Alumni Help Aspiring Entrepreneurs Look Ahead

Two venture capital veterans used hindsight to give students foresight into their VC and entrepreneurial careers at the annual SeedCon conference recently at Chicago Booth.

“If I could go back in time [to become a student at Booth again], I’d try to meet everyone I could,” said Stuart Peterson, ’95, cofounder and senior partner at Artis Ventures. The San Francisco¬¬–based venture capital firm has backed such companies as YouTube and Palantir Technologies. “Classmates will help you more than you think.”

Jeff Sheedy, ’95, director of international marketing at Artis Ventures, said entrepreneurs can have great ideas, but they need to surround themselves and the company with great people.

“It’s not just the idea, it’s the people around you,” he said. “Having a strong team gives you an ability to deal with adversity and allows for pivots.”

Peterson and Sheedy’s fireside chat wrapped up the daylong conference, organized by students. Hosted by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the event brought together entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and featured an entrepreneurs showcase, panel discussions, and workshops.

Peterson and Sheedy said it takes years for an idea to become a successful company, and the ideas will change and develop over time. The common threads, Peterson said, are “brilliant teams, brilliant ideas, and clarity of focus.”

The pair offered a list of do’s and don’ts for students seeking out venture-capital firms.

  • When meeting a firm, have a demo when giving a presentation. Try to solve a hard problem; it’s easier to attract investors that way. Know the market, share the economic studies with the team, and most importantly fully commit to the idea. Finally, follow up quickly and thoughtfully after the meeting.
  • Don’t cold-call or cold-email. Instead have a trusted third party make a connection, as it’s too hard for people like Peterson and Sheedy to take a serious look at an idea otherwise.
  • Think long term, so don’t ask for a non-disclosure agreement at the beginning and don’t go for quick hits. 
  • Don’t clutter up presentation slides and if you don't normally wear a suit, do not wear one. “Be comfortable with yourself and in your clothes,” Peterson said.

Sheedy and Peterson said they see several big trends in health care, such as personalized medicine and targeted therapies, which for example can isolate specific cancer cells to possibly cure cancer. Digitizing health information is also a big field.

Outside of "life changing trends" within health care, they said, other big “game changing trends” include the transition to public cloud computing, and the development of crypto-currencies, such as Bitcoin.

Student Tibi Stef-Praun, said it was helpful to hear the thought process of the Peterson and Sheedy.

“You also got the perspective of at what point you should approach a venture capitalist, too,” he said.

Ryan Kern, another student, said he was interested to learn about what industries Peterson and Sheedy believe are up and coming.

“They were talking about companies that may cure cancer. To hear about how personalized medicine may be related with therapeutic technology, it was something you hear a little bit about but not at the level they talked about,” Kern said.—Debbie Carlson