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Entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalist Share Keys to Business Success at Career Development Center Panel

Yeshiva University’s Career Development Center hosted a lively panel with seven members of the venture capitalist and startup world. The event, titled “Working in Venture Capital and Startups,” was held on Monday night, April 11 on the Beren Campus with panelists: Simi Blaustein, High Line Ventures; Melody Koh, Time Warner Investments; Chris Paik, Thrive Ventures; Francesca Romano; Cross Commerce Media; and Ben Siscovick, IA Ventures. Two successful Yeshiva University graduates, Alex Taub, of Aviary.com, and Zev Lapin, of Bucket Ventures joined them on the panel.

From left, panelists Blaustein, Koh, Lapin, Paik, Romano, Siscovick and Taub.

Michael Strauss, entrepreneur-in-residence and adjunct professor of management at Sy Syms School of Business, led the discussion. He began by asking the participants to describe their typical day.

“There are no typical days in startups,” said Taub, whose company produces free online design tools and received startup funding from Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Spark Capital.  He said that while his official day begins at 10 in the morning and ends at six, the actual hours are closer to beginning at seven and finishing at 10 in the evening. “You have an always-on mentality,” explained Taub.

Strauss asked the participants what they thought was the most important skill. Nearly unanimously, the answer was passion.

“It’s a pure meritocracy,” said Taub. “Investors don’t care about your GPA… they care about your passion.”

The panelists also discussed how they decided to invest in startups. Blaustein said that a good part of his time is spent evaluating teams before he decides to invest any money. “We’re looking for companies that have complementary skill sets,” he explained.

Lapin, who began his startup while an undergraduate at YU, advised students that “any skills you don’t have, your co-founders should have.”

Siscovick, whose multimillion dollar firm, IA Ventures, specializes in investing in new forms of data storage and retrieval, said that breaking into the venture capital world isn’t easy. “The supply and demand of the market are skewed,” he explained. “Every venture capitalist has a different story and there’s no one path.”

The close to two-hour presentation ended with a lengthy Q and A session moderated by Brian Maruffi, director of the Ira Rennert Center for Entrepreneurship at Sy Syms.

“Many students appear to have an entrepreneurial mindset from early on in their career at YU,” said Laurie Davis, director of counseling and programming at the CDC. “Several have even started small ventures while in Israel or even high school.”

Yehuda Silbermintz, 20, a junior who is working on his own startup, found the event “essential” for him. “You need to know your business in and out and be able to answer every question.”

Jeremy Hodkin, 20, a sophomore, who, along with fellow YU student Zachary Deutsch, is launching a web-based startup, said “the best part of the night came when we met individually with the panelists. I got emails and business cards!”