Why the SVF is so much more than a venture fund
By Keidon Giles
University of Waterloo students are known to be an ambitious bunch, always looking for ways to advance their experiences and knowledge to gain a step ahead in the real world. The same can be said for School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) students, who can meet their ambitious goals by getting involved with the Student Venture Fund (SVF).
The SVF is a four-credit program (half credit per term) that's exclusive to the SAF. Students are interviewed and selected to participate in a venture fund where they conduct due diligence to determine if a start-up business, based in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) or Waterloo Region, is worth investing real money into. The fund aims to replicate what venture capital investors do in their day-to-day operations. As a member of the SVF, students build skills necessary for the business world and open doors to professional possibilities, while facing challenges and gaining opportunities along the way.
The School recently sat down with Noah (Bachelor of Accounting and Financial Management, 2022 [BAFM ’22]), Yigga and Sean (BAFM ’22, Candidate, Master of Accounting [MAcc]) to discuss their journey as members of the Student Venture Fund during their undergrad. Yigga’s highest role within the SVF was ‘Director of Education’, while Sean and Noah’s were ‘Senior Associate’.
Replicating what a venture capitalist would do while investing is no easy feat. Yigga expressed, “One big challenge is that really sharp learning curve, which is also really exciting in that it replicates what you'd see in a venture capital co-op term or through work experience.” This sharp curve entails learning new venture capital perspectives, as a student on the Venture Fund is always looking at different companies, in different industries, and at different stages. Because of this, new technologies, new processes, and new business models will be presented. Another challenge as a student is balancing the responsibilities of being in the SVF and taking a full course load at the same time. The team’s decision on whether to invest in a start-up does not follow the timing of the student calendar at UWaterloo. Noah explained, “They [the start-up] have to raise this funding by a certain deadline, which means we have to do all the work to make a decision by that deadline.” Building multitasking and organizational skills will allow students to plan effectively and better balance the SVF with their undergraduate or MAcc graduate studies.
Skills necessary for success
The SVF team welcomes challenges with open arms due to the potential for the development of skills and traits required to succeed in the accounting and finance field. Communication is one of those key skills that can be developed and pushed while being a member of the SVF. Students are placed in real-life scenarios, stepping out of their comfort zone while communicating their thoughts and ideas with industry professionals. Noah claimed, “The ability to communicate effectively and understand your audience is a big one. At the venture fund, we're put in a room with the CEO of the company we're looking at, for example, and have to ask them questions and make sure that we're using their time effectively and getting the answers that we need.”
To receive the answers needed, intellectual curiosity is required. Sean shared, “A skill that really helps me is intellectual curiosity and what I mean by this is being able to ask the right questions and just having a general curiosity for learning new things…So, it's important to be able to ask questions to gain understanding and not be afraid.” Learning how to communicate with your peers is also essential for teamwork and coordination on the fund, as well as in the accounting, finance, and business world.
Successes with the SVF
Yigga, Noah and Sean, through a dedication to their craft, were able to represent the University of Waterloo at the undergraduate level in 2021 at the ‘Canadian Regional Venture Capital Investment Competition’ and finished first place!. Following their incredible national win, they represented Canada and competed at the international level, coming away with a proud fourth-place finish. But would the SVF be considered a success without the first-place victory? The answer is a resounding yes! Noah made it a point to say, “A lot of students on the fund, including the three of us, have had a lot of career success as well, landing co-op jobs that are related to venture capital. For myself, the SVF has helped me land roles in private equity, venture capital and management consulting. So, it really has opened a lot of doors in that sense.”
Regardless of the outcome, the three SVF members were able to form strong working and personal relationships with each other, which proved to be a great experience in relationship building, according to Yigga, and is important when networking with professionals in the accounting and finance field.
The value of the SVF
If you are a prospective or a current SAF student interested in joining the Fund, you have probably noticed that embarking on the SVF journey provides value beyond university studies. For Sean, the networking aspect of the Fund provided the most value. “I'd say the biggest part about the Student Venture Fund for me was being able to make connections and meet other people…where you get to work with students from different backgrounds.” Noah on the other hand realized the great opportunity he had in front of him and shared, “Getting that opportunity at 19 or 20 years old is amazing, to get that level of exposure and make these real decisions that have broader implications on the success of start-ups.” For Yigga, the SVF offered experiential learning, providing knowledge, first-hand skills, and experiences that can only be attained beyond the classroom.