Please read this post about the application process by Jorge Torres (Class 16).

The Venture Capital Industry

While there is no way to know with certainty, there are several well-understood criteria you should consider. As venture capital is practiced, it focuses on investing in the most ambitious and fast-growing technology companies. This results in both some spectacular successes as well as a high percentage of failures. Such an environment is marked by an intensity and risk tolerance that is not for everyone. To the extent one is comfortable in this type of environment, there is a question of whether you are better suited to the role of venture capitalist vs. entrepreneur. Relatively speaking, the investor needs to possess an even larger appetite for ambiguity, as the performance feedback an investor receives can be slow and inconclusive. The role of investor also requires a proclivity for coaching and enabling others’ success rather than being the principal actor. Early-stage companies offer little to prospective investors in the way of hard, measurable data, so passion, confidence, vision, and intuition are all vital characteristics for success as an investor.
“Venture capital” was originally a very specific form of financing companies that are too young and risky for banks. It has evolved as a term to represent the broad eco-system of technology innovation and today serves companies from their birth to pre-IPO stage. Venture capital is now practiced all over the world (which was not the case twenty years ago) but varies widely from country to country. A “venture capitalist” today is expected to offer much more than “capital” and must also bring a set of operational best practices patterns, networks of human resource and sales opportunities, and deep relationships with other venture capitalists. Particularly in the last decade, these networks must be global.
Until the recent economic downturn, venture capital had been maturing, becoming more competitive, and expanding internationally. Some have seen a parallel between today’s venture industry and the investment banking industry of a few decades ago: once a cottage industry of small and secretive firms, investment banks forked into a cluster of global bulge-bracket brands alongside a constellation of smaller, specialized players. Given the rise of global venture brands such as Kleiner Perkins, NEA, DFJ, Sequoia, Benchmark and others, and the healthy emergence of an array of competitive, alternative venture funds, it’s an apt comparison.

Another important trend is the increasing sophistication of the entrepreneur. This has fueled healthy new competition and differentiation in the industry, as start-ups expect more than just capital from investors. Looking at the ecosystem, everyone, from corporations to universities to governments, wants to be positioned in the technology commercialization game. These organizations see it as a matter of necessity: corporations for “open” R&D as an engine of growth, universities to better harvest IP and build up talent, and governments to spur job growth, tax income, and economic vitality. Many of these entities have established beach-head Silicon Valley offices, to better collaborate and contribute to the start-up flow.

These are exciting times. Financial institutions and the global system of checks and balances were pushed beyond their safety circuit breakers in the Fall of 2008, and are only now starting to recover. And as we have seen, the process of resetting and recalibrating investment priorities—in the public capital markets as well as the arena of private equity—has taken time.

Within this context, however, we have experienced continued strong demand for Kauffman Fellowships from venture firms—investing across the IT, LS, and CleanTech sectors. Established firms and emerging managers alike seem to recognize that it is wise to invest in the human capital of the business—especially in times of transition and opportunity.

If there is a constant to the story of innovation, it is that it comes from unexpected places and in unexpected ways, but innovation most assuredly keeps on coming. Wise investors, while responding to new constraints and conditions, have remained active as they patrol for opportunities to invest and collaborate with entrepreneurs.

The Kauffman Fellows Program

The Kauffman Fellows Program is a network of 400 industry professionals (Kauffman Fellows, Mentors, and Strategic Partners) across 42 countries and six continents. The Fellows and Mentors hail from over 300 different venture funds ranging from brands such as Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital to exciting emerging managers such as Emergence Capital Partners and Shasta Ventures. The program’s Strategic Partners represent leading universities, technology corporations, service providers, and governments from around the world, all supportive of the goals of the program, and eager to explore synergies with the fellows’ network.

The program’s mission is “To identify, network and develop future global leaders of the venture capital industry.” We accomplish that objective by seeking out the most promising candidates from around the world, matching them with leading venture firms, and providing a career-long platform of leadership development and industry best practices. New Fellows complete an intense and interactive two-year structured leadership and learning program that is organized into seven modules. Upon graduation, they become members of the Kauffman Fellows Society. The strong bonds formed within and between classes during these first two years serve as the foundation for the program’s long-term success. Because trust and awareness have been built up, Fellows are able to call on one another to share opportunities, insights, and resources – better serving entrepreneurs and the startup enterprise.

The Kauffman Fellows Program was established in 1994 under the leadership of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City, MO. The purpose at the time was to address an industry that is critical to entrepreneurship and innovation, yet one that lacked clear best practices or development infrastructure.
An important milestone for the Kauffman Fellows Program was the spin-out from the Kauffman Foundation in 2003. At this point, the program gained the flexibility to recruit Fellows and venture funds from around the world and this has resulted in our expansion into 21 countries and six continents in recent years. These days, the program also draws Fellows who are in venture capital roles from leading technology corporations and universities. Another important change has been the acceptance of applications from candidates who are already employed by venture funds (typically for less than five years), a group we refer to as “affiliates.”
The Kauffman Fellows Program is governed and administered by the Center for Venture Education, an independent 501(c)(3) public charity headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. It was originally administered and run as part of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City, MO.

The program is governed by a board of directors and staff with a passion for entrepreneurship, deep venture capital expertise, and a strong history with the program. More information can be found on the staff and Board of Directors pages.

The Kauffman Fellows Program is primarily funded by the tuition paid by the sponsoring venture funds. Additional funding comes from strategic partners around the globe who support the mission of the program.
The Kauffman Fellows Program has linked with businesses affiliated with the venture capital industry through our Partner Alliance. By participating in the program, partner firms have the opportunity to enhance their brands, benefit from new business referrals, and contribute to the development of the venture capital industry. Alliance members are recognized leaders in their respective industries, such as law, accounting, and executive recruiting, and provide financial and industry expertise to the Kauffman Fellows Society network.
Yes, beginning in 2003, the Kauffman Fellows Program expanded globally and has now had Fellows participate while working for firms in Australia, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. We welcome, and encourage, individuals from all countries to apply for the program.
The Kauffman Fellows Program provides venture capital firms with a competitive edge in recruiting the best and brightest new hires to their firms, and it graduates more productive, better networked new venture professionals for their firm. Even from the beginning of the fellowship, the deeper and broader network of the Fellows allows firms to see deal flow they would not otherwise see.

Benefits of the Kauffman Fellows Program for venture capital firms include:

  • Access to a heavily screened, pre-qualified exceptional talent pool,
  • Infrastructure necessary to accelerate the learning and development of new venture professionals,
  • Access to an instant, incomparable global network that adds to, and therefore broadens and deepens, the firm’s network and deal flow, and
  • Learning and networking by Kauffman Fellows that can be shared and leveraged across the entire firm.
Compensation is negotiated directly between the Fellow and his or her firm. Fellows are hired as regular, full-time permanent or temporary employees of their venture capital firm. As in any competitive market, salary and benefits are mutually agreed upon between the Fellow and the firm.
The fellowship tuition and related expenses, such as travel and lodging for the seven structured learning modules, are paid by the sponsoring firm.
There are several elements that appeal to Kauffman Fellows who complete the program. Foremost is the network of professionals who share the experience and values learned from the leading venture professionals in the world.

Learning and Professional Development

We believe that the most successful investors combine (i) a deep understanding of their industry and a vision for its future, with (ii) an uncanny ability of collaborate with entrepreneurs and build businesses in the face of ambiguity, risk, contradictory feedback, and lack of control.

The faculty and staff of the Kauffman Fellows Program seek to bolster the strengths of each Kauffman Fellow across these two dimensions. On the first front: by surrounding each new fellow with an established, committed network of practitioners who apprentice them through teaching, demonstration, and encouragement. On the second front: by delving into human dynamic issues that drive individual and group behaviors and perceptions. By sharpening their awareness and competence, Kauffman Fellows learn to be highly effective in establishing rapport, building consensus, and working through conflict – whether with a management team, a board, or in their own partnerships.

Our belief is that only those with deep industry experience and a commitment to in the mission of the Kauffman Fellows Program can truly impart the curriculum. Accordingly, during the 2-year structured program, the industry-focused learning modules are taught exclusively by senior Fellows, mentors, and outside industry leaders (often including advanced micro-cases from their own careers), working in concert with outside leadership experts.
In an industry that is fast-changing, fragmented, and still surprisingly secretive, the Kauffman Fellows Program offers a unique, full-immersion educational experience that takes advantage of a variety of instructional strategies and leadership techniques to ensure that Fellows learn core skills and approaches for investing in and helping guide innovative, growth companies. During the 2-year program, Fellows come together with their class seven times for structured learning “modules.” These modules include a 4-day orientation at the start of the fellowship, five additional 3-day seminars, and finally a 1-day graduation seminar that includes presentation of the Fellows’ field projects (see field project question below). Four of the seven modules put particular emphasis on venture industry topics. The remaining three modules (while also covering core investment principles and practices) have a special emphasis on leadership development.
Fellows’ field projects tend to focus on investment strategies, operating practices, or case studies of trends in specific sectors, verticals, or geographies. Examples of past field projects include the following:

  • Assessing Opportunities in Biosimilars
  • A VC Perspective on Cloud Computing
  • Kauffman Fellows Venture Corps
  • Trends in Technology and Science Commercialization
  • The Cost of Early-Stage Investment Failures

Since 2010, Fellows have had the opportunity to publish their field projects in the Kauffman Fellows Report.

Fellows are required to actively participate in all educational modules and complete their independent field research project in order to successfully complete the program.

While the Fellows’ final session is known as “graduation,” it is actually just the beginning of their lifelong fellowship. The graduation ceremony marks the Fellow’s cross-over from a structured learning environment to their membership in the worldwide Kauffman Fellows Society. As a member of the Society, each Fellow continues to learn and grow, participating in industry focus groups, and taking part in ongoing technical training and peer-to-peer learning.

  • Industry retention of Kauffman Fellows is high. In contrast to industry averages, where only half of those who join VC firms stay in the industry, nearly 80% of all Kaufffman Fellows have remained in venture capital.
  • For all Fellows who have remained in the venture capital industry for at least a year since graduating from the program, success rates are also high. More than half are partners or general partners in their firms.
  • Twenty Kauffman Fellows have founded their own firms and closed their first funds.
The large majority of Fellows remain with their firm for several years after completing their 2-year fellowship. Over time, as firms shift their industry focus and as individuals navigate through career decisions, changes tend to occur—with both the Fellow and the firm typically maintaining strong ties and working relationships with the broader Kauffman Fellows Society.
While the Fellows’ final session is known as “graduation,” it is actually just the beginning of their lifelong fellowship. The graduation ceremony marks the Fellow’s cross-over from a structured learning environment to their membership in the worldwide Kauffman Fellows Society. As a member of the Society, each Fellow continues to learn and grow, participating in industry focus groups, and taking part in ongoing technical training and peer-to-peer learning.

The Application Process

The Kauffman Fellows receive several hundred applications each year and selects approximately 35 individuals for each class.
The baseline prerequisites are that you have earned a graduate degree (completed prior to beginning the fellowship) and bring a three year minimum of work experience. A core goal of the program is to bring together informed, motivated, and promising individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. And so, in the case of exceptional qualifications, the graduate degree prerequisite may be waived for a particular applicant.

The work experience prerequisite is important because it allows the candidate to draw upon their own practical, real-world lessons, and insights. Internships and time applied in pursuit of a graduate degree or PhD are generally not tallied toward the work experience prerequisite. However, if you feel strongly that your academic work is relevant and appropriate, we would like to learn more and understand why.

Kauffman Fellows bring a rich assortment of expertise and achievements yet also share common characteristics and experiences. A candidate may be light in some areas, but compensate through exceptional strength in other areas. Some of the traits of Kauffman Fellows are as follows:

    • A bias toward entrepreneurs
    • Deep scientific, technology, or business domain expertise
    • Demonstrated leadership strengths
    • An aspiration to contribute to the building of companies, either as a venture investor or as a startup leader
    • An appetite for risk, ambiguity, and unstructured environments
    • Humility, empathy, a sense of service, and unquestioned integrity
The application, completed online, is designed to be straightforward and lightweight. You will need to provide a version of your work resume, a few short essays, and some reference letters.

Kauffman Finalist
Application
Affiliate
Application
Who should apply Applicants looking to enter the venture capital industry Applicants already working at a venture capital firm
Application Requirements
Online application
Online application
Official university transcripts
Personal statements (approx. 3 pages)
Statement of Interest To be completed by venture firm and proposed mentor
Professional references 3 written references 2 written references from someone outside your firm and one phone reference from within your firm

Download:

Yes. In the event that you are not selected as a Finalist, yet join a venture firm, it is acceptable and appropriate to request consideration as an affiliate. You will be in good company among a number of Kauffman Fellows who have followed this path.
Applications are read and evaluated as a group, not on a first-received basis. That said, the benefit of applying in advance of the deadline is that it allows the applicant time to provide additional or missing information so that application readers can review a complete dossier (incomplete applications are not reviewed).
The personal statement portion of the application is crucial. It is your chance to convey your ideas, your originality, and sincerity, your seriousness about startups, venture investing and innovation, and your aspirations. You will respond to eight specific questions that touch on your personal and professional experiences. Responses for each question are limited to 1200 characters (including spaces).
Yes. Your application is read and evaluated by Kauffman Fellows Program staff and a small group of readers from investment firms. The names of applicants and semi-finalists are not made public. Those candidates who are chosen to be Kauffman Finalists will gain exposure by having their names and biographies distributed to a large number of investment firms to facilitate the process of securing a position at a firm.
Kauffman Finalist applicants will provide three professional references. Affiliate applicants will provide a Statement of Interest, to be completed by their proposed mentor, one written reference from someone outside of their venture capital firm, and the name of one additional person who will have a telephone interview with Kauffman Fellows Program staff.

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References should be from people who know the applicant in a professional, working context, such as an employer or graduate school advisor.

Reference forms are due by the application deadline. The form contains specific instructions for the reference and is not a “letter of recommendation” in the classic sense. Recommenders return their forms directly to the Kauffman Fellows Program office.
Yes, this is acceptable. However, since applicants to the program have often made significant progress from year to year, you should be sure that your recommendations are up-to-date.

The Selection Process

Refer to the list above of common characteristics of Kauffman Fellows and compare your experience and background to past or current Fellows by reviewing their bios, especially those in the most recent classes. The Kauffman Fellows Program is committed to helping bring diversity to the investment industry, and we especially encourage qualified women and minority candidates to apply.
Candidates not currently in the investment industry apply to become Kauffman Finalists. These applications are carefully screened to select approximately 20-30 finalists each year, all of whom are qualified and appropriate for the fellowship. Once the slate of finalists are chosen, the candidate begins the process of securing a position with a venture firm. A “bio book,” containing 1-page histories of each finalist, is distributed to all Kauffman Fellows and Mentors as well as a range of other investment firms of interest. Finalists understand that it is their responsibility to secure interviews and discussions with investment firms. Our experience has shown that investment firms are more than happy to talk to potential candidates who have survived the strict scrutiny of the Kauffman Finalist selection process.

Finalists securing a position with a investment firm may then join the next Fellows class with the support of their employing firm.

Affiliate candidates are, by definition, already employed with an investment firm. These candidates go through an equally rigorous application and interview process to determine those that will be included in the Fellows class. While there is a superset of candidates who will be qualified to serve as a Kauffman Fellow, each class is selected to create the optimum learning community, with diversity in education, experience, and industry background, as well as size, type, and geography of firms.

No. The finalist selection process and the affiliate selection process are simply two channels that feed into the fellowship. Once selected as a Kauffman Fellow, the sourcing distinction becomes moot as Fellows go through the same learning and development process as a single, unified class. Each Fellow’s apprenticeship will be designed and fine-tuned around his or her skills, experience, expertise, and the needs of the firm; however, the learning and development process is the same for all Kauffman Fellows.

KFP Flow Chart

Yes, the program is open to all applicants regardless of citizenship.
While there isn’t a predetermined distribution between international and U.S.-based Fellows, in the past few years Fellows based outside the U.S. have numbered between 5 and 8 per class (or about 20% of the class).
You do not need a U.S. work visa to apply to the program. However, if you plan to work in the United States, you must have the appropriate documents. Procurement of visas is the sole responsibility of the applicant; Kauffman Fellows does not assist in this matter.
While there are some investment firms that participate in our program on a regular basis, the roster for each incoming class is a function of the hiring needs and growth across the industry. In general, participation in the program mirrors the geographical distribution of the investment industry as a whole.
Kauffman Finalists who do not secure a job with an investment firm may, together with program staff, opt to retain their finalist status for an additional year. This option may be particularly valuable to finalists who work in specialized fields of the investment industry as it grants them the time and opportunity to synchronize with investment firm hiring needs.
Applicants who do not become finalists are welcome to reapply in subsequent years after additional years of professional experience. Applicants who are chosen as semi-finalists but who do not progress to the Finalist level are welcome to contact the program staff to discuss their application and any areas that were deemed in need of development. Due to the volume of applications received, specific feedback to those who are not chosen as semi-finalists is not practicable.