Introducing The House Fund: Built for Berkeley

I am excited to announce The House Fund, a $6M pre-seed and seed stage venture fund. We’re the first fund focused fully on Berkeley, investing in student, faculty, and alumni startups.

We believe a University ecosystem is an ideal place to start up and Berkeley’s is one of the best around. But there’s still a huge need for strengthened community and funding support.

The House Fund marks a new chapter for the Berkeley startup community. It represents the culmination of more than five years working as an entrepreneur myself while co-launching several initiatives designed to realize Berkeley’s startup potential.

A Student Entrepreneur on Campus 5+ Years Ago

When I came to campus in the fall of 2010, I won a campus pitch competition and was eager to take my idea to the next level. In my search for resources and entrepreneurs who could share their own experiences, all I could find were classmates star-struck over The Social Network, wanting to be the next Zuck, and clubs glorifying startup culture rather than building real companies.

It turns out some students were building early stage companies, but they were doing so on their own in stealth, in the depths of their dorms, outside of the University ecosystem.

Discovering The Berkeley Opportunity

Since I had no idea how to start a company and couldn’t find the resources I needed, I did what any aspiring student entrepreneur would do — pulled together my smartest friends and prototyped a solution to solve the problem. The first challenge was simply finding the existing student founders. In the Fall of 2011, I searched high and low for Berkeley student entrepreneurs — from Cafe Strada to the depths of Soda Hall.

The more I got to know these individuals, the more it became clear: Berkeley startup founders craved a more cohesive community. After several months of searching around campus, meeting incredibly bright and talented students building companies, we decided to band together as Kairos Society Berkeley.

Kairos’ mission was to convene students looking for both entrepreneurial friends and resources that could help them turn their seeds of startups into real businesses. This was certainly progress but one thing continued to dishearten me — and then it started to piss me off — the enormous number of brilliant students on campus who were discouraged from pursuing their big ideas because of the perceived lack of opportunity or resources. I had faced these issues myself so I could understand the thinking, I just didn’t agree with it.

I wondered what would happen if we invested a small amount of capital (say up to $2,000) in talented entrepreneurs with big ideas and crazy projects. In the fall of 2012, with only a few thousand dollar grant from the Big Ideas competition, the Free Ventures accelerator was born. Free Ventures was designed to eliminate students’ excuses for not pursuing a project or startup. We gave students course units to work on their startups, provided small amounts of capital, and brought in alumni entrepreneur mentors to guide them on their way. We supported brilliant students in turning an idea or project into a scalable business, and in doing so sparked venture-backed businesses that would not otherwise exist.

The more we built, the more needs we uncovered. In the Spring of 2013, as the startups we were supporting began to mature, I heard many of my peers complain about the lack of access to early stage capital. Most companies’ early needs lay in the $20-$200K range. I experienced this pain personally when my own health data science startup required $100K to run a clinical study.

Seeing this need for Berkeley startups to access capital, I called up Dorm Room Fund, started at UPenn, to learn how they were trying to solve the problem. Soon after, one of the Dorm Room Fund partners called about bringing the fund to UC Berkeley and asked me to join. Within 18 months, we invested $120K in six Berkeley startups from all ends of campus. Today, those companies have gone on to raise more than $38M. It’s still too early to tell what the returns will look like, but each one continues to grow.

How Big is the Berkeley Opportunity?

Friends and campus leaders encouraged me to continue building for Berkeley. The pipeline we’d built was starting to churn out some great businesses with Kairos yielding 30 companies that went on to raise over $30M in funding and Free Ventures yielding 30 companies that went on to raise over $20M in funding.

Even with these organizations, and the many others that formed on campus over this time period, entrepreneurs still struggled to find pre-seed capital. There was a huge piece missing — a dedicated Berkeley fund.

I knew something big was brewing in Berkeley… I felt there was a huge opportunity waiting to be seized. But before I embarked on a new adventure, I needed to answer a few critical questions:

  1. Was Berkeley as big of an opportunity as I sensed it was?
  2. How did it stack up to the best startup opportunities?
  3. Would potential Limited Partners invest in the opportunity?
  4. Were entrepreneurs excited and eager for a Berkeley-focused fund?

I needed more data.

First, we dove deeper into Berkeley startup performance metrics. My friend Sean and I built the largest database ever on Cal startups, leading to an 85 page thesis. Our findings were consistent with Pitchbook’s often-cited annual college startup report, which lists Cal as #2 for venture backed startups. I noted that the other top schools, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, all have venture funds focused on investing in their campus and alumni communities. We also found 26 major exits of $100M or more, 12 IPOs, and 10 active unicorns founded by companies with at least one Cal founder over the last decade.

After I graduated, I worked at CrunchFund. During my first six months, two of the seven investments I sourced were Berkeley startups. While there, I discovered that not only were opportunities from Berkeley on par with the best opportunities in Silicon Valley, but also that a significant number of CrunchFund’s best performing startups had Cal ties — this was consistent across other top tier fund portfolios.

My final test was to speak with alumni. In raising this fund, I held over 500 meetings, and while not every meeting was with an investor, every meeting taught me something new and brought The House Fund closer to fruition. I learned that experienced investors also saw the opportunity for Berkeley to have its own fund. Some alumni starting their second or third company even pitched me on investing in their startup.

A New Chapter for Berkeley Startups

Taking all of these learnings together I realized that building The House Fund, the one and only fund built by and for Berkeley startups, was not only necessary, it was inevitable given the number and quality of startups being built here. At The House Fund, we believe entrepreneurs in Berkeley are in one of the best places to build a startup.

Our story is part of a much bigger movement happening on campus right now as student entrepreneurship has evolved into a growing and integral part of the Berkeley experience. To cite just a few Berkeley initiatives, there are eight accelerator programs focused on specific stages and vertical industries, over 40 clubs across engineering, design, and entrepreneurship, two entrepreneurship centers, a design institute, a maker space, the world’s largest ever collegiate hackathon, and much more.

The House Fund is built by and for Berkeley founders. We’re doubling down on our belief in Berkeley by contributing a significant portion of our returns and resources back into the ecosystem. Stay tuned for another big announcement on that front in the coming months.

We also believe the biggest opportunities are in the beginning — we like to be the first investor in a pre-seed round or partner as part of a pre-seed or seed syndicate. The House Fund has invested in six companies to-date.

The House Fund helps Berkeley founders build the foundations for great businesses. If you’re a Berkeley founder, mentor, investor, part of the Berkeley community, or interested in supporting its founders, please reach out — the doors to The House Fund are wide open.

None of this would be possible without the hard work and support of leaders in the Cal community and the founders in the trenches. Nor would it be possible without The House Fund’s investors. Huge thanks to the students, directors, professors, alumni, entrepreneurs, investors, friends, and family who have helped bring this all to life — their names collectively would merit an entirely separate post.

We couldn’t be more excited about the next five years. Go Bears!

-Jeremy, Founder and Managing Partner in Berkeley, The House Fund

Thanks to Terry Garnett and Jeff Brody for being the first to believe in me and see this big investment opportunity. Thanks to Alex Fiance, Alex Kern, Andrea Boren, Cameron Baradar, David Burch, Hadley Wilkins, Matt Menezes, Sam Kirschner, and Sean Linehan for reading drafts of this.

The House Fund: The House Fund is a $6M pre-seed and seed stage venture capital fund investing in Berkeley’s top student, faculty, and alumni startups. We help Berkeley founders build the foundations for great businesses. We have invested in 6 startups including Lily Robotics, Instant eSports, Eko Devices, and Gradescope.

Jeremy Fiance is the Berkeley startup investor, dedicated to strengthening Berkeley’s startup community and equipping Berkeley founders with the tools needed to build great businesses. Jeremy was previously an investor at Keiretsu Forum, CrunchFund, and Dorm Room Fund SF. As an entrepreneur, Jeremy co-founded a health data science startup called Dropsense backed by Skydeck Berkeley and the Foundry @ CITRIS and actively advises several Berkeley startups. While a student at UC Berkeley, Jeremy proved the campus’ startup potential co-launching several initiatives, including Kairos Society Berkeley and Free Ventures, that have sparked over 50 startups raising over $50M in venture financing. Outside of the technology and startup world, Jeremy is a black belt in Tang Soo Do, table tennis gold medalist, amateur cartoonist, live music enthusiast, and die hard Cal Bears fan. Follow him on Twitter at @jfiance.

The House Fund and UC Berkeley are separate and independent legal entities. An affiliation with one entity does not imply an affiliation with the other. The content of The House Fund on Medium is not created, controlled, maintained, owned or endorsed by UC Berkeley or its affiliates, trustees, officers, employees, or students.