At the Broad College, we strive to provide hands-on learning opportunities for our students to push the boundaries and transform the future of business.

One way this comes to life is through the MSU Student Venture Capital Fund, a collaboration between the MSU Foundation and its venture investment entity, Red Cedar Ventures, and the Broad College Center for Venture Capital, Private Equity and Entrepreneurial Finance.

The SVCF allows students taking FI 444: Entrepreneurial Finance to conduct investment selection, due diligence, competitor and monetization analysis and valuation analysis for emerging start-ups.

Zsuzsanna Fluck at a college event in 2019.

Zsuzsanna Fluck, associate professor of finance, pictured at the SVCF inaugural investment ceremony in 2019

To top it off, the student evaluations translate into real investments. The start-ups — run by MSU faculty, students and mid-Michigan entrepreneurs — have a chance to receive vital pre-seed funding from the MSU Foundation and Red Cedar Ventures to help them thrive.

“This is a unique program that places MSU among the leading universities in the VC/PE space and adds a critical piece to the entrepreneurial ecosystem at MSU, helping the commercialization of MSU innovations and transforming students’ lives,” Zsuzsanna Fluck, associate professor of finance, founder of SVCF and director of CVCPEEF, said.

“You’re not just calculating random numbers for figurative companies — this is real,” Manroop Kera, rising finance senior, said. “Questioning everything is key: why they want this funding, how will they use it, what is their plan, how do they compare to their competitors and so on.”

The 2021 awardees

This year, 35 students presented their evaluations at SVCF’s third investment celebration, awarding a total of $50,000 to five start-ups from the local community, spanning industries from health and wellness to education and agricultural technology.

  • Starchtek uses a vertically integrated subscription-based business model to sell and license its patented biostarch resin, Starcha. The resin converts into sustainable Styrofoam alternatives for the protective packaging industry.
  • Motion Grazer AI, also known as SIM, is a hardware platform that seeks to provide the swine industry with automated and quantifiable indicators of sow reproductive potential, body condition and locomotion. This helps users be more productive and profitable while ensuring animals’ health and welfare at lower costs.
  • Crossbraining is an open-source platform that aims to make education accessible across the world. The platform focuses on high-quality collaboration and lesson exchange among teachers to enhance students’ learning experience, achievement and performance.
  • IASO Therapeutics is focused on developing next-generation vaccines to enhance human health and treat disease. IASO has developed a proprietary platform technology that can be applied to vaccines against a variety of diseases, including cancer and microbial infections.
  • DietID allows users a fast, accurate and affordable way to reach new dietary success. The platform has wide applications within the clinical, coaching, employee wellness, food delivery, athletics and weight loss segments.

“We started with roughly 20 companies to choose from and ultimately made our way down to just five,” James Baldwin, rising finance senior, said. “These five companies, as a class, we thought were the best opportunities and earned our investment from the Student Venture Capital Fund.”

Making business happen

With the addition of this year’s start-ups, SVCF’s portfolio is up to a total of 14 companies. To date, the past two cohorts have generated $4.9 million in follow-on investment since the initial SVCF investment.

“There has been some great momentum by the folks here as well as everybody that works with our start-ups,” Jeff Wesley, executive director of Red Cedar Ventures, said. “It’s a pretty exciting time here at MSU.”

Students make a presentation.

The SVCF investment portfolio is up to a total of 14 companies, with past cohorts generating $4.9 million in follow-on investment to date.

What really makes the SVCF successful is collaboration at all levels. Distinguished partners from across campus, advisory board members and alumni engage in meaningful ways each year. For example, Manoj Saxena (MBA ’91), executive chairman of CognitiveScale and founding advisory board member of CVCPEEF, gave a keynote address at the investment celebration.

In addition, the students involved in SVCF come from within and beyond the Broad College to create a lasting, cross-learning experience. Fluck has maintained a partnership with the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and initiated a relationship with the College of Engineering to enable this campus-wide participation.

“We have a truly outstanding team with many different majors and minors, including finance, management, accounting, engineering, computer science, neuroscience, communications, entrepreneurship,” she said.

Brandon Hartman (B.A. Neuroscience and Physiology ’21) said, “Meeting individually with the founders and representatives of each company, asking questions and interacting with entrepreneurs was an incredible experience that allowed me to gain perspective as to how these innovators operate.”

Jake Roach, rising finance senior and co-founder of vaping alternative CAPNOS, added, “There are very few classes at MSU that offer real-world experience like this, and I am very grateful and proud to be a part of a such a great learning experience. As a founder myself, it was insightful to be on the other side of the table.”