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Scholarship Gives Minority Undergrads a Rare Peek Into the World of Private Equity


Winners of a newly-established Illinois Venture Capital Association (IVCA) internship scholarship are getting an inside glimpse this summer into some of the most prestigious capital and private equity firms in the country.  

Established by Illinois Venture Capital Association, a trade association representing the $100 billion venture capital and private equity community in Illinois, the IVCA Scholar Program was created in 2007 to interest minority students in a venture capital or private equity career.  The scholarship is unique in that it’s awarded to undergraduate students, giving them an opportunity to rub elbows with some powerful principals and partners in the industry.

Maura O’Hara, Executive Director of the Illinois Venture Capital Association (’84 alumna) said the scholarship was created to provide minorities visibility to a career in venture capital and private equity earlier, rather than later, in their studies.

“We realized minorities are underrepresented in our business and that we could and should do something about it,” O’Hara said.  “We created the scholarship to inform undergraduate students of the opportunities in the industry so we could help influence their career decisions and the courses and education they’ll need to pursue if they adopt this career.”
The IVCA Scholar Program awards scholarships valued at $15,000 per student, with $5,000 toward general tuition fees and the option of accepting a 10-week summer internship at a Chicago-area venture capital or private equity firm with  $10,000 in compensation.

Scholarship winners include Lesley Winbush, an accounting major entering her junior year in fall 2007, interning with ARCH Venture Partners; Ashton Clark, a general business student entering his sophomore year in fall 2007, interning with Baird Private Equity, and Peter Alonso, 2007 accountancy alumnus, accepted in the College of Business Masters of Accountancy Science program, interning with Thoma Cressey Bravo.

In a recent interview and IVCA article, scholarship winner Peter Alonso said he’s discovered that the learning curve coming straight out of school is “immense.”

“Before I started the internship, I had a broad understanding of what a private equity firm did.  I am now learning in greater detail how deals are sourced, transactions are executed, and how portfolio companies are monitored.  My goal by the end of the summer is to get as far up the curve as I can.”

Merrick Axel, principal, Thoma Cressey Bravo, said Peter Alonso is an integral part of the support programs for investment teams, particularly in a research capacity.

He admitted the firm has never had an undergraduate intern, but as an active partner with IVCA, Thoma Cressey Bravo was excited to be involved in the first year of the scholarship program.

“It’s a great opportunity for any young student to be a part of the inner workings of private equity and see the thinking that goes along with being an investor,” Axel said.

Benedict Rocchio, Vice President of Baird Venture Partners, said the firm’s close relationship with IVCA made it a natural to become involved in the scholarship program.

“This minority scholarship program supports the goals of our parent company Robert W. Baird, and we’re delighted to be involved,” Rocchio said.  “We’ve got Ashton Clark busy on projects that will give him exposure to many areas of the business.  For starters he’s helping with our ongoing sector research, identifying potential competitors and determining marketing size.  He’s also contributing to charting our portfolio companies’ financial performance and is sizing up features in a new CRM software tool we’re implementing shortly.”

John Hedeman, Assistant Dean for Honors, College of Business Office of Undergraduate Affairs, screened the initial scholarship applications.  Final applicants were interviewed by the hiring firms and IVCA’s Scholar Committee which includes individuals from Thoma Cressey Bravo, Seyen Capital, ARCH Venture Partners, Mesirow Financial, along with Dan O’Connell, director, The Golder Center on Private Equity.

An announcement regarding how students can apply for scholarships over summer semester 2008 will be issued by the College of Undergraduate Affairs and the IVCA in September 2007.

UIUC College of Business