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Meet Southeast Asia’s Student-Led VC Firm

Protégé Ventures is always looking for the next great start-up

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 02 May 2018

Meet Southeast Asia’s Student-Led VC Firm

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

While movies like The Social Network may immortalize stories of young founders, Chen Lujie felt that students are actually often underserved by the tech and start-up community.

He founded Protégé Ventures, a venture capital firm led by students, to address some of these issues.

Lujie felt that students lack access to venture capitalists, as they tend to focus on later stage rather than pre-seed or seed deals. The lack of mentorship from seasoned VCs can make it difficult to refine their business ideas.

Students also do not get exposure to venture capital during their university studies. While students can study venture capital through lectures or internships, Lujie feels that the best experience is gained through working on real deals, which will teach them about everything from deal sourcing to negotiating terms.

Great entrepreneurs start early

According to Lujie, the hypothesis behind Protégé Founders is that great entrepreneurs start early, and their peers are better suited to identify them at this stage. He points to the case of Eduardo Saverin identifying Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard as an example. This task is comparatively more difficult for traditional VCs to accomplish.

“Due to limited access to universities and high ‘noise to quality’ ratio, it is difficult for VCs to identify young talented entrepreneurs to invest in at an early stage. VCs also need a pipeline of entrepreneurial talents to recruit into their portfolio start-ups or VC firm, but lack the resources to systematically identify such talent,” says Lujie.

While these problems may be very real, the biggest challenge in starting Protégé Ventures was finding venture capitalists who were willing to commit capital and time to the program. Their first anchor VC sponsor was Paul Santos, the managing partner of Wavemaker Partners, who backed the idea when it was still just a concept.

“With that, we put together the management team, refined the proposal and selectively approached some of the VCs or investors whom we have a close relationship with. Eventually, we were oversubscribed and had more VC Sponsors than initially intended,” says Lujie.

Outside of the fact that the start-up should be student-led, Lujie says they are looking for founders who have a deep understanding of the problem they are trying to solve. The start-up should have a working prototype or minimum viable product, and ideally evidence of product-market fit and further traction.

Protégé Ventures’ first investment is Nurture.AI, which was founded by Kim Meng Tan, and Jia Qing Yap, who put his university studies on hold to focus on the start-up.

“Recognizing that a major problem the AI community faces is that around half of the AI research papers today do not come with available code implementations. The start-up works to encourage reproducibility of the papers’ results and facilitate peer-to-peer accountability in flagging out and discussing such issues,” says Lujie.

Like any VC firm, Protégé Ventures is always looking for the next great start-up, and Lujie emphasizes they are open to “moonshot” ideas or what he refers to as “products and services that make sense to youths or millennials but are not well understood by the general population or traditional VCs.”

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