Investing in the future

The Dakota Venture Group is a student-run venture capital investment fund based out of UND’s Center for Innovation. DVG invests in high-growth companies started by entrepreneurs. What makes DVG unique is that, unlike other “student-run” funds, every decision is made by students.

In other groups, students do the legwork and present their findings to a board, which then makes the decisions. Students in DVG are involved in every step, from screening companies, doing due diligence, communicating with CEOs, doing the legal work and making the final calls, according to Emily O’Brien, DVG’s chairwoman.

Returns from investments made by DVG’s Innovation Fund go back into the fund for future investments. DVG also created the for-profit Harvest Fund in 2012. 

Both funds give students an opportunity to experience investing before their careers start, rather than when they’re older. This can result in highly employable skills.

“When professionals ask what I do, their minds are blown,” O’Brien said. “They can’t believe that students from the age of 20 to 25 are doing things of this nature.”

O’Brien has heard from alumni that their experiences at DVG have helped set them apart in job interviews.

“Being able to explain that you’re managing X amount of money, or you’re investing in real-life start-up companies, that you get to make those decisions, it’s a big deal,” O’Brien said.

Students in DVG also learn what it takes to find replacements for when they move on. Prospective members go through an orientation and training process. They also get two chances to pass a test before becoming members of DVG. O’Brien said organization and transparency is key throughout this process, which can be as challenging as the actual investing.

It used to be mainly entrepreneurship students that applied to DVG, but now applicants come from a variety of fields. Current DVG members include students majoring in engineering, pre-medicine, investing, finance, accounting, economics and French.

“We cover all of campus and the schools,” O’Brien said. “It’s pretty cool to have students of different disciplines. You become friends with people you’d normally not cross paths with.” 

Members in DVG have the opportunity to work in the Center for Innovation in the state-of-the-art Ina Mae Rude Entrepreneur Center.   

“We’re being housed in the Center for Innovation, so we have the freedom to utilize the space, which is beautiful,” O’Brien said. “We’re able to come in and have a space to meet and a network of extremely
successful individuals that are willing to help and advise us.”

O’Brien comes from
Lakeville, Minn. She is working toward a master’s degree in entrepreneurship, a program that is being developed at UND. She said she isn’t sure what she will do after graduation, but she is content focusing on the present.

“I work full-time at the Center for Innovation,” she said. “I love being here and working with entrepreneurs and companies. I really enjoy what I’m doing right now.”

O’Brien also is the president of the College of Business Student Advisory Council. Recently she graduated from the University Innovation Fellows program at Stanford University. The program is for students who want to improve innovation, change and entrepreneurship opportunities on campus.

O’Brien’s advice for students who desire change and innovation is to not be afraid. This was one of the important things she has learned during her time in DVG.

“I’ve learned that it’s OK to not know the answer to everything,” she said. “I’ve learned to not be afraid to jump into situations I normally wouldn’t. I think that will be my
biggest takeaway.”

Lucas Amundson is the features editor for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]