founders with venture capitalists, the program allows students to gain experience pitching to potential investors and to get feedback on their ideas. Financial Director Evelyn Xue ’16 described VC3 as the “premier event for VCs to connect with startups.”
“I was really excited to see the event come together,” she said. “Being able to land so many high-caliber VCs was amazing, and being able to screen all these high-caliber startups was incredible.”
Invited startup founders were chosen through an online application process, with the majority being Stanford undergraduates.
Matthew Fernandez ’16 was selected to pitch his startup SimpleEmotion, a company that uses voice-analysis technology to help people with autism detect emotion and other voice patterns.
“It does exactly what behavioral therapy does,” Fernandez said. “Except that the costs are significantly below professional therapy.”
The event was also attended by Alexo co-founders Rahul Mitra ’15, Ilina Mitra Ph.D. ’17 and Marcus Weber Ph.D. ’17. Alexo offers users a transmitter small enough to fit into wearable items that, when pressed, sends a message to a list of pre-programmed contacts through the user’s smartphone.
“We believe women should feel safe,” Mitra said. “The transmitter button is not too easy to set off accidentally but is easy to activate in an emergency.”
After the “speed dating” event, entrepreneurs listened to a keynote address by Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote. Libin warned students about becoming entrepreneurs for reasons that have become part of conventional wisdom, such as a desire for money and power.
“The number of companies that succeed is tiny,” he said. “There are many other fields where you can earn a lot more money in the same ten years it takes to build up a successful company, and you need to be able to afford to fail.”
Libin referenced his own experience developing Evernote as a successful model for budding entrepreneurs to follow.
“Business is not a zero-sum game. In order for you to succeed, others do not have to fail. That’s what we’ve been trying to do at Evernote — build a global company,” he said. “We just want to make a product that’s so good that it doesn’t need to change for a market or when another competitor comes around.”
Feedback from venture capitalists
This year’s event was attended by more than 15 venture capitalists, including Y Combinator partner Garry Tan ’03, Draper Fisher Jurvetson DragonFund managing director Bobby Chao M.S. ’77 and General Catalyst Partners principal Niko Bonatsos M.S. ’11.
Chao, who last attended the event over a decade ago, said that he enjoyed speaking to entrepreneurs — though he suggested that a longer time be allocated for each pitch — and noted that this year’s VC3 attendees seemed to be at a more advanced stage than in previous years.
“Ten years ago, it was more about students coming in with a good idea and needing direction,” Chao said. “Now, there are more business-minded students, and they come in ready with plans and business models — they are more realistic.”