Jawed Karim, a YouTube co-founder who now helps students start technology companies, has joined forces with two other tech entrepreneurs to start Youniversity Ventures, a venture-capital company that invests in student-run tech start-ups at Stanford University, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota.
Q. Why did you start Youniversity Ventures?
A. After YouTube, I knew I wanted to stay involved in venture activities because I find it endlessly fascinating from an intellectual standpoint. I love analyzing business plans and thinking about what may work and may not work and developing products.
Q. But why, as a venture-capital firm, do you work with students?
A. We want to be the mentors we wish we had had when we were starting up. We also know a lot of people in the VC business, and the thing we did not want to be was a traditional VC. At the end of the day, start-ups are black boxes, and it becomes just a deal.
We wanted to be down in the trenches working on product development. I’m a developer, a programmer by background. I want to be sitting there with the students and helping them figure out the architecture, figuring out how you scale an application to millions of users. Those are things VC’s normally don’t do.
Q. How does the mentorship process work?
A. We’ve been working with a lot of teams. Our process is very informal, not like traditional VC’s. We hold office hours at Stanford on a quarterly basis for whoever would like our advice. A lot of student teams have cool ideas but don’t know how to take the next step.
Q. What companies have you invested in so far?
A. BluBet.com, a Web site that’s a social network for games and bets. The other investment we made was TokBox, a Web-based video-conferencing tool.
Q. How much money do you invest in each company?
A. It varies — in total, anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000.
Q. You and your two Youniversity co-founders are limited partners at Sequoia Capital, a major VC firm. Is Youniversity Ventures scoping out prospects for Sequoia?
A. We provide seed funding that usually gives the company a chance to develop a prototype further. Then they can go and present to more traditional VC’s. We don’t have any official requirement to pass companies to Sequoia. We do have a lot of contacts among several VC firms, and we encourage our portfolio companies to go to our VC contacts. —Catherine Rampell