Longtime VC Stewart Alsop believes “people in their 30s and 40s should work.” And by work, he means outside of venture capital. “You should be in a company,” Alsop, 61, explains over breakfast in San Franciso’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. “Your value comes from your work experience. If you sit around a board of directors’ table, and you don’t have experience and a network and a point of view and a domain that you know, you don’t bring any value.”
The stance is somewhat ironic, given that Alsop and his partners at Alsop-Louie Partners have been introducing exceedingly young people into the world of VC since shortly after the firm’s 2006 founding. It was then that the firm begin working with college students, transforming them into part-time campus spies and calling them “associates.”
“The [students] are all, generally speaking, 18 or older,” Alsop tells me, dipping into his eggs. “But they’re younger than the drinking age, so we consider them our kids, and we take care of them,” including “teaching them about employment and taxes and stuff like that.”
Alsop-Louie is hardly alone in bringing college students into the fold. Though the firm is well known for tapping students to help them identify talent, a growing number of venture firms are finding creative ways to identify the next Mark Zuckerberg. Andreessen Horowitz employs an in-house “college talent manager.” Insight Venture Partners employs students as analysts on a full-time basis during the summer. Meanwhile, numerous firms, including Highland Capital Partner and Lerer Ventures, have student-focused summer programs. (Lerer Ventures even calls its program Summer School VC.)
It’s become so competitive on college campuses that Alsop-Louie had to remove a Stanford student who was a finalist for their program after it learned the candidate was already involved in another venture firm’s student program. (“We wouldn’t want someone in our firm out talking with other people,” explains Alsop.)
The question is what impact such programs are having on students involved in these programs. Alsop-Louie hires college students as sophomores, so they can spend three years playing VC. It’s enough time to figure out who’s who on campus, says Alsop. Yet it’s also enough time to begin envisioning a career in venture capital, an industry that’s shrinking, not growing. Is exposing them to a life that most can’t have fair?
Alsop tells me about the numerous former associates – out of 13 to date – who remain close to the firm. Corey Reese, the firm’s first recruit at UC Berkeley, is today CEO of Ness Computing, a personalized search engine that was incubated at Alsop-Louie. It has since raised $20 million from an investor group including Singapore Telecom, American Express, and NTB Docomo. (Notably, Reese found five deals for Alsop-Louie’s first fund.)
Another former campus associate, Eli Chait, is the cofounder and CEO of Copilot Labs in San Francisco. The company, which provides real-time marketing intelligence information to restaurants, raised $2 million last summer from undisclosed investors.
Yet another recent UC graduate is working as an engineer at one of Alsop-Louie’s portfolio companies. And the list goes on.
“They each have an innate interest in tech and in venture,” says Alsop.
And yes, some of them hope to become venture capitalists out of college. “They do think that,” Alsop acknowledges. But he says that the firm quickly “beats it out of them” and pushes them to think instead about what else they really want to do.
“We make it clear that this isn’t a job that teaches you anything,” he adds with a laugh.
Photo courtesy of Joi Ito.
Sign up for our morning missive, StrictlyVC, featuring all the venture-related news you need to start you day.