A serial entrepreneur, Stuart chose to relocate from his native South Africa to pursue a full-time MBA at Spain’s IE Business School, globally-recognized for its strength in entrepreneurship. He crowd-funded over $6,000 and landed a scholarship to cover his costs.
During his MBA, Stuart served as a board member of IE Net Impact, he headed up the school’s Africa Club, co-founded the European Network of African Business Clubs and, with a firm eye on social impact, he started searching for his next big idea.
“I wanted something that had legacy that would exist beyond me, and that other students would get involved in,” Stuart (pictured right) explains. “I looked to the US and what a lot of other schools were doing around impact funds, like Berkeley Haas, Michigan Ross, and Wharton. I thought, if those existed somewhere else, why aren’t we doing it here?”
Stuart joined forces with Andrew Wong—a US MBA grad recently recognized as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for finance in Europe—who decided to pursue a Master in Advanced Finance at IE Business School with the sole purpose of getting into impact investing.
And, together, they set out to develop Fundie Ventures, one of Europe’s first student-run social impact venture funds, focusing primarily on EU-based, early-stage social enterprises driving positive change.
Although currently Fundie Ventures operates more like a new venture consultancy—grooming early-stage startups and matching them with investors—the aim is to develop into a fully-fledged venture capital (VC) fund.
The business is staffed by active IE Business School students, with numbers growing from five to 55 students in a matter of years. Last year, 70 students applied to work for the firm.
Under Stuart and Andrew (both partners), Fundie Ventures’ core leadership team consists of Melody Ucros, operations director and a Master in Business Analytics and Big Data student at IE; Cambria Hayashino, marketing manager and Master in Corporate Communications student; MBA student Andres Catano, the firm’s startup engagement manager; and Marie Fréville, who oversees a team of undergrad students managing the deal flow.
A bigger team of student analysts work to source, screen, and analyze deals. Like, Fabio Nelson Macchi (pictured right), an MBA student and former Accenture consultant, whose interest in entrepreneurship fueled his desire to get involved.
“An MBA is mostly about what you do outside class; about doing things that you’ve never had the opportunity to do before in your career,” he says. “[My work at Fundie Ventures is] really interesting. It’s fun. It’s something that adds value to me as a person. You get to know a lot of new startups and, in the end, you’re contributing to doing something good.”
Fundie Ventures has helped startups like Taqanu, a bank for refugees and people without a fixed address; Smartville, a direct communication channel between citizens and government; and Solidarity App, which gamifies NGO donations.
Its partnered with La Bolsa Sociale—Spain’s only equity-based social impact fund—and startup accelerators across Europe, like Plug and Play and Impact Hub. “It’s getting to the point where people are contacting us as appose to the other way around,” Stuart beams.
What’s next for Fundie Ventures? “We want to expand outside of Spain, across Europe, and push the idea that impact investment from a student-run business school initiative is possible,” Stuart explains. “We want to inspire other European business schools to do the same thing.”
Student-run funds in the US have often been set up after a massive endowment from a successful business school alum. Stuart and Andrew (pictured right) have had to navigate a different approach to raising funds, driven by the support of IE Business School staff.
“If I were to try and do this in a different school, I’m not sure the outcome would be the same,” says Stuart. “There’s a spirit of entrepreneurship at the school, where you can just start something—where the risk of failure is minimal and where you have the people who want to explore the same things—that’s quite unique.”
Stuart’s “go-to-guy” is Ignacio Larru, adjunct professor of Entrepreneurship and Big Data at IE and CFO of K Fund, an early-stage VC started by fellow IE professor Iñaki Arrola. He spent an hour with Stuart and Andrew, drawing on a white board, going through every step of how to set up an impact fund; from how much money you need, to how much legal fees are.
Joe Haslam, an entrepreneurship professor at IE who runs his own hotel deals website, has been a sounding board and source of inspiration from day one. “We initially thought our dream number for raising a fund would be $1 million,” Andrew recalls. “Joe said, ‘go for $10 million’. That’s shaped the way we plan our way forward: to think bigger than ourselves and to do something unconventional.
“We have an incredibly diverse set of people who work with us and a lot of women in leadership roles, and that’s a testament IE Business School,” he continues. “We love to have young staff who know what the latest trends are. We’ve had innumerable conversations on blockchain, to the point where we’re sick of it now!
“All this traction we’re getting, we’re really excited. Every six months, we’re honestly astonished when we look back and see how much success we’ve had.”