Asia's first campus-based venture capital fund, 500 Rookies, announced a name change on March 1, officially becoming Rookie Fund after gaining independence from parent company 500 Startups. Despite the name change, the fund will continue to be operated primarily by university students and focus on youth-related startups.
Leadership at the newly christened Rookie Fund will remain with Ma Rui, 500 Startups’ former Greater China lead. Ma stresses that they will actively pursue new campus-based investment opportunities all over East Asia.
Additionally, Rookie Fund plans to raise more than $300,000 (NT$10m) in new funding. Indicating the persistence of close relations with its former parent company, 500 Startups founder Dave McClure has already promised investments in Rookie Fund.
East Asian Expansion
According to Ma, the decision to transform 500 Rookies into an independent fund was due to two main factors. Whereas 500 Startups focuses almost exclusively on early-stage investments, Rookie Fund’s patronage is more flexible.
More important, however, is that now Rookie Fund can not only take advantage of mentors from 500 Startups, but seek even more strategic partnerships in East Asia. Rookie Fund community manager Abby Hsu points out that “after becoming independent, Rookie Fund will not be limited to Greater China, but expand to other countries in the region.”
Rookie Fund is currently continuing the second year of its program, with nine
students from Taiwan and seven from Xiamen among the team. For its next recruitment round, the fund is actively sourcing participants from other East Asian states.
Fostering student startups
Based on campus-focused venture capital firms from Silicon Valley, 500 Rookies’ expansion demonstrates the feasibility of such models in an international context. Prior to its East Asian expansion, some of the fund’s earliest successes have been associated with Taiwanese projects.
For instance, home-brewing kit Alchema has seen immense success on Kickstarter. Digital payment solution TapPay, too, acquired investments after endorsement by 500 Rookies.
Learning by doing
Norman Chang, Rookie Fund’s venture partner for Greater China, highlights the need to network for successful investments. He explains that "you can’t have experience in everything, which is why you need to rely upon the expertise of different instructors and friends.”
In the end, however, Chang believes that Rookie Fund’s model of allowing students to learn by doing is invaluable. "It is difficult for students to understand investments through internships, so the best way is to build actual experience," says Chang.
Chang adds that Rookie Fund aims to give students as many opportunities as possible.
Ultimately, Rookie Fund hopes to become "East Asia's largest student investment platform."