How’s this for school spirit? A group of alums have come together to invest in startups connected to Cornell.
Chairman and founder Sam Sezak (also a partner at Blue Heron Capital) has a bachelor’s degree from Cornell. He said the idea began a few years ago, after he attended a Cornell entrepreneurship event — the event impressed Sezak with the community’s entrepreneurial energy, but he also said (via email) that it was clear that Cornell “needed to find a way to catalyze the alumni to efficiently provide both capital and expertise.”
Red Bear Angels (the group has no official connection to the university, and takes its name from Cornell’s unofficial mascot) has already made five investments since last year. Now the group is formally launching Red Bear Angels Management and has hired its first managing director, Meghan Cross. Cross was Cornell Class of 2008, and previously worked as director of communications at StyleCaster, before getting her MBA from Columbia.
The group aims to invest between $250,000 and $500,000 in seed, Series A and Series B deals for companies that are founded or led by Cornell alumni, faculty and students. The investors, on the other hand, don’t have to be affiliated with Cornell — they just have to commit to making at least one investment per year. The group is also planning to raise a fund in 2016.
According to Sezak, Red Bear isn’t focused on a particular industry.
“Rather, we have a ‘talent thesis’,” he said. “We are capitalizing on the fact that Cornell University is home to the country’s best engineering program attached to the widest set of vocationally focused niches – from hospitality and agriculture to ergonomics and labor relations. And what better time to support this pool of talent than at the launch of the much-anticipated Cornell Tech & Technion campus?”
The idea of focusing on entrepreneurs coming out of a particular university isn’t entirely new — there’s also StartX, an incubator for on Stanford startups. And as Sezak noted, it’s a particularly exciting time for Cornell, with its campus on New York City’s Roosevelt Island expected to open in 2017. Even before then, Cornell Tech is already up-and-running in NYC, and already helping students launch startups.
Red Bear’s portfolio includes development/investment firm CoVenture, agriculture financing startup ProducePay, ed tech company Academic Merit, the New York Code + Design Academy and Eversound, which makes hearing devices for the elderly.