Inaugural Venture Fellow seeks to expose students to the ‘science’ of venture finance

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Justuss Boice.
Justuss Boice. Photo courtesy of Indiana University

‘How do we incentivize people to come here—and to stay here?’

At Indiana University, Justuss Boice has been able to combine his eclectic educational interests in biology and finance at IU. Now poised to complete a master’s in finance at the Kelley School of Business in December, Boice is taking on a new challenge, through which he will make a considerable impact on Indiana’s entrepreneurship culture, as the inaugural Venture Fellow for IU Ventures.

IU Ventures assists IU students, faculty, staff, and alumni in work that advances high-potential new venture opportunities. Boice, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., will serve as a Venture Fellow until May 2021; in the role, he will help to shape a new, 12-month fellowship program designed to expose graduate students to the world of venture finance and provide them with the educational opportunities and practical experiences they need to become successful early-stage entrepreneurs and investors. Boice’s fellowship is being supported by Rev1 Ventures, a leading Midwest-based investor startup studio.

“Justuss is clearly part of the team at IU Ventures,” said IU Ventures Managing Director Teri Willey. “He is fun to work with, and I’m grateful for the analyst work he is doing for us to advance our investment portfolio and this program. “We’re also grateful for the partnership with Rev1 Ventures in launching this fellowship.”

Serving as a Venture Fellow may seem a far cry from studying micro-gut biome, microglia and the function of the endocrine system. But it turns out that there’s been a clear, if winding, path to Boice’s choices.

Like many Indiana youths, Boice, who went to Canterbury High School in Fort Wayne, played basketball and aspired to play in college. As graduation approached, he earned an Evans Scholarship, a full housing and tuition college scholarship awarded to golf caddies who display leadership, community involvement and exceptional character.

Inspired by an uncle’s passing from pancreatic cancer, he chose to study biology at IU Bloomington and pursue a path toward becoming a physician. He also found time during his junior year to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, and earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from IU in 2020.

Boice planned to take a “gap year” in 2020 to prepare for the Medical College Admission Test and to enroll in AmeriCorps, a federal national service and volunteering program that works to strengthen communities across the country, while creating pathways for young people to enter the workforce.

COVID-19 disrupted Boice’s plans, but he was determined to continue his education. Influenced by a short stint in IU Bloomington’s Liberal Arts and Management Program, which offers IU students an education that intersects the liberal arts and business, Boice pivoted toward the intensive master’s degree program in finance at IU’s renowned Kelley School.

Initially, Boice saw few, if any, similarities between his background in biology and the world of finance. A few months into his business studies, though, a conversation with Kelley School faculty member Neil Powell, director of the school’s MBA Strategic Finance Academy and lecturer in the Masters in Finance Program, led Boice to learn more about venture capital. (Powell is now also overseeing the new IU Ventures Fellows program as executive director of student experiential learning.) Powell introduced Boice to the staff at IU Ventures, including Vice President for Venture Development and IU Angel Network Executive Director Jason Whitney, who helped Boice secure an internship in his hometown for the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation.

“Justuss showed interest in expanding his career alternatives and a natural curiosity that’s so important in venture financing,” Powell said. “It just seemed like a natural next step to get him involved in IU Ventures. I’d say it’s definitely worked out.”

While at the Mirro Center, which is directed by IU Trustee Michael J. Mirro, Boice supported and assisted potential health care entrepreneurs seeking to find capital, industry connections, and marketing and innovation resources. The internship turned out to be an ideal match, allowing him to merge a longstanding passion for biology and a burgeoning interest in finance — and, in particular, how private equity can positively impact the development of efficient health processes. Following this experience, he interned at Flywheel Fund in Bloomington, where he compiled due diligence for fund partners on early-stage startups, and for HSBC Bank in New York City, where he analyzed companies working in the healthcare and tech sectors. Boice is also currently a market intelligence intern with Rev1 Ventures.

“At Rev1 our mission is to help entrepreneurs build great companies through the support of our startup studio,” said Matt Cynkar, managing director of market intelligence and data analytics at Rev1. “Justuss has a service mentality that aligns with that mission, and we’re grateful to work with him here. Day-to-day, he’s helping us source deal flow to support our partners and funds. He’s also taking a big picture view of things, helping us think about connections across his own network that can help us support entrepreneurs.”

In gaining this valuable work experience, Boice has grown increasingly curious about the inner workings of venture capital, while also enhancing his overall financial acumen.

He has also taken notice of the potential of his home state to serve as a launching pad for promising new businesses, attract and retain skilled employees, and strengthen a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.

“I think the most eye-opening thing for me has been seeing the abundance of capital in the Midwest—and here in Indiana—to support startups, as well as the sheer number of people looking to invest in promising new businesses,” Boice says.

“Everyone thinks they need to go to Silicon Valley to start a business or to find talent,” he adds. “But there’s a tremendous amount of capital and a tremendous amount of support right here in Indiana. At IU Ventures, we’re trying to figure out how to retain the talent we have—whether they come from a traditional source like the Kelley School of Business or a non-traditional one like the College of Arts and Sciences—and to think long term about why people should stay in Indiana. How do we incentivize people to come here—and to stay here?”

Boice is excited to expand the Fellows program, and to help guide and influence other IU students with varied educational interests and entrepreneurial ideas.

“I’m really hoping to make this experience as impactful as possible and to pave the way for students from all different studies, backgrounds and perspectives,” he says. “And hopefully what we do will trickle down. That is, once we have a successful fellows program, how can we eventually involve undergrad students? How can we help them secure internships with portfolio companies and startups? And how do we best ensure the ultimate goal—for the program to come full circle in terms of retaining talent in Indiana and creating Indiana-based companies?”

Boice is also determined to bridge the gap between underrepresented students and the world of venture capital, which is still largely white and male. Central to this effort, he says, will be making connections for those students and helping them to find sufficient financial support to successfully launch and grow their startup ideas.

“One of the biggest challenges of our work will be helping to create opportunities for underrepresented individuals to break into venture capital, which is pretty well synonymous with private equity,” he says. “And with private equity, the first thing that comes to mind is connections. We have so many IU alumni who are involved in banking, venture capital and private equity. It’s connecting those individuals with underrepresented founders. These are the individuals who can provide access to investment vehicles and resources to scale up your business. These are also the people who can make sure you get in front of your traditional VC firms.”

Boice accepts the responsibility that comes with being on the ground floor of a new academic program. In a way, this will be his first real venture experience, and, true to form, he’s taking a scientific approach to the process.

“What I’ve learned is that venture capital firms don’t want to necessarily teach a person from the ground up. They want someone to be able to come in and make an impact. So our job will be giving our fellows the skills necessary to make an immediate impact. It will also be about listening, involving others in the development process and obtaining honest feedback from those who will be in the first few pilot classes. It’s going to be pretty incredible to watch it all unfold.”

About IU Ventures: IU Ventures invests in and supports early-stage companies through three programs: the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, and IU Founders and Funders network. Each program takes unique approaches to accelerate and support the positive impacts that entrepreneurs affiliated with IU already achieve across the world. In Indiana alone, IU Ventures made new and follow-on investments in 15 companies during 2020 and was recognized as one of the top three most active funds in the state. More than 50 percent of the companies in which IU Ventures has invested since 2018 have had women or minority founders, CEOs or other C-suite members.