The entrepreneurial spirit burns bright at Johns Hopkins University, with alumni launching startups in sectors ranging from life sciences to the metaverse.
Enter A-Level Capital, a group of budding undergraduate investors on a mission to help Hopkins-born startups succeed. Founded by Carey Business School alum Elizabeth Galbut and Whiting School of Engineering alum Demi Obayomi, the student-run venture capital firm targets early-stage companies created or run by Hopkins alumni.
Since 2015, the firm has made more than 40 transformational investments in Hopkins startups.
"We invest in a wide range of industries, but what unifies our investment thesis is that all the companies are Hopkins-affiliated. Our goal is to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem at Hopkins that benefits both students and startups," said Jayden Kunwar, a managing partner and master's student studying computer science.
A-Level Capital gives undergraduate and graduate students a taste of what it's like to work at a real-world venture capital firm. The team meets twice a week and students manage an investment portfolio of more than 40 companies. They perform the duties of professional managing partners, senior associates, and analysts: sourcing and identifying promising startups, writing diligence memos, making investment decisions, and staying updated on the progress of their portfolio companies.
For startups, A-Level Capital provides more than just capital. "As students, we bring something unique to the table: deep ties to the Hopkins campus and community," said fourth-year Noah Sarmoen, a managing partner majoring in economics. "We're leveraging our network and connecting portfolio companies with incredible JHU talent, interns, and potential full-time hires."
A-Level Capital has backed several highly successful startups, including Proscia, a digital pathology startup founded by Whiting School alum David West; and Elemy, founded by Krieger School of Arts and Sciences alum Yury Yakubchyk to provide in-home and online pediatric behavioral care. Elemy was valued at $1.15 billion in its latest funding round.
The team is made up of 29 members who come from disciplines ranging from biomedical engineering to political science. One of the firm's biggest strengths is that it's open to any Hopkins student with an entrepreneurial mindset and interest in investing, adds Kunwar.
Marc Helou, a partner and fourth-year computer science major, initially assumed that A-Level Capital was mainly for economics or business majors. He soon realized that running a successful venture capital firm requires a melting pot of skills and backgrounds.
"When working on a deal, we need to think about marketing strategies, business models, competitive landscapes, and the science or technology behind a product," said Helou. "We're all gaining business skills beyond exclusively investing or traditional finance."
Another major draw: the professional networking opportunities it offers members. A-Level alums have gone on to work in venture capital, tech, investment banking, and growth equity. For many, A-Level Capital was the turning point that helped them define their career interests.
Partner Sneha Batheja, a fourth-year biomedical engineering student, had the opportunity to intern at SoGal Ventures, a women-led venture capital firm founded by Galbut.
"Coming from a highly technical major like biomedical engineering, A-Level Capital gave me exposure to venture capital and completely changed my career trajectory. I would not be where I am today without the network of brilliant peers and mentors I've gained through this experience," said Batheja.
Thanks to A-Level Capital, everybody wins: Hopkins startups get access to capital and connections early on, and students get first-hand exposure to venture capital investing.
"You sit on the other side of the table from passionate entrepreneurs, learn about their businesses, and ultimately make investment decisions," said fourth-year Jemina Opman-Auge, a managing partner majoring in economics. "We're investing in Hopkins people and ideas, and that's an incredibly unique experience to have as a college undergraduate."
To learn more about A-Level Capital or to become involved, visit their website.