SEBA students take note as the real-life version of "Shark Tank" comes to campus

Randy WilliamsSaint Mary’s students and alumni were invited to peek behind the curtain of angel investing during the Keiretsu Forum East Bay meeting that took place on campus in late May. The Keiretsu Forum is a group of individual investors that provide new businesses, generally start-ups, with necessary capital. Keiretsu is the largest angel investor network in the world, and has strategically partnered with Saint Mary’s, allowing students and alumni access to the real-life version of the television show Shark Tank

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to see and hear the practical applications of the language that they use in class,” said Director of the Center for Regional Economy and Stull Professor of Entrepreneurship Berna Aksu. “I hope that having access to these meetings inspires our students, particularly those interested in entrepreneurship.”

The type of businesses on hand for the forum meeting crossed genres. In attendance were two pharmaceutical organizations—one working on a new delivery system to treat a disease common among people with cystic fibrosis, and a second that had developed a pill to treat low testosterone. Joining the pharmaceuticals was a private equity fund that lends money for construction and renovation projects, and a hardware platform company that works with major retailers to optimize their in-location experience.

During the meeting, each company was given ten minutes to describe who they are, what they do, and what kind of support they’re interested in receiving from Keiretsu members. A second ten minute period followed when members of the forum could ask the presenters specific concerns. Representatives from each company faced questions about exit strategies, potential returns on investment, and due diligence, while Saint Mary’s students looked on.

K4“One of the things that our students were exposed to is how important the presenter is to the presentations,” said Aksu. “It seems obvious, but Randy [Williams, Founder and CEO of Keiretsu Forum] always talks about betting on the jockeys as well as the horses. Investors care about the product and the company, but they’re also swayed by the people leading the organization.”

Following the pitches, presenters are asked to leave so forum members can assess the presentations—both positively and negatively. The process is called “mindshare.”

“It’s one of the most valuable facets of the meeting,” said Aksu of mindshare. “Students get to hear what pitches, or what parts of the pitches, were effective and what potential investors respond to. It’s a way to get experience by observing.”

The School of Economics and Business Administration is an institutional member of the Keiretsu Forum. The two organizations collaborated earlier this year at the Business Idea Competition. The partnership with Keiretsu allows for Forum members to mentor SMC students, speak in classes, and for the students and alums to participate in the Keiretsu Academy, and ultimately become members of the Forum.

“We love the opportunity to collaborate with the Keiretsu Forum,” said Dean Zhan Li. “It provides an opportunity for our students to learn how to work with angel investors and gives them access to experienced, talented professionals.”