True, Blue and Aggressive:
History of the Wolverine Venture Fund
In 1988, a Growth fund was established by the Regents of the University of Michigan for donors interested in contributing to high-risk, high-return investments to benefit the Business School. Launched in 1997 with an eight-member advisory board and six students, the Wolverine Venture Fund took the high-risk, high-return mission of the Growth Fund several steps further.
Professor Karen Bantel, Mary Campbell (MBA ’79), Frank Wilhelm, and David Shelby (BBA ’62, MBA ’64) drafted the strategic vision, contracts and guiding principles of the then newly-minted first and only student-run venture capital fund in the United States. Two other student funds followed – the Frankel Commercialization Fund in 2005 (now the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund) and the Social Venture Fund in 2009, also the first student funds in those specialties.
The Wolverine Venture Fund is administered by the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. It is designed to earn a venture rate of return and to educate students on how to make venture investments and operate a venture capital fund. It invests in early-stage growth companies located throughout the United States. It is both a real world experience for students and an action-based-learning course, with students active every step of the investing process. They source deals, research companies and industries, evaluate investment proposals, and make the investment decisions.
Since the Wolverine Venture Fund’s inception it has invested in more than 27 companies across a wide range of innovative industries. The WVF achieved its first portfolio company exit when Versity.com was acquired in 1999. Intralase became the first firm in the Fund’s portfolio to go public in 2004. Between 2000 and 2005 the fund invested in six rounds of financing in HandyLab, Inc. In 2009, the company was acquired by Becton Dickinson and Co., returning $2 million to the WVF. In 2010, portfolio company Mobius Microsystems was acquired by Integrated Device Technologies, Inc. Most recently in 2014, IBM acquired another WVF portfolio company, Silverpop Systems, Inc, marking another profitable exit for the fund. WVF originally funded Silverpop in 2000 and continued to support the Atlanta-based company through its subsequent pivots and funding rounds.
The WVF has over $7 million assets under management. Its processes have become more sophisticated but its investment philosophy remained steadfast under the leadership of Tim Petersen (MBA ’98), Professor Thomas Kinnear, Professor Tim Faley, and Professor Erik Gordon. Over 200 MBA’s have passed through the ranks and gone onto careers at top-tier venture capital firms, investment banks, consulting firms, and technology, medical device and life sciences companies.
Students have invested alongside venture capital funds such as Novartis Ventures, EDF Ventures, Arboretum Ventures, T-Gap Ventures, Flagship Ventures, RPM Ventures, Apjohn Ventures, Arsenal Venture Partners, Resonant Venture Partners, and more. The industry advisory board and faculty leadership have built a structure that the venture capital community has embraced and other MBA programs envy for the rigor and training it provides. These aspects as well as the Fund’s successes have received national media coverage from Forbes, BusinessWeek, and other publications.
WVF Founding Advisory Board and Student Members:
Advisors: David Shelby (BBA ’62, MBA ’64), Mary Campbell (BA ’67, MBA ’79), Karen Bantel (BA ’77, MBA ‘84, PhD ’87), Paul Brentlinger (BBA ’50, MBA ’51), William K. Hall (BSE ’65, MBA ’67, MS ’68, PhD ’69), Cleveland Christophe (MBA ’67), R. Douglas Armstrong, Michael Klein and Tom Kinnear (PhD ’72). Students: Ken Outcalt, John Cunningham, Ashesh Kamdar, Will Johnson, Alex Holderness, Paul Altman