Student entrepreneurs at UCLA now have access to a capital venture fund on campus to develop their startup companies.
Contrary Capital, which launched its UCLA branch last week, provides mentorship, resources and networking opportunities to student entrepreneurs. The fund has branches at more than 40 universities across the country and receives backing from companies like Tesla Motors, an automobile designer and manufacturer, and MuleSoft, a software company.
Rak Garg, a fourth-year computer science student who leads the fund’s UCLA branch, said Contrary aims to introduce UCLA students and faculty building startups to investors and mentors in the startup industry.
“We’re … here to connect people,” Garg said. “So even if someone doesn’t need investment … we still have contacts within Contrary as a whole and (can) still connect people to the right companies and the right contacts to grow their businesses.”
Sohom Paul, a third-year statistics and economics student who also leads Contrary’s UCLA branch, said Contrary is open to working with undergraduate, graduate, alumni and faculty startups.
“Contrary just believes that universities are really where all the entrepreneurship is coming out,” he said.
Garg said Contrary can help students bypass traditional methods of raising funds for startups, which he said often depend on meeting the right people with the right assets.
“If you haven’t had the chance to meet those people or make those networks, then you statistically have a lower chance of raising capital, and that can really be the difference between life and death for your company,” Garg said.
Garg added he thinks students and faculty who create startups often do not have the time or opportunity to cultivate relationships with investors.
“There’s a much lower barrier of entry for those people to just talk to us on the phone or over Facebook, as opposed to trying to reach out to a much bigger fund that doesn’t necessarily have boots on the ground at UCLA or even in LA in general,” Garg said.
Will Robbins, a managing partner at Contrary, said the fund usually gives student investors on each campus autonomy in how they operate.
“Every school has its own unique personality, so you don’t want to have outsider workers come and manage things for you,” Robbins said.
Robbins, who is a student at the University of Illinois, added Contrary wants to build relationships with school administrators and advise them on how to guide student entrepreneurs on their campuses.
Nathan Wilson, a lecturer in UCLA Anderson School of Management, said he thinks that organizations like Contrary are useful in helping student entrepreneurs find funding and mentorship. However, he said he thinks entrepreneurs should still carefully evaluate any investor’s motivations and goals.
“In my time, I’ve met with people who absolutely want to give back and very successful people who want to see other people succeed, and I’ve seen people with sort of less-than-perfect motivations behind why they want to work with people,” Wilson said. “They want to make money off of other people, and they want to get rich off of your ideas and your work.”
Wilson added that while groups like Contrary can help early-stage student entrepreneurs launch their startups and meet like-minded people, he said he thinks students should focus on learning more about the particular industry they are interested in.
“You also need to build your fundamental core skill set around the business that you’re interested in,” Wilson said. “Nothing beats some experience in the space that you’re interested in starting a company.”