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Looking for a Venture

flying paper plane illustration, says "NYU Law Venture Fund"

NYU Law becomes a pioneer among law schools with the launch of its own venture capital fund.

This month NYU Law leads the way among its peer schools as it launches the NYU Law Venture Fund, a source of venture capital for seed-stage start-ups that are headed by current students and alumni. The fund will invest up to $50,000 in a given start-up.

The inspiration for the fund sprang from several sources, with alumni as an especially strong constituency, says Anthony Thomas, senior director of development and strategic partnerships in NYU Law’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations. Law School Trustees Robert Gold ’84, president and chief executive officer of Ridgewood Capital, and Stuyvesant Comfort ’95, LLM ’96, founder and managing partner of Conversion Venture Capital, expressed early interest in a fund to encourage entrepreneurs in the NYU Law community. 

Thomas says that when he investigated what peer law schools were doing, he could find none that specifically supported start-ups—yet some of the most influential tech venture capitalists in recent years, such as David Lee ’99, co-founder of Refactor Capital, come from a legal background. Fortunately, the Law School did not have to look far for advice on setting up a fund: the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute’s NYU Innovation Venture Fund, which invests in early-stage NYU start-ups, already existed at the University. Thomas says that the Law School plans to explore possibilities for further collaboration with the University’s fund, adding, “Our goal is to be the law school when it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Gold cites New York’s locational advantage as a “great center of entrepreneurship and venture capital…. This really allows the Law School to stake out a leadership position in this area.”

Law School alumni are playing a central role in the NYU Law Venture Fund. A 14-member advisory jury, which includes Gold, Comfort, and other NYU Law alumni with deep experience in the business world, will select the seed-funding recipients from applications submitted by alumni and students. Jury member Melissa Tidwell ’03, former vice president and general counsel at Reddit, says that she will evaluate applications based on several different angles: “Is there an understanding of the market and what role the business has in that market? What passion or drive brought the applicant to this point? Is there a base understanding of the legal framework in which they operate? Has the applicant articulated the start-up vision and goals?”

“I was excited for NYU to venture into this space,” Tidwell adds, “as I know firsthand that having the legal mindset to understand and issue spot the boundaries in which you operate is a tremendous asset, particularly for a founder.” 

Dean Trevor Morrison points out that the fund aligns with two of the Law School’s fundamental goals: fostering innovation and promoting student success.“The NYU Law Venture Fund is ideally placed to encourage the entrepreneurial talents of both alumni and students,” says Morrison. “We welcome the chance to invest in their innovative ideas and to be one of the first law schools entering this space.”

Apart from providing seed-stage funding, the fund will also begin a program this year for students who want to intern at alumni-run start-ups. This past spring, the fund launched a summer grant program to support students who want to spend their summer working on a start-up idea. 

Posted September 10, 2019