Essay on Plug and Play University program

My name is Alex Koala, I am a Ph.D. candidate (D3) from the Graduate School of Engineering. Science Back in October 2021, I joined the Plug and Play University program as an investment intern and successfully completed the internship program among the top-performing students.

The University program:
The Plug and Play university program brings together over 100 selected students from top universities in the world. The interns were from different backgrounds ranging from engineering to business and were assigned to four verticals: Money tech, Commerce tech, Health-tech, and Smart tech, which is the vertical I belonged to.
For 7 months (October 2021 – April 2022), as an investment intern, I have reviewed 20+ pitch decks weekly and participated in bi-weekly calls with the investment team at Plug and Play Tech Center, Sunnyvale California. As part of the smart tech vertical, the startup companies I reviewed were very tech-focused, leveraging technology to solve humankind’s issues. Some of the companies for example were trying to find a clean, biodegradable, and environmental-friendly alternative to plastic material. Other companies were trying to find clean energy solutions for the EV (electric vehicle) industry. There was a huge portion of the companies dedicated to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) solutions, which is very relative now and in line with 2050 carbon neutrality goals.
The main duty of the investment interns was to support investments through startup valuations. By the end of the internship, I had valued 500+ startup companies. The criteria for startup valuation included: The team, the market size, the value proposition, the competitive advantage, and the social impact:

  • The team: What are their background and expertise? How are they complementing each other? Plug and Play usually prefers a team of three people. This is because decision-making within the team is easier this way.
  • The marker size: This is to evaluate how big the opportunity is. Market size is usually broken down into TAM (Total Available Market), SAM (Serviceable Available Market), SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market) and each gives an idea of the business potential of the startup
  • Value Proposition: This looks into the solutions the startup is providing to solve identified problems. The problems/pain point has to be relevant and as specific as possible for the solutions to be relevant.
  • Competitive advantage: This looks into any type of competitive advantage the startup company has over existing competitors. This includes special licenses, patents, in-house algorithms, strong connections/networks, strong partnerships in the targeted industry, etc.
    Towards the middle of the program, we were asked to source 10 startup companies with at least one founding member being an alumnus of our respective universities using our network and LinkedIn. So we got some experience in Sourcing also, which is one of the main activities of venture capitalists.

In general, there was no typical onboarding period for us interns. There were no classes on how to conduct due diligence, on how to do proper startup valuations. Rather, it was very hands-on and self-study. In my case, I used a lot of resources available online and I was able to learn directly from the bi-weekly calls, the interactions with other interns, and also the insights of the members of the investment team of Plug and Play.

The highlights:

  • Building strong connections with other students who are very business-oriented. It is amazing the amount of innovation the students from universities like King’s College London, MIT, Sandford, and others are creating. I was able to discuss business ideas with some of the students and I might even get to work with some in the future.
  • A second highlight was realizing that not only my technical background but also my personal background and journey were both valuable assets in venture capital. Because of my background, I was able to make unique contributions, pointing out new industries for some of the businesses I reviewed but also pointing out for example how multi-racial teams are high perfuming teams. My unique insights were very welcomed to my surprise, which gave me more confidence in considering venture capital as a possible career path.

To Osaka university students interested in business in general or even those who just want to try something new and challenge themselves, I highly recommend this program. It is a highly dynamic program with inspiring students that want to change the world with their ideas. Being in the same environment with such individuals is very inspiring and will lead to strong personal connections that may last a lifetime. So, go for it! And bring your unique self.