Sharanya Pogaku on NYU SVS

An interview with Sharanya Pogaku, the President of NYU SVS, on how they connect students with venture capitalists, startups, and entrepreneurs.
February 19, 2024
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Background

Sharanya Pogaku is a fourth-year student at NYU studying finance and sustainable business with a minor in gender and sexuality studies. Sharanya is the President of NYU Strategic Venture Society (SVS). NYU SVS is the first venture capital and tech club at NYU. I talked with Sharanya about what they look for when selecting students for their venture team, what students accomplish during the program, and how they apply their skills by helping various NY-based venture capital firms with various projects.

Highlights

  • NYU SVS looks for students with strong critical thinking skills who can take information and articulate clear thoughts around its implications for the larger market and adjacent parties. You do not need any prior experience in tech or VC to apply.

  • NYU SVS venture team graduates can get hands-on experience working with venture capital firms like Vesey Ventures, Citi Ventures, MaC Venture Capital, General Catalyst, and General Atlantic. Past projects include sourcing new investment opportunities, conducting industry research, and more.

  • NYU SVS also has an in-house media publication called The Venturist, where students publish articles on AI, sustainability, startup trends, and more.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Hi Sharanya, thanks for joining me today. Do you want to introduce yourself?

Sharanya: Thanks for having me. My name is Sharanya. I’m a senior at NYU, studying finance and sustainable business with a minor in gender and sexuality studies. The club I am a part of on campus is the Strategic Venture Society. 

Kieran: How did you first learn about the club?

Sharanya: In high school, I was really interested in entrepreneurship. I had my own small business running, so coming into college, I knew I wanted to find more entrepreneurial stuff. But I also knew that NYU Stern is specifically very finance-focused. To explore that intersection, it seemed like venture capital was a good combination of both. So, I learned about SVS during my first year during the fall semester, joined the club through the mentorship program, and have been a part of it ever since.

Kieran: Before we dive into questions about the club, I was hoping you could share more background information. So, I know it started in 2015. Can you share at a high level what the club does, how many people are in it, and we can go from there?

Sharanya: The Strategic Venture Society is the premier VC club at the undergraduate Stern School of Business. We do a lot of our work around VC and startups. We want to foster a community of students interested in those two industries. At a high level, we have a mentorship program. That is how people are introduced to our club, and then after they complete that semester-long program, we work with VCs and startups in New York City and around the world to consult for them and help them with projects. We also have a podcast. We’ve gone through various iterations of our different programs throughout the years, but we have one mentorship program, one post-mentorship program, and our own online blog.

Kieran: Is the mentorship program the same thing as the general meetings, or is it different?

Sharanya: It’s different and a result of how NYU Stern has structured their club programming. We have general meetings every Tuesday, which are open to any community member. So, any NYU student, whether an undergrad or a grad student, can attend our meetings regardless of the school. That is where we have a lot of guest speakers come in. This semester, we’ve had a lot of really cool people. We had partners from Sequoia Capital, General Catalyst, and General Atlantic. So, really big firms have been gracious enough to come in and speak to our students. For our mentorship program, students must apply at the beginning of the semester. It is a lengthy process where you fill out a written application and have two rounds of interviews. We then select our cohort of students for the semester, and they go through a rigorous 9-10 week boot camp about the essentials of VC. So we talk about how VC financing works, valuations, etc. We do a week on design and have students pitch startups to our executive board. After that, students are a part of SVS.

Kieran: Making sure I understand the initiatives correctly, is the mentorship team separate from the venture team?

Sharanya: So, the venture team is our mentorship program at SVS.

Kieran: Back to the general meetings. You mentioned some of the speakers. I also saw that you guys have different workshops. What are some of the workshops covered during the general meetings?

Sharanya: At the beginning of the semester, we do a workshop called “What the Fund is VC” just to introduce students to how venture capital works in general at a very high level because a lot of first-year students who come in may or may not have even heard of the term venture capital, but we really want to show them what exactly it is and introduce them to it. That is one of the workshops we run quite often. We’ve also done Design 101 in the past. We really emphasize good design at SVS. We think that design helps create good user experiences and is essential. So, we teach students how to use Figma, which is our preferred design platform. We also have some fun events or general meetings. We sometimes do a “The Valuation is Right,” our parody of The Price is Right. So, we’ll have startups, with the valuation of what they raised their last round at, and students then try to guess how much they’re worth now, and eventually, we narrow it down to one winner.

Kieran: Transitioning towards the venture team/mentorship program, I saw students leave with five portfolio projects. Can you talk more about what they’re accomplishing through this program?

Sharanya: The venture team program aims to get people into the venture capital mindset. A lot of times, there is a company that may not have revenues yet, or it is just an idea, or they just launched their product and don’t have traction yet —- how do you look at a startup at very early stages and understand its potential? We want to help students learn how to analyze companies that are very early on. So, we really try to get them into that VC mindset. To do that, we have a lot of deliverables every week. So, three out of the nine weeks of our program are pitches. Students will come prepared with their pitch for a company or an industry they choose. We do one early-stage pitch, growth-stage pitch, and industry pitch. They pitch to our executive board as if we were VC investors looking to invest in the startup. It’s a really great way for students to get hands-on experience in terms of how a startup founder may want to pitch to a VC, and also, as they are practicing their pitch, they can anticipate what questions the executive board may ask them and try to figure out what is important to a VC. So, those are three of our portfolio projects. We also prepare general industry reports, an IPO evaluation, and various deliverables throughout the semester.

Kieran: I saw you guys do external work with New York-based VC firms. Who are some of the VC firms you’ve worked with in the past or are working with today?

Sharanya: The project I’m working on is with a VC firm called Vesey Ventures. We’re also working with Citi Ventures, the corporate VC of Citi, and MaC Venture Capital. We’re also working with General Atlantic and General Catalyst either soon or next semester.

Kieran: What’s an example of a project you’re working on with them?

Sharanya: I can talk about the project I am currently working on. Vesey Ventures is an early-stage fintech VC. They want to learn more about the Gen Z perspective on fintech. For example, what’s the next sector within fintech that will specifically appeal to Gen Z. Myself and a couple of other students on the project have been going through different industries and specifically researching re-commerce, carbon accounting, and neo banks as our three sectors that would appeal to Gen Z. This entire semester, we’ve done a lot of industry research. We will be pitching a couple of startups to two of their partners tomorrow. So, our project is coming to an end, but in the past, we’ve also done projects where we’ve created marketing materials for funds who are looking to raise their next fund from LPs, we’ve helped a VC market their accelerator to startups, and things like that. The projects are anything a VC may be interested in having a couple of students work on for 5-10 hours per week. 

Kieran: You mentioned earlier that you have to apply, and there is an interview process. Can you talk more about what you’re looking for during that application process?

Sharanya: The application is very lengthy, but we encourage as many people who are interested to apply. We’re looking for people who can see something new or look at a startup and not just take it at face value but maybe think about it a bit more — go deeper and understand how this news impacts the broader industry. So, for example, our first round of interviews is typically just behavioral questions. Our second round is a bit more technical in that we will have people read the news for the past week and discuss its implications on the VC or startup landscape. Then, we have a reading room where you must read an article and come prepared to discuss it with the interviewers. This past semester, we had an article about design and how it’s about creating experiences and not just for aesthetics. So, we want to see who can understand the concepts and analyze them further. 

Kieran: And just making sure, you don’t need any prior experience in tech or VC to apply to this. Is that correct?

Sharanya: Yes. We’re not looking for what you’ve done in the past. We’re looking for how you can articulate your thoughts and form opinions on the materials we give you.

Kieran: For your external work, is it just people who graduated from the venture team and are now working on that? Or is it a separate application process?

Sharanya: Yes, so it is people who graduate from our mentorship program, the venture team. The idea is that the venture team gets them into that mindset of how VCs look at startups, and the semester after, once they graduate, they get the opportunity to apply those skills and network with VCs and founders.

Kieran: I think another thing to mention is that your website said the venture team is only open to first- and second-year students. Is that correct?

Sharanya: Yes.

Kieran: Are the general meetings open to any undergraduate or graduate student?

Sharanya: Yes, the general meetings are open to anyone at NYU. You do need an NYU ID to get into the building.

Kieran: What are the biggest opportunities to improve NYU SVS?

Sharanya: I think we want to focus, and I think we’ve started to do this a lot more, on our external facing marketing and reporting on things that we’ve done. I think we do an excellent job of promoting our club and community within Stern and outreach into other colleges at NYU. It is a little bit harder to reach other schools at NYU, so we want to work on that more and attract students from all colleges, not just Stern. Also, we want to showcase our work on external platforms on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., where we can have professionals we work with keep in touch with us, and the guest speakers can see the work we have accomplished. So, we’re really working on professional marketing, not just student marketing.

Kieran: Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you think is important to know for a student who is considering this club?

Sharanya: I want to mention that we have two programs they could apply to. The venture team is the main one, but there is also The Venturist program, which is a lower commitment, is open to third- and fourth-year students, and is our in-house publication. We have our newsletter, and we publish a new article from one of our student writers every couple of weeks. I know someone who just wrote an article about divorce tech. There are a lot of articles about sustainability, AI, etc. So, if you’re just interested in venture capital and the startup space in general, but you don’t want to commit to the rigorous venture team program, then we also do have The Venturist, where you write an article once a month, then we’ll publish you and do the marketing for you. It’s also a really great opportunity. 

Kieran: Yeah, I saw it on the website. I think it’s framed as Gen Z’s take on venture capital trends. Is that still the main theme?

Sharanya: I would say it’s still mostly Gen Z perspectives on startups. We don’t necessarily cater only to Gen Z-focused articles. We will write about anything, but since it is from our students, it still has that unique Gen Z perspective.