Inside Venture Capitalism

Students Learn Directly from Investors and Entrepreneurs in Sy Syms Class

As the current global economy favors innovation, the workings of entrepreneurship have become a vital topic in business courses. Students hoping to be the next Elon Musks or Mark Zuckerbergs want to understand the details that make up what venture capitalists and angel investors do from day to day. But in the classroom, business instruction is often theoretical.

Nelson Shubart, director of Grand Central Tech, speaks to students in the “Angel and Venture Capital Investing” course.

Sy Syms School of Business adjunct professors and Yeshiva University alumni Bruce Taragin ’89YC and Moshe Bellows ’90YC had an idea to teach venture capital basics in a different way. Drawing on their own experience and their industry network, their class offers the perspective of experienced financial industry professionals and covers the topic from both points of view–the entrepreneurs’ and the investors’. As Taragin and Bellows worked out the specifics of what they wanted to teach, what they first imagined as a “day in the life” presentation became a semester-long class for Sy Syms honors students featuring industry expert guest lecturers and field trips to incubator organizations.

Offered for the first time this semester, “Angel and Venture Capital Investing” has already been in high demand, with a full class roster and some students even auditing the course. Students are eager to learn from real-life entrepreneurs and venture capital professionals, according to Taragin, managing director at Blumberg Capital. He admires the students’ passion for the topic and is glad for the opportunity to help “open their eyes” and to expose them to entrepreneurs, especially at Jewish-owned businesses here and in Israel, the start-up nation. Guest speakers have included Meghan Cross, managing partner, Red Baron Angels; Shant Hovsepian, chief technology officer and co-founder of Arcadia Data; Azriel Chelst, global director, startup engagement and sourcing, MasterCard; and Frances Zelazny, chief marketing officer of BioCatch.

Bellows, senior vice president of Meridian Equity Partners, hopes that by having students learn from people actually working in the “ecosystem”— entrepreneurs, investors and accelerators/incubators—they will come away with practical skill sets such as analyzing investment opportunities, interviewing founding teams, having due diligence conversations with clients and proper legal issue spotting. This focus on skills provides a balance to the theory, Bellows believes. “YU should be at the cutting edge, giving students skills and access,” he said.

Sy Syms senior Joshua Zirman was drawn to the class for the opportunity to learn first-hand from experts. “Each week we get introduced to somebody new in the industry,” he said. “Either a VC [venture capitalist], corporate VC, entrepreneur, or angel investor. Each has a different perspective and teaches us different things about their industry and investing in their niche.”

Zirman and classmate Joshua Morrow also had a chance to meet with more industry professionals on a trip to the West Coast. When Taragin learned they were planning to travel to the Bay Area of California, home to “Silicon Valley,” he arranged for them to meet with entrepreneurs there. “Going to Palo Alto opened my eyes to a different world,” Zirman said. “Meeting with the managing partners of VC firms, with the help of Professor Taragin, gave us insight into what it takes to succeed in Silicon Valley and how to pick the winning companies. We both want to either work in VC or start our own companies. Before this trip, accomplishing these goals seemed like a distant dream but after the trip, we understood the tangible steps we needed to take to become assets in our future firms.”

Taragin and Bellows offer not just their professional insight into the material, but personal as well. Both received their undergraduate degrees from YU. Taragin is very grateful to the University for his experience and glad to give back. “It is the least I can do, to be a positive mentor.” Bellows is also committed to giving back to the University. Prior to teaching for Sy Syms, he worked at YU’s Center for the Jewish Future where he was the director of social and organizational leadership training.