University of Minnesota Launches Student-Run VC Fund, Atland Ventures

Matt Jessen-Howard. Courtesy photo


What makes Atland unique is the amount of power it gives to students. While Atland has the backing of trusted and accomplished advisors, students ultimately have the final say.

“The students have the legal power to make the final investment decision,” Vaz says. “This is something very different. Our investors do have a seven-day veto power but at the end of the day, the advisors do not make the investment decisions. It’s all up to the students.”

But Vaz says that’s also the most challenging aspect of running Atland.

“We are an independent firm, and, in many ways, this feels like running a company,” he says. “As students, we’re running our own startup and building our own organization. We’re also thinking about things that we would not never think about in a casual or student group setting. We’re running an actual company and we have a fiduciary responsibility to do so.”

The 23-student team at Atland is a diverse group of students coming with background in over 12 different majors.

“They’re not only business majors,” Vaz says. “We have students who are biomedical engineers, computer scientists, industrial engineers, etcetera. It’s a very diverse organization.”

That diversity in background is especially important to how Atland approaches the due diligence process and the overall way Atland is represented.

“In the past, the organization was very focused towards finance majors and we kind of realized that this was a blind spot for us,” Vaz says. “Bringing in students who have finance majors, supply chain majors, biomedical engineers, computer scientists, industrial engineers, is a very interesting decision because there is a degree of cognitive diversity that is very helpful for our due diligence process.”


Lucas Vaz

Currently, Atland is gearing up to start its fundraising process. The goal is to raise $1.3 million and make an average of five investments per year over the next seven years.

It’s a tall objective, but Jessen-Howard says it’s critical if Atland hopes to continue its pace and solidify its legacy as an entirely student-run firm.

“A big emphasis that we’ve had over the last six months has been to create a sustainable structure and processes where mentorship is available and Atland can be a very sustainable fund and accomplishes what we see as its purpose,” he says.

What’s that purpose exactly?

On the surface, Atland hopes to create a new and unprecedented experiential learning experience that connects students, entrepreneurs, and investors. In many ways, it’s already accomplished that by being the first independent student-run VC firm in the country.

But on a deeper level, Atland’s purpose is about impacting the way students’ view entrepreneurship in their own careers.

For Vaz, the experience of running Atland has completely changed his career ambitions.

“This experience has opened new doors for me,” he says. “It connected me directly to entrepreneurs and investors in an industry that is typically very closed, especially so for undergraduates. The fact that we’re connecting to those people at such a young age has quite honestly changed the path of my career. I know for a fact that I want to be an entrepreneur in the future and the fact that I’ve had this experience has severely impacted the way that I will approach this career decision in the future.”

That’s the type of impact he hopes Atland will have on others.

“We want Atland Ventures to be one of the most diverse and distinguished organization connected to the University of Minnesota,” Vaz says. “We believe that we’re creating a legacy that will last over the next decade and will impact students’ lives in the way that they approach entrepreneurship and the way they think about entrepreneurship in their careers.”


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