Canadian Launches The Founder Project, a Seed Stage VC Fund for Student Startups

The Founder Project is opening its doors in Montreal to student entrepreneurs and startups in the hopes of sparking a university-wide micro investing initiative.

Ilan Saks founded the project while currently working at Montreal’s Real Ventures.

He told Techvibes that “students in Montreal are starving” for both entrepreneurship and the resources to help them get there. Cofounder Max Finder, an associate at Inerjys, came on board a few months ago. Saks, who completed his undergraduate degree at McGill, said resources around him weren’t entirely apparent at the time.

“If I knew that I could walk down Sherbrook Street for ten minutes, go to Notman House and speak to different entrepreneurs and VCs and get advice and mentorship, I would have been there in a second,” he said. “I didn’t even know this existed.”

The fund will assist both established student startups in need of cash, mentorship and resources or bright-minded young entrepreneurs who may not have an idea but want to run their own company. It will provide an initial launch pad for brainstorming and help them get their idea off the ground.

The Founder Project will seek to provide students in the web space with $10,000- $15,000 investments. Almost entirely run by students, Saks and Finder have assembled a team of “student VCs” representing both French and English-speaking universities across Montreal.

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In the next five weeks the entire team has planned a multitude of events to meet potential startups and gain visibility within the community. Meanwhile the student VCs are available every week through office hours at their respective universities.

While the specifics of the fund structure are still being worked out it doesn’t appear that it will have any trouble finding innovative startups to lend a hand in. After all, says Saks, Montreal has the highest student per capital population in North America.

“You have to be kidding me: 286,000 students. Higher than Boston, higher than New York City and higher than San Francisco,” said Saks. “I can feel that there’s something boiling here in Montreal.”

One of the student VCs is Brian Luong, an upper year student at McGill University who is currently participating in The Next 36 in Toronto. Despite Montreal’s impressive student population he feels that too many of them see entrepreneurship as too risky a career. The Founder Project should help to change that.

“I think this would be really great support for our educational system in Canada, just like how some of the US schools have really great entrepreneurship programs,” said Luong. “Entrepreneurship is something that they really push and many students there see it as a very valued path.”

Unfortunately many students are graduating Montreal’s universities simply to take a comfortable nine-to-five job at a large firm and, “not seeing entrepreneurship as a possible angle or opportunity,” said Ian Jeffrey, a partner at Real Ventures. Meanwhile some students are actually taking that route, but aren’t easily finding the resources they need.

“The reality is students are doing these things with or without us but they don’t necessarily have the support system to quickly take it to another level and this initiative wants to help fuel that,” said Jeffrey.

Jeffrey see’s the Founder Project as potentially becoming a first step in preparing real companies to flow into accelerators like FounderFuel or even seed-stage investors like Real. The worst-case scenario is that these students fail but get the “bug” and create something new.

Meanwhile for Saks, he’s simply excited to get going. And like the others he feels that the little push given to student startups by The Founder Project can make a difference.

“I’ve realized that so many students are so passionate about this space, the web, mobile, digital media space, and they just need that movement and that feeling that it’s actually a rewarding and legitimate path,” said Saks. “Montreal has a young population, a fusion of cultures and it’s a city that is ripe for entrepreneurship.”