Student organization Learning to Fly Ventures (LTF) aims to expand the entrepreneurship community on campus through funding undergraduate startups. Founded in 2017, the group has recently restructured board members now actively look for ideas to fund instead of merely relying on applications from interested entrepreneurs, as LTF did in the past.
Third-year LTF board member Agnay Mohindra explained that the organization consists of seven core board members who manage a $250,000 University-endowed fund. LTF’s money comes from an anonymous alum’s endowment to the University; LTF does not rely on returns from investments, although it does keep track of them and sees them as measures of success.
LTF’s investment amounts vary for each company it funds, but they have typically been between $500 and $3,000. The funding is meant to help student ventures get off the ground and is exclusively given to companies that have not gotten their first round of funding.
Since its inception, LTF has funded 10 student start-ups spanning a range of industries. Their portfolio companies include FlipSide, a start-up that generates political content for readers opposing their views, and Foodie, an app which crowdsources dish ratings.
LTF invests over $10,000 in new ventures each quarter. The board does this by reviewing funding requests from student entrepreneurs, interviewing them, and determining if and how individual projects will be funded. Mohindra explained that LTF’s quick turnaround rate on investments sets it apart from similar groups on campus.
“If anyone wants funding, as long as they justify why they need it and their plan is sustainable, we will help them,” Mohindra said.
Mohindra added that LTF’s restructuring aims to reflect a shift in the UChicago atmosphere, with an increasing number of students interested in entrepreneurship. This demand for student startup support made LTF decide to expand its approach to investing in startups.
“We now attend events like Hack Night, [the College New Venture Challenge] Kick-Off, and International Leadership Council (ILC) entrepreneurship events to interact with entrepreneurs,” Mohindra said. “If someone has an idea, we encourage them to pursue it because of our quick turnaround rate.”
LTF also introduces companies within its network to each other and offers mentorship to the companies as a way of supporting its entrepreneurs. LTF’s connections to the UChicago Careers in Entrepreneurship (UCIE) program ensure that they always have the resources to help startups, Mohindra said.
LTF additionally hosts and contributes to several entrepreneurial events. Last year, for example, the group hosted a meet-and-greet for its portfolio companies to network and the board judged ILC’s 100-day entrepreneurship challenge.
“I think LTF has become very close to what a [venture capitalist firm] does, especially the events, the sourcing, and the investments,” Mohindra said.