Charlottesville is known to be the fastest growing venture capital ecosystem in the United States, and students from the University of Virginia are capitalizing on their proximity to the action.
CAV Angels, the nonprofit network of alumni, faculty, parents, students, and friends of UVA, provides educational programming through hands-on engagement opportunities for University undergraduates, including pre-Commerce students and Commerce majors, as well as career professionals pursuing graduate degrees at schools across UVA.
Strengthened by the participation of more than 500 members—141 accredited investors and 300-plus student members—the organization has allowed students who participate in CAV Angels to network with angel investors and witness the angel investment process undertaken by some of the most dynamic and quickly growing startups in the region.
Rich Diemer (McIntire ’80), Co-Founder, Co-Chair, and Treasurer of CAV Angels, says the results of their efforts in the University’s startup community have been substantial, with the organization responsible for 80% of the angel capital in the Charlottesville area between 2022 and 2023: “Our funding of a deal this quarter means we have surpassed $20 million of cumulative investment in the UVA entrepreneurial ecosystem since our founding just seven years ago, with the preponderance of that investment in the last three and a half years.”
This level of activity, coupled with fully funded scholarships to this year’s Angel Capital Association (ACA) Summit in Las Vegas last month, has had a meaningful impact on McIntire students Carson Breus (McIntire ’25) and Kelly Yu (McIntire ’24), who were named CAV Angels’ Huston Scholars for 2023, along with alumnus Tanishq Bakshi (Engineering ’22).
A Front Row Seat to Early-Stage Investing
Both Yu and Breus joined CAV Angels through their involvement in the Virginia Venture Fund (VVF). Formerly an Analyst on the student organization’s Impact Fund team, Yu currently serves as VVF’s Managing Director; Breus is Head of Internal Affairs at VVF and a current intern with CAV Angels. Both enjoy gaining hands-on experience in early-stage investing, learning more about entrepreneurship through hosting company pitches, and enhancing their understanding of investment criteria through screening new funding submissions.
“Before interning with CAV Angels, I had no idea how angel investors operated,” says Breus, adding that her mentor, Diemer, and the CAV Angels board members helped her to broaden her knowledge of the industry, in addition to equipping her with valuable insights into the due diligence process. “I felt prepared to listen and evaluate many pitches at the ACA conference.”
Yu also felt ready to attend the ACA Summit, based on her involvement in CAV Angels’ due diligence process during the organization’s weekly meetings.
“I sat in on multiple pitches from UVA alumni and later got a better understanding of early-stage investing,” says Yu.
Taking a Deeper Dive
Now in its second year supporting enrichment of UVA students, the Huston Scholars program has allowed this year’s scholars to grow their angel investing skill set. CAV Angels was the only ACA University angel group to provide select student members with scholarships to attend the ACA Summit, as well as two Angel University courses in the days preceding the Summit.
“The Angel University courses dove deeper into investment topics ranging from term sheets to risks in angel investing,” Yu explains.
Despite their youth at a conference packed with seasoned professionals, the Huston Scholars felt warmly welcomed by their fellow attendees and weren’t shy about sharing their interests or perspectives.
“People were surprised when they heard we were students,” says Yu. “Fitting into the conference felt very seamless. I was not afraid to introduce myself to the person next to me. I felt the Huston Scholars had a unique Gen Z perspective to bring.”
Breus, who also found that being a student representative allowed her to offer a new viewpoint during discussions, adds that many investors were eager to share their expertise: “I was able to fit in and have productive conversations that significantly helped me understand how to invest and learn about key market trends.”
One of the most exciting parts of the Summit was the Innovation Funders Showcase, in which more than 30 startup founders gave two-minute pitches to the audience over the course of two days. After the pitches, attendees took on the role of angel investors and were given 500 “venture bucks” to invest in any of the startups in the showcase.
Yu says she loved interacting with the founders, hearing their stories, and listening to their product development journeys.
For Breus, the most engaging aspect of the conference was the vast number and variety of breakout sessions to attend. Selecting a breakout session on ESG and impact investing, she learned from industry professionals about how to evaluate companies through a green lens.
“The session provided me with a deeper understanding of the growing importance of environmental, social, and governance factors in today’s world,” she says.
Passing It On
Now that they’ve left behind the bright lights of Las Vegas and returned home, Yu and Breus are determined to pay it forward and share all that they learned through the Huston Scholars experience with their McIntire peers, fellow CAV Angels, VVF members, and professional colleagues.
Breus, who is interning at Oaktree Capital Management this summer, says the ACA Summit reinforced the idea that anyone can be a founder or investor, and the future of investing will be shaped by diverse perspectives.
“I also hope that I can use what I learned from the conference to help support second-years in VVF during the summer internship recruitment process, screen companies from a new angle with CAV Angels, and have a unique perspective in my finance courses at McIntire,” she says.
Yu also intends to apply what she’s learned to the training and mentorship of VVF’s underclassmen members. She hopes to use her experience to incorporate new material in the member training and further improve the investment process for VVF’s investment arm, the Impact Fund.
“The ACA Summit was a great example of seeking learning opportunities beyond the McIntire classroom,” she says. “It’s more than learning. It’s application. It’s very inspiring to be sitting in the same room with investors who have more years of wisdom than I’ve been alive. The experience makes me realize how large the learning curve is ahead of me, and I’m taking the first step at McIntire.”