Spring 2015

Sam Zell lecturing in front of a class of students

Mercury Fund and Detroit Innovate Offer Students Venture Capital Fundamentals in New ZEAL Lab

By Lori Atherton

The ability to think like a lawyer is what students expect from law school, but what about thinking like a venture capitalist? A new Michigan Law offering provided through a partnership with national and local venture capital firms Mercury Fund and Detroit Innovate is making it possible for students to learn the ins and outs of the venture capital world. 

Launched in fall 2014, the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law (ZEAL) Venture Capital Lab offers students the opportunity to work on investment deals with Detroit Innovate and Mercury Fund. Students conduct market research, write investment committee memos, and sit in on investment calls and meetings, with the goal of aiding the venture capitalists at Detroit Innovate and Mercury Fund with their investment decisions.

“The bread and butter is that law students actually function  as venture capitalists in assessing potential investments for  the funds,” says Clinical Assistant Professor Bryce Pilz, ‘00,  who oversees the Law School’s involvement in the lab. “They review pitch decks and financial documents, and meet with  the entrepreneurs to learn more about their businesses. Along  the way, we make sure the students learn the nuts and bolts  of venture capital deals, how venture funds work, and startup business basics. Like our other experiential education programs at U-M, they are learning the most from their actual work.”

Four students, selected from a pool of 30 applicants, are participating in the Venture Capital Lab, which was extended  to the winter 2015 semester. “We didn’t intend for it to be a  full year, but with all that the students learned during the first semester, it made sense for them to continue to put it into practice,” says Adrian Ohmer, ‘13, who, along with Adrian Fortino, MBA ‘10, BSME, ‘00, is mentoring the students.

The lab was created at the suggestion of Ohmer, a principal  at Detroit Innovate, who wished that similar hands-on venture capital experience was available to him as a law student.  “I had a great Michigan Law education, but one thing that  was lacking was access to primarily non-legal experiences,  like venture capital firms,” he says. “The lab is a way for me  to give back to the Law School and to show students that a  JD can be valuable outside of a career in law.”

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