COLUMBIA, Missouri — The college-aged leaders of Mizzou’s AACE Venture Fund are learning as they go: not just how to invest in real startups across the region, but how to make the university’s long-running student investment program sustainable.
“We’re having real-world experiences — such as getting on the phone with founders, doing due diligence and figuring out if they have a viable business model — during our time with the AACE Venture Fund,” said Isaac Plumlee, a junior finance major, who is a managing co-director of the fund.
“We want to make sure that more students are given this opportunity as well,” he added, noting the need for sustainability within the University of Missouri’s Allen Angel Capital Education Program, as it is officially known.
The AACE Venture Fund is a student-led angel investment group founded in 2010 by Mizzou adjunct professor William D. Allen and five students. Nearly 150 students have participated in the group. Its current advisors include Allen, Gary McKinney and Kate Holland.
The fund initally received $700,000 in donations from the Allen family, the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation, Shelter Insurance, alumni and individual donors. Since its inception, $640,000 of capital has been invested across 14 startups with one partial exit of $135,000.
Click here to read more about the AACE Venture Fund and how it is structured.
But in order to sustain the program, Plumlee and his team are currently raising a Fund II of $500,000.
“We are structured as a 501c3, so it’s not like your typical Venture Capital firm,” he explained, noting that the AACE Venture Fund is donation based. “Venture capital is a fairly challenging industry. Ideally, we make smart investments, return money to the fund, and it sustains itself.”
The students are currently reaching out to alumni, founders and professionals in venture capital to pitch the program and get as many folks on board as possible.
“We’ve had individuals invest in startups alongside us in the past; but overall, we’re looking for the people who are really passionate about entrepreneurship and investing in education,” Plumlee said. “This opportunity gives ambitious college students real-world experience that we can then leverage to get jobs or internships and make connections.”
Donations to AACE are also tax deductible, Plumlee noted.
Click here to make a donation to the AACE Venture Fund.
Along with raising a Fund II, the AACE Venture Fund student leaders have focused on implementing changes to improve the program, said Keeley Van Antwerp, a senior accounting major and managing co-director of the program.
“Over winter break, we had a winter analyst program for all of the new analysts coming into the fund,” Van Antwerp said. “The other managing directors and I made some materials, and we met with the new analysts one a week over break to teach them about AACE, our investment thesis and the general landscape of venture capital and different types of financing.
“This allows us to hit the ground running as soon as the semester starts, rather than having to spend the first few weeks learning the basics,” she continued. “We’re already starting off on a really good foot with a pitch set up for week two.”
In the previous semester, Van Antwerp and her team saw higher quality deals, she said — noting that they set up different expectations than years prior.
“Rather than setting quotes on the number of deals being sourced, we focused on the quality of deals and how they fit in with AACE’s investment thesis,” Van Antwerp explained. “One other strategy we implemented was that we slimmed down the size of the fund.”
The program currently has 19 student analysts, including the three managing directors, whereas groups in the past have accepted up to 25 students.
“By having a smaller group, we are going to be able to get to know each other better and focus on the fund,” Van Antwerp said. “We rearranged our deal flow teams and structures, and we’re just really excited about the people we have in the fund and its future.”
In the coming year, the managing directors are hoping to plan a corporate trip to a major city to learn from that region’s professionals and connect with a wider network of founders, Plumlee said.
“We haven’t gone on a big trip since before COVID, but these corporate trips were a staple for the group in the beginning,” Plumlee said. “As a group, they would attend pitch competitions and demo days, and then meet with alumni at various VC firms. We’ve visited San Francisco, New York and Chicago in the past, so we are hoping to take our members on one of these trips.”
The Mizzou students are also looking to connect with other student-led angel investment groups across the country, Plumlee said — noting that AACE Venture Fund joined the College Venture Network in 2022.
“We would like to collaborate with these other student-led venture funds to share ideas and possibly go in on investments together,” Plumlee said. “A lot of other venture funds are investing on their own campus — Stanford is a great example of that — so we definitely see a lot of networking opportunities in the future.”