Rough Draft Ventures to back Student Founders at Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon is establising itself in the tech startup world. With futuristic research occurring in all of its departments, the university presents its students with virtually unlimited resources to create the country’s most innovative technological companies. Concurrently, the city of Pittsburgh is morphing into an innovation and tech hub, ripe for new business. Thus, it is unsurprising that Rough Draft Ventures, General Catalyst’s student-led program that backs founders at the university level, has taken notice of the area’s promise and turned its attention to Carnegie Mellon and its startups.

Rough Draft was founded in 2013 by then-senior at Harvard University Peter Boyce II, who aimed to bridge the gap between funding and college startups. The program was a welcome twist to the business. It relates to and understands its college-level entrepreneurs effortlessly, because the program itself is student-led. A team of students comprised of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and schools meets once a week to hear student founder pitches and to make recommendations for backing highest potential companies.

Moreover, it views its youthful team, not as a limitation, but as an asset. On its website, the venture proudly describes itself as “the next generation of founders” and “a student team, building and empowering the largest network of student founders” across universities. Business Insider’s Julie Bort labelled it “a new kind of VC,” acknowledging the novelty of the young and vibrant student-led firm.

Rough Draft has rapidly made a name for itself by backing companies such as developer tool company AppHub out of MIT, and travel company Freebird out of Harvard Business School, creating almost 600 jobs in a matter of years. With an established presence at other prestigious schools, Rough Draft’s next stop is, understandably, Carnegie Mellon.

Leading the program’s move to Pittsburgh is Carnegie Mellon junior Akshay Goradia, an information systems and human-computer interaction major who joined the Rough Draft team in 2016. Before becoming a member of the student team, Goradia pitched the move to Carnegie Mellon’s budding startup field. “Pittsburgh has a rich density of entrepreneurship and Carnegie Mellon has a uniquely strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, so I made that proposal,” said Goradia in an exclusive interview with The Tartan.

Indeed, Goradia correctly describes Carnegie Mellon as a melting pot of technology and startups, so much so that Rough Draft has already backed their first CMU company. 101 Edu, Inc. is an educational platform founded by chemical engineering Ph.D. student Justin Weinberg. Already in use at six east coast and midwestern universities, 101 Edu is “reimagining the college STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] classroom with active learning,” as is stated on its homepage. Also displayed on its website are instructors and students alike beaming about the practicality the app has introduced into their chemistry courses. Nothing more could epitomize Rough Draft’s ethos, which is to “provide value to many more people than just the ones that we invest in,” as stated by Goradia.

Early capital can be helpful for young companies that are testing their product and looking to take it to the next level. Beyond capital, Rough Draft’s ability to connect with fellow student founders, as well as gain support from mentors, proves immeasurably helpful for early success.

Boyce is joined by Natalie Bartlett and Denali Tietjen who work with the student-led ventures to provide access to resources such as service providers, mentorship around launching a product or fundraising, as well as connecting the teams to mentors with expertise.

VCs are a pivotal difference between success and failure. They are the metaphorical nudge young businesses need to stand on their feet, and that is why Rough Draft’s arrival at Carnegie Mellon only means lucrative growth for the startups going forward.