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A New, $250,000 Startup Competition For Berkeley Students Takes Shape

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Pejman Mar Ventures is just two years old, yet it has managed to make a name for itself among Stanford students, partly because its 5,000-square-foot offices are less than a mile from the school’s leafy campus and largely because the firm has made a concerted effort to bring Stanford students and alums into its community, including through a summer program that basically invites students to hang out and see what happens, no strings attached.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Mar Hershenson and Pejman Nozad, who famously sold rugs to tech millionaires before becoming a full-time investor, the $50 million, seed-stage firm has already backed five startups whose founders were at Stanford when Pejman Mar wrote them a check. Among them: the deep-linking technology company Branch Metrics, which has now raised $17.8 million altogether; Polarr, a popular photo-editing tool that recently raised $1 million in seed funding; and the food-delivery startup DoorDash, which has raised $60 million to date.

Now, Pejman Mar is setting its sights on the University of California, Berkeley. Specifically it’s announcing a new competition in which it will invest $250,000 in one team founded by either a student, faculty member, or alum of the school in exchange for 10 percent of their company.

As part of the competition, it’s also passing 10 percent of its stake (or 1 percent of the company) along to Berkeley itself.

Applicants have until October 1 to apply. The firm will decide on the winner by October 30.

Nozad says the competition was born of a couple of reasons, including the firm’s realization that it wasn’t paying enough attention to the “untapped talent” at Berkeley.

“We’ve backed seven companies founded by students: one from M.I.T. , one from Carnegie Mellon, and five from Stanford,” says Nozad. Of course, he notes, with Sand Hill Road just minutes away — not to mention many VCs’ homes — Stanford sees plenty of interest from a lot of investors.

Meanwhile, he says, Berkeley, a 45-minute drive from Palo Alto, “doesn’t get nearly as much attention, despite that its computer science department ranks right up there with Stanford and Carnegie Mellon and M.I.T.”

Nozad says he wishes his firm could give the school as much attention it gives to Stanford. Until it has more bandwidth, it’s hoping the competition will help it identify a promising company it might miss otherwise.

The firm will also get a look at plenty of interesting new ideas, presumably. Asked if Pejman Mar is looking for companies in particular sectors, Nozad says it isn’t. “We don’t have any set rules. We think entrepreneurs know the future, not us. Even with our fund, we take it day by day, though typically, we look for people who are solving a problem in a big market, who have chemistry and whose motivations for starting the company we understand.”

Asked if the firm feels any pressure to fund a student versus a teacher or graduate, Nozad says it doesn’t, though he adds that “we’re only looking at [teams whose founders have] graduated in the last five years. We would have extended it to 10 years, but we don’t want 2,000 applications.”

Interested parties should take note: Along with a written application, Pejman Mar is asking that that each team put together a 90-second video. Keeping it simple is a good idea, too.

“They should tell us quickly about themselves and the problem they’re trying to solve,” says Nozad. “We’re not looking for anything crazy or cool.”

More information is available here.