Santa Clara University Launches “Bronco Venture Fund”
By Deborah Lohse
New endeavor will invest specifically in Santa Clara University-affiliated startups.
In a few weeks, a growing tech startup called Wificoin, founded by SCU alumna Suruchi Gupta, M.S. ’14, will announce it has received funding in which participants receive tokens—a form of cryptocurrency. It’s an exciting and modern way for Gupta’s company to bring in private capital.
Meanwhile, automotive robotics company RoboTire, founded by Bronco Victor Darolfi M.S. ’13, just received over $7 million in a more-traditional “Series A round”—a level of professional private-equity funding that indicates a company has significant traction in developing its product and customer base.
Both companies were among the first to be nurtured through Santa Clara University’s three-year-old Bronco Venture Accelerator (BVA), which invites promising SCU-affiliated startups for a summer of free mentoring and business development. BVA is part of SCU’s Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
What’s more, now both companies are receiving some of their funding from the Bronco Venture Fund, a brand-new Santa Clara-based fund created to invest specifically in Santa Clara University-affiliated companies.
The Bronco Venture Fund is similar to investment vehicles centered at other universities —UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck Fund and Stanford’s StartX Fund, for instance—that provide financial support for university-based startups and receive a stake in their ultimate success. Santa Clara’s fund will invest in SCU-affiliated companies from any industry, as long as the companies are deemed investment-ready by a four-person investment committee. The fund’s investors (10 so far) are alumni or financial backers who believe SCU’s startup ecosystem is producing investment-grade talent.
Troy Detrick ’89, who learned about the BVA through a fellow alum, is among those applauding the new fund. Last year, the veteran tech executive-turned-venture-capitalist looked over a list of the top 35 U.S. colleges and universities that had produced successful startups. SCU wasn’t among them, despite having no shortage of startup success stories launched or co-founded by Broncos, including NVIDIA, OnePointOne, Branch, Mirantis, Alignment Healthcare, Tamara Mellon, Onerent, Lounge Buddy, Blockrize, and others.
“Santa Clara has always had strong ideas and strong leaders percolating up through the community,” said Detrick, now an investor in the Bronco Venture Fund. “They just needed that support system and financial support.”
Morgan Slain, director of the BVA and managing partner of the Bronco Venture Fund, agreed, saying Santa Clara University has never been better positioned to cultivate home-grown startups, especially in key areas such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and “software as a service”— markets where BVA-sponsored companies have excelled.
"Our Bronco Venture Fund builds on what's well-known about Santa Clara University—its history, location, academics, ethics, and strong alumni,” said Slain, a veteran Silicon Valley investor and tech executive. “It also leverages developing strengths such as the proliferation of STEM majors and the growing interest in entrepreneurship among students, faculty, and young alumni at SCU.”
Established earlier this year, the new fund has 10 limited partners who have committed to investing a combined $6 million toward the fund’s goal of $10 million. Each year for five years, about 20% of the fund will be invested in qualified SCU-affiliated companies, including a select number that are part of the cohort entering that summer’s Bronco Venture Accelerator. Those selected BVA companies, likely three to five each year, will each receive $50,000. Other companies, which must have a SCU affiliation, will be selected with help from the Fund’s investment committee. (SCU’s University endowment has invested a small amount in the fund, and like other investors will receive a profit if the companies perform well over time.)
“It’s very special to be the first investment in Santa Clara’s very-first venture investment fund,” said Gupta, who calls her bandwidth-sharing company “the last singular network for the planet.” She notes how SCU is “dear to her heart” because, as a female of color and an immigrant from India, her introduction to the very startup ecosystem that so fascinated her—including her first hackathon, which she won—happened at Santa Clara. So if and when Wificoin becomes profitable, she said, “that will be one way for me to give back to the university.”
Detrick said he’d place Santa Clara University’s startups, including Wificoin, on par with many he’s encountered throughout his career in technology and venture capital, noting that their concepts are strong, and most are focused on bettering humanity. And now, through the Bronco Venture Fund, SCU alumni with means can support these founders through the early, vital rounds of funding.
“It’s a great investment in the future,” Detrick said. “The rest will take care of itself.”
For more information about investing in the Bronco Venture Fund, see santaclaraventures.com.
May 26, 2021
Wificoin founder Suruchi Gupta M.S. ’14, during the Bronco Venture Accelerator.