Avidan Rudansky ’20YC originally majored in biology and was planning to attend medical school and perform scientific research. He had little experience in finance, much less investing but he was interested in entrepreneurship, especially startups.
Jacob Friedman ’21SB, a finance major, was already a budding entrepreneur. He started his own sporting events ticket concierge and he manages popular Jewish bands and artists.
Neither Rudansky nor Friedman ever expected to become players in the worldwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that’s exactly what happened, thanks to two adjunct professors at Yeshiva University. Both students enrolled in two innovative honors courses at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business: Angel and Venture Capital Investing and Fund Formation, Administration and Management.
The experiential classes aim to instruct students in the rewards and risks of investing in general and the art and science of venture capital in particular. The courses come courtesy of experienced venture capitalists—and YU alumni—Moshe Bellows 90YC, ’08W, managing member at BFI, LLC, and Bruce Taragin ’89YC, managing director at Blumberg Capital.
In the first semester, Bellows says, students learn “the fundamentals—the startup ecosystem, deal structure, term sheets, and so on. In the second semester, students graduate to learning how to manage and administer a fund, ingest deal flow and actually making real investments into startups.”
The students get to assess investment opportunities and “source deals, evaluate startups and invest in real companies for real returns,” he says. Students perform due diligence on financials, interview founders, prepare investment memoranda, work with portfolio companies, and participate in client calls, meetings and debriefs.
“That meant meeting with founders, teams, industry experts, and alumni,” explains Rudansky, “to assess a specific company and writing an investment memo with our recommendation and analysis to the general partners.”
The students themselves act as student venture interns for a venture capital fund, Maccabee Ventures, a $10 million early-stage technology fund that Bellows and Taragin co-created (it’s associated with, but separate from, Yeshiva University). “As alumni,” Taragin says, “we feel a deep responsibility to give back while also creating a dynamic, real-world learning environment for our students.” Further, the fund seeks to leverage the YU faculty, institutions and 70,000 alumni to provide portfolio companies with expertise, market access and other value-added services.
The curriculum marries the classroom to the real world. Through the class, students tapped into an unmet public health demand in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Two of the three companies the fund invested in, out of the many dozens it reviewed, enable the delivery of vital COVID-19 health care services.
“From analyzing trends about where the markets were headed, we saw telehealth on the rise” says Friedman, “and realized health care professionals can practice medicine without being face-to-face with patients. We came across Eleos Health and proactively reached out to its CEO. We then presented a memorandum recommending Eleos to Moshe and Bruce, Maccabee Venture’s general partners. They were impressed, too.”
Impressed enough, in fact, for Maccabee Ventures to invest.
Eleos Health is an AI-driven SaaS [software as a system] platform that enables behavioral health clinicians to improve behavioral health outcomes, one session at a time.
The Eleos Health application is powered by therapy-specific voice analysis and natural-language processing. Its powerful engine uses artificial intelligence algorithms to accurately identify the two areas most crucial to treatment effects: implementation of evidence-based techniques and the therapeutic relationship. In addition, this technology autogenerates administrative reports and translates the data into actionable clinical insights for mental health professionals. These insights and the data behind them are collected, interpreted and arranged into visual analytic reports that allow clinicians to understand the results of the session.
Consequently, clinicians can provide more efficient and targeted care while reducing their own potential burnout. The voice analysis implemented by the Eleos solution helps clinicians spend less time on data collection and documentation and more time developing and delivering personalized treatment to their clients.
Friedman also met with Dr. Danielle Wozniak, the Dorothy and David I. Schachne Dean of YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, to discuss potential synergies and put her in touch with Eleos. The upshot? Wurzweiler will soon be among the first higher education institutions to adopt Eleos as a teaching tool and for field study. They will then make this technology available to alumni therapists and to graduate students throughout the YU ecosystem. Behavioral therapists and patients unable to meet face-to-face because of shelter-in-place orders, can now do so virtually.
Rudansky, too, jumped in with both feet. He attended networking events and pitch days from startups. He met and developed relationships with “angels,” venture capitalists and founders. He hosted due diligence calls with investors. He, too, recognized the potential for telehealth startups and presented an investment memorandum recommending Tembo Health.
Tembo Health deploys specialty telemedicine services to skilled nursing facilities for medical specialties ranging from cardiology to psychiatry. Through video technology, physicians have better access to patient data and can “meet” in virtual exam rooms with patients, including seniors now locked down in facilities and unable to attend appointments or be visited in person (i.e., without the increased risk of sending seniors out to hospitals or allowing outside doctors into senior communities.). Nursing homes also benefit from improved quality scores, fewer hospital admissions and increased revenue. Tembo is on a path to partnering with senior communities and physicians in all 50 states.
“Health care is being revolutionized,” Friedman says, “and many people are learning to adapt to these advanced technologies.” Based on recent sentiment, it is clear that the telehealth/telemedicine stigma has diminished over the past couple of months. Eleos and Tembo have played an instrumental and positive part in keeping people healthy and safe during this unfortunate crisis. Their client base has grown rapidly, outperforming all projections.
With these projects fast gaining momentum and these companies flourishing, the skills learned and practiced in the YU courses are readily transferred to the marketplace, yielding a robust return on investment for students. Bellows has guided more than a few recent YU graduates into high-paying positions. Indeed, of the students who took the courses last semester, 100% now have jobs. As investments in education go, this one clearly indicates that YU means business.
“The learning curve was steep,” Rudansky says, “but with the help of our professors, I have taken great strides in becoming a better investor, entrepreneur and person. Ideally, I’ll have a career in venture capital or with a startup. That will let me fulfill my personal mission to do well by doing good.”
“It all happened so fast,” Friedman says. “A few months ago, we were just students taking a class. No one could have predicted that we’d choose to invest in companies that would make such an impact during this terrible crisis. Our work has paid off well beyond our expectations.”