Rebel venture: Donation creates student-run investment fund


Business students need a lot more than lecture-based course work to land good jobs after graduation. They need practical, hands-on experience dealing with the risks and rewards of funding, building and growing a company.

Thanks to the vision and generosity of part-time finance professor Jeff Moskow, UNLV students have an opportunity unavailable anywhere else. Mr. Moskow donated $500,000 — $100,000 a year for five years — to create a student-run venture capital fund that invests in Southern Nevada businesses.

“There aren’t very many of these venture capital funds,” Andrew Hardin, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at UNLV’s Lee Business School, told the Review-Journal’s Chris Sieroty last week. “Michigan and Utah have funds, but they are different ... less student-oriented. Our program is very hands-on, making it a great way to provide them with learning experience. ... I can teach it all day long, but until you have to make a decision, it’s just classroom instruction.”

The Rebel Venture Fund is a 25-person organization: 14 graduate students, two undergraduate students and a nine-member advisory board. The fund seeks equity in local companies that can deliver a return on investment within five to seven years.

The fund’s first investment was a $25,000 deal with Walls 360, a company that moved to Las Vegas from San Francisco two years ago and makes reusable wall graphics.

“When I came to UNLV, I would never have expected something like this,” senior Rey Dos Santos, who with three other students vetted Walls 360 for the fund, told Mr. Sieroty. “A learning opportunity where I could sit side by side with these smart people. I thought that experience was reserved for universities with rowing teams.”

Not so. And the Rebel Venture Fund’s student board is open to students outside the business school. One has a biomedical background, and members want engineers and computer students to broaden the fund’s expertise. Venture capitalists don’t just hand over money and disappear — they work with other investors and company management to build lasting relationships and great businesses.

This is real money, and real pressure comes with it. Inevitably, some of the fund’s investments will fail. But if the fund hits a few home runs with fast-growing local companies, the returns will be paid forward through more investments in more valley businesses.

“It’s nerve-wracking, because you don’t want to make a bad investment,” said fund managing director Darius Rybinski, an MBA student. “The longevity of the fund is definitely a priority.”

Venture capital, by itself, doesn’t create jobs. Successful, growing, taxpaying businesses create permanent jobs. There are scores of companies with the potential to grow, but don’t because of a lack of capital. An investment, and the partnership that results from that investment, can lead to huge financial — and personal — returns.

Mr. Moskow deserves the community’s thanks for making a donation that has the potential to do so much good in Southern Nevada and further elevate the reputation of UNLV.

 

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