In the Washington Semester Program, we take the phrase “DC is our Classroom” to heart. Each semester, students from every state and dozens of countries come to American University to explore career paths across eleven academic concentrations.
This year, students in the Global Economics and Business concentration had a front row seat on the topic of venture capital investments and the bustling startup ecosystem. Veteran faculty member Dr. Jeffrey Sosland invited the podcast producers of M4Edge, Marco Annunziata and Michael Leifman, to record their podcast live during his class. Students had the opportunity to participate in the podcast by asking questions. Together with special guests David Hall and Anna Mason of Rise of the Rest seed fund, they discussed their mission to empower startups outside of the traditional Silicon Valley landscape.
“We wanted to find a way to support entrepreneurs who were building disruptive companies...outside of the coasts, in places where there’s lived experience,” says Hall.
In doing so, Rise of the Rest has invested in startups predominantly across the American south and midwest, supporting nontraditional startup founders from teachers to truck drivers, to farmers, and everything in-between.
“Venture capital, in so many ways, sits at the intersection of optimism and reality...if you have ever felt like an underdog or an outsider, there is an opportunity for us to be the champion to back you,” says Mason.
Recent reports from City Lab attest to this. The San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, alone hold more than 80 percent of total venture capital investment. “That’s spatial inequality on steroids,” the article says.
Anna and David are not just experts on entrepreneurship and venture capital funding of start-ups, they are also authorities on business strategy,” says Sosland. “Like most of my guest speakers, Anna and David gave insights on an important topic that you just can't get from a textbook or academic lecture.
WSP students Thomas Mazurek of Audencia Business School in France and Skyler Myers of Clemson University participated in the discussion by asking how Hall and Mason identify strong candidates for venture capital investment and which start-up is their favorite.
For them, it’s all about passion, vision, and expertise. According to Hall, the main question they want to answer is whether their prospective investment will “lead the company through thick and thin to get to wherever the next set of milestones are.”
Dr. Sosland and the Washington Semester Program faculty view Washington DC itself as an inspiring classroom for understanding international business and entrepreneurship. The Global Economics & Business seminar in particular allows students engage with professionals directly involved in the conversation of economic, investment, and trade policies throughout the Washington area. Classmates routinely hail from all over the world, from Korea to France to Colombia, helping cultivate a truly international and diverse learning environment that directly reflects the hustle and bustle of the immediate metropolitan area.
“I wanted students to understand the value of social entrepreneurship - that you can make a profit and also address some important social, cultural and environmental problems,” says Sosland. “This is what Rise of the Rest seed fund is doing.”
Recent guest speakers in Dr. Sosland’s class have included Bob Frierson, who was secretary of the Federal Reserve Board, Angelica Silvero, who is the head of the World Bank Speakers Bureau, and Patrick Vargas, Global Head of Government Affairs for 3M.
To learn more about all of our WSP concentrations here, visit: american.edu/spexs/washingtonsemester/WSP-Seminars