Banayan gets quick start in venture capital world

Alex Banayan, a sophomore majoring in business administration, was hired after winter break as an associate with San Francisco-based venture capital firm Alsop Louie Partners to look for promising start-ups within the USC community. The hire makes Banayan, 19, one of the youngest venture capitalists in history.

Determined · Alex Banayan, a sophomore majoring in business administration, will split time between his USC classwork and a part-time gig at venture firm Alsop Louie. - Photo courtesy of Sam Sulam

Banayan will hold a part-time position with Alsop Louie and will continue as a full-time student at USC. Banayan will participate in a weekly conference call with the Alsop Louie Partners and will fly to San Francisco once a month.

“USC students now have an opportunity few other students have,” Banayan said. “It’s huge to have a venture capitalist on campus who will be so accessible so now students with ideas for start-ups can just shoot me an email and don’t have to try to pitch their ideas independently to venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.”

Venture capital firms invest in and financially launch start-up companies in return for a percentage of the business’s income.

“It’s like the movie The Social Network, where venture capitalist Peter Thiel gives start-up money to Mark Zuckerberg in return for a percentage of Facebook,” Banayan said.

Ashish Soni, executive director of digital innovation at the Viterbi School of Engineering, said Banayan’s position is a great addition to the opportunities that the university currently offers to its student entrepreneurs.

“Alex is slightly more accessible and less intimidating and will help USC students present their ideas to as many potential investors as possible,” Soni said. “Not to mention that Alex is a dynamic, charismatic and very polished individual who is a great representative for USC.”

Grace Huang, a freshman majoring in health and humanity, said the fact that Banayan is a student makes the thought of pitching an idea to a venture capitalist much less intimidating.

“It’s better for the student body because there’s a smaller age gap, and he understands what it’s like to be a student,” Huang said.

As Banayan admits, he does not fit the stereotype of a typical venture capitalist.

“The old rules of having to be a 60-year-old white male are gone,” Banayan said. “I’m 19 years old, the son of Persian immigrants and haven’t even taken the finance class at Marshall, yet somehow I’m on the phone hearing about multimillion-dollar deals.”

Banayan said it was not until after interviewing a president of Microsoft for this project that he decided to reach out to Ernestine Fu, 20, Alsop Louie’s associate at Stanford.

“So this past winter break I sent her an email, we got lunch and she presented me with this venture capital opportunity,” Banayan said.

Karen Kerr, senior director of new ventures and alliances at the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, said that having a presence on the USC campus will be an invaluable experience for Banayan.

“Being able to work with the experienced entrepreneurs and investors at Alsop Louie is a wonderful opportunity for Alex,” Kerr said. “In the venture capital business, the best way to learn is to do.”

Winnie Hui, a freshman majoring in business administration, said that Banayan’s position further expands the Trojan network.

“So many people here have new ideas and seeing the emphasis USC places on
networking, this is a great opportunity,” Hui said.

Banayan said he views this unique opportunity as a way to give back to his fellow students.

“I feel very grateful to be learning and getting so much, and for the next two years I want to be sharing this wealth of information with the USC community,” Banayan said.