I recently graduated from the Plug and Play Tech Center’s Venture Capital Investment Internship Program with flying colors. The internship was extensive in its scope with a focused vision to help the participants become better VC investors and entrepreneurs.
It was also a rigorous internship that required persistence, commitment, and continued effort for over 7 months. Plus, we had to compete with the brightest students from UCLA, London Business School, ETH Zurich, etc. Goes without saying, it was not easy.
So, why did I participate in the internship? What was I looking to get out of it?
I am a Military Cadet-turned-Engineer-turned-IT Guy-turned-Researcher with brief stints of social work and a few attempts at entrepreneurship. At present, I am a final-year Ph.D. student in the Mobile Computing Lab (Yamaguchi Lab) at Osaka University. My research was focused on cellular networks and now I am transitioning into Extended Reality.
During my doctoral research, I represented Osaka University in two business competitions – Ericsson Innovation Awards and Hult Prize. In both the competitions, my team did very well, reaching the global semi-finals and the impact summit, in Ericsson Awards and Hult Prize, respectively.
Encouraged by these successes, I wanted to learn more about entrepreneurship. The first step in the process was the Lean Startup Entrepreneurial Training Program by OIST and facilitated by the Innovators’ Club at Osaka University.
After successfully learning about customer discovery, hypothesis validation, and other lean startup principles I wanted to learn more. Especially about the other side of the aisle – the thought process of a VC investor when identifying startups for potential investment!
Instructors at the Innovators’ Club introduced the Plug and Play VC Investment Internship.
Mr. Terumasa Matsuyuki who is a faculty at Co-Creation Bureau, Osaka University guided me through the application process. Thankfully, I was among the students selected for the internship!!
At this point, you must be wondering, what is this “Plug and Play” that I keep referring to.
Plug and Play – World’s Largest Innovation Platform
“Plug and Play Tech Center”, or in short, Plug and Play is one of the world’s largest innovation platforms. It is an early-stage VC investor, a startup accelerator, and a corporate innovation platform. Its headquarter is based in Sunnyvale California, the heart of Silicon Valley, and the organization is operational in 35+ locations globally.
Plug and Play invests in over 250 startups across 18+ industries, every year. More importantly, it connects the startups with leading global corporations, fostering an ecosystem of tech innovation. It was an early investor in many globally recognized companies such as PayPal, Dropbox, LendingClub, N26, Soundhound, Honey, Kustomer, and Guardant Health. As a highly successful innovation platform, Plug and Play has had 35 Unicorns in its portfolio so far!
It is Plug and Play’s vision to catalyze entrepreneurship and technological advancement on a global scale. To that end, the university-centered VC investment internship is conceptualized to create the next generation of VCs and entrepreneurs all over the world.
Preparation for the Internship
Before beginning the internship I made certain preparations. Being a Ph.D. (D2) student, it was important that I had my supervisor Dr. Yamaguchi’s approval and support. This is a 7 month-long internship, so I had to ensure that my research plan does not suffer. With Dr. Yamaguchi’s help, I was able to manage my research publication plan. Secondly, Mr. Terumasa Matsuyuki organized a session in which Plug and Play Interns from 2020-21 cohort gave us detailed feedback on the program and shared their experiences.
These preparatory steps helped me perform well in the internship.
Around 116 students from the world’s topmost universities are carefully selected to participate in the 7-month-long internship. The entrepreneurship cell of each university works with the Plug and Play Investment Team to facilitate the application and selection process.
In the first session, there’s an orientation for the participants where they learn about the program, the minimum criteria for graduating from the program, and the opportunities after graduation.
Tasks and Learning: The objective of the internship is to inculcate in participants an analytical and investigative mental model to evaluate the business potential of a startup. Thus, at the core of the internship lies the “Due Diligence” (DD) assignment for a startup’s pitch.
Plug and Play hosts “University Pitch Sessions” where the founders or top executives from the management team of the startups pitch their idea. An intern can attend the live pitch sessions or review the pitch decks later at her convenience.
The DD is to be done by analyzing crucial aspects concerning a startup such as the founding team, the relevance of the problem they are solving, the market size, the stage of the company, the competitors, and the time the product/service will take to reach the market, etc.
In addition, interns are strongly encouraged to carry out their own analysis and share their thoughts on other aspects such as traction (client, funding, pilots, awards, etc.), business and revenue model, product-market-fit, etc.
Over the course of the internship, an intern typically analyzes over 500 startup pitches, which when done with interest and enthusiasm, offers an enormous learning opportunity.
VC Calls: Equally important are the biweekly VC calls in which a senior VC from Plug and Play (including Alireza, a General Partner at PnP) joins the call. The senior VC is joined by a VC moderator who helps conduct the session. For each VC call, the moderator shares the decks of 3-5 startups that look promising and interns are expected to prepare an investment thesis on each startup.
During the call, interns share their analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of a startup. After that, the moderator puts the investment decision to vote to build decision-making capability in the interns.
The VC calls are a tremendous learning experience, especially for researchers and engineers. The insights and thought processes shared by senior VCs are priceless.
Evaluation: The performance of interns is evaluated on several parameters. These include, (a) DD form submission, (b) comments and insights shared in each DD submission, (c) participation in the biweekly VC calls, and (d) Insights shared in the VC calls.
The program coordinators from the PnP team keep track of our performance through a leader board based on DD form submission rate/percentage.
There is a mid-term evaluation where top-performing interns are recognized based on their progress and growth. The evaluation seems to reward “how much you learn and grow in the internship” instead of “what you already know”. This creates a level playing field for interns from diverse academic backgrounds.
In the final evaluation, there is an additional “Startup Sourcing” assignment. Interns are expected to research, network, and identify ten high-potential startups founded by the students/alumni of their university.
My Performance in the Internship
When I joined the program, I knew very little about VC investment. The first few weeks involved a steep learning curve. I put a lot of effort to learn the concepts, terminology, and fundamentals of VC investment. I sought guidance from the VC mentors/moderators for the right resources – blogs, books, podcasts, videos, etc. The PnP team is amazing and despite their hectic work schedule, they always find time to guide an intern.
My DD submission rate was 100% and apart from the first DD submission, always on time. DD Submission can be both – very easy and very difficult – depending upon the commitment of an intern. It could take as little as 3 minutes or as much as 30 minutes to evaluate a startup!
An important skill that the PnP internship teaches is time management. It is easy to lose track of time when evaluating startups in an area of interest be it AI, e-commerce, or health tech. It can also be time-consuming when researching new verticals such as Blockchain, Web3, real estate, etc.
So, optimizing the learning while maintaining a high DD submission rate is very important. To do so, I would typically dedicate at least 7 minutes and at most 15 minutes to each DD evaluation.
Overall, I did reasonably well in the internship.
I received three recognitions: Most Participative (Mid-term Review), Most Participative (Final Review), and Top Students – DD Superstar (Final Review).
Mid Term Review: December 2021
Final Review: May 2022
I was also one of the 13 interns globally and the only intern from Osaka University who was selected for the “Global Analyst” Program, after the VC internship.
Opportunity to Make Connections (and Friends!!)
During the course of the internship, I connected with brilliant people. I had frequent discussions with two interns in my cohort – one is the founder of the InClub app from Switzerland, and another is the first employee of Shopify in Japan. I interacted with interns from all over the world, over Zoom, and chat to discuss startups and potential business ideas.
I was also fortunate to have VC mentors who took out the time to offer me guidance when I needed it and to get their feedback on potential startup ideas. Towards the end of my internship, I began interacting with CEOs of promising startups and building an investment thesis on their business.
I had the opportunity to meet with startup ecosystem builders from Startup hubs in Japan such as Startup City Fukuoka and Startup City Sapporo. I also got to discuss and work with the General Partner of an early-stage VC firm in Japan and I continue to learn from him.
For me, this internship was a gateway to a whole new world full of people with a vision and desire to build something useful for society and be rewarded for it.
A Message For Future Interns
If I were to share one message with the future interns from Osaka University, it would be to Ask Questions.
I asked very basic questions during the VC calls. I concede that it is not easy to come off as ignorant, or worse, stupid. The point to remember is that knowing the answers makes us less of both.
There is no better place to have our queries on VC investment and entrepreneurship answered than the Plug and Play VC Call. It’s an amazing opportunity to have access to some of the brightest minds in the business. Make the most of it!!
In the next piece, I will write about how non-business VC interns can not only cope but excel in this internship.
Wishing you all the best.
Srikant Manas Kala
Ph.D. Candidate, D3
Mobile Computing Laboratory,