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Rice business clubs bring in the big bucks

Courtesy Pranai Reddy

By Shruti Patankar     3/19/24 10:19pm

Energized by Apple Stocks notifications and armed with Audrey’s lattes, teams of Rice students are recreating Shark Tank here on campus. The rapidly growing business major’s popularity has made way for investing clubs with hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding. 

Founded in 2017, the Rice Undergraduate Investment Fund allows students to work together to invest real portions of Rice’s endowment. The fund currently has 90 members, including a three-person executive board. Members are divided into nine investment sectors and a larger portfolio review sector. 

Each of these sectors specializes in a different realm, from healthcare to real estate, with students pitching an investment plan related to their industry to the executive board at the end of every semester. Abhi Gorjala, RUIF’s president, said the club has been a resounding success with highly profitable student pitches.

“In 2017, we were given a little shy of $30,000 [from Rice’s endowment]. We haven’t received any donations since, at least any significant amount, and we’ve grown it to about a little shy of $50,000 now,” Gorjala, a McMurtry College senior, said.

RUIF also runs a training program for Rice students interested in learning more about investing, but who are not an official part of the fund. The fall cohort had about 100 new students — their biggest group yet, according to Sonia Baig, a co-director of the program.

Baig said that the seven-week program provides a crash course on the basics of investing, taking calculated financial risks and preparing stock pitches. She highlighted the value of being able to join without any prior experience or knowledge about finance. 

“It’s just really cool to see how many kids are interested and able to participate,” Baig, a McMurtry junior, said. “All of us definitely felt that when we joined initially we weren’t experts by any means, and so people took a bet on us and gave us the opportunity to join and get our feet wet.” 

The experiential learning opportunities RUIF provides differ from the conventional, community-based organizations most majors have. Caroline Mazur-Sarocka, the president of the Rice Business Society, said that both RBS and the investing clubs play different roles on a business major’s resume.

“Rice Business Society is basically the pre-eminent resource-based organization on campus,” Mazur-Sarocka, a junior at Sid Richardson College, said. “It’s more so there to help connect students to a lot of the resources that they need.” 

Mazur-Sarocka is the co-director of RUIF’s training program alongside Baig. She noted that RBS’s resources and the information taught in undergraduate business courses are key tools in succeeding in both investing clubs and internships outside of Rice. 

“Rice’s business major gives you a big breadth of exposure to different areas of business, which is great,” Mazur-Sarocka said. “When it comes to honing in on one specific area that you’re interested in, that’s where being able to consecutively work across different sectors in an undergraduate investment fund really helps develop a niche that makes you competitive relative to other applicants and makes you more well-rounded.” 

Baig echoed Mazur-Sarocka’s belief in the growing importance of hands-on business extracurriculars. 

“I’ve learned probably 50 percent of everything that I know [about finance] from those clubs, and then the other 50 percent from classes,” Baig said. “There’s a really good combination to be had there, regardless of your major.” 

While relatively new when compared to other on-campus extracurriculars, RUIF has set a precedent for a growing number of specialized investing clubs that are new to the scene. Rice Venture Fund, currently in its first semester, differs from RUIF in two ways: a focus on investing in new startups and innovators as opposed to established companies, and a whopping $300,000 budget, nearly 10 times RUIF’s initial budget. 

While RUIF receives their funding from Rice’s endowment, RVF has amassed their pool of finances through large donations from alumni and venture capital firms.

“Right now, we’re at $300,000 in funding. Our goal is $3 million. We envision that fund to last nearly 10 years, but if we invest and the returns pay off, it can be evergreen and hopefully be endowed one day,” Pranai Reddy, one of RVF’s co-founders, said.

According to Reddy, the club’s ambitious drive and distinctive approach to investment make it a valuable addition to Rice’s business community. 

“It’s not a lot of systematic work. It’s a lot more intuitive, and a lot more personal. You’re investing in a company before they have financials to show,” Reddy, a Brown College junior, said. “It applies to so many industries beyond just hardcore finance.” 

Raj Shroff, an investment associate at RVF, said the team is currently searching for new ventures to invest in. 

“We haven’t deployed our first investment yet, but we’re looking at a couple right now. Our check size is about $25,000 to $100,000 per company,” Shroff, a Sid Richardson College freshman, said. “We really are interested in supporting Rice [student] founders. We want Rice founders to think of us immediately when they consider starting a venture.” 

Another key player in Rice’s emerging investing scene is the Rice New Energy Fund. Established in the fall of 2021, RNEF provides an avenue for students to invest in companies leading the energy transition. Like RVF, RNEF’s funds of about $300,000 come largely from alumni interested in promoting business education. 

Erica Friedman, RNEF’s chief operating officer, explained the slew of recent changes in RNEF’s administration in light of growing popularity. 

“This year, we started our formal training program for new analysts, as well as innovating with our mentorship program to have more diversity,” Friedman, a Hanszen College junior, said. “We're now also thinking about succession and how to ensure continuity as people graduate, because this is going to be the first major shift in leadership.” 

Students emphasized the importance of building wide-ranging networks in the business world due to the nature of the field. 

“[Business clubs are] a really great platform to be able to meet students that are also interested in business in a career that’s really heavily reliant on the network you have,” Mazur-Sarocka said. “Helping students build that internally at Rice is really beneficial for their post-grad years and careers that they’re interested in.” 

Others noted that the rigorous selection processes for career opportunities can promote competition, but the combination of a budding business program and open-minded, helpful club leadership can promote collaboration.

“One thing I immediately was told, right off the bat coming to Rice, especially on the business scene, is that we’re not an internally competitive or toxic school when it comes to recruiting, which I still think holds true,” Gorjala said. “We’re all encouraged at those RBS events to view each other as recruiting buddies or people that can help each other out as opposed to competition in a zero-sum game.” 

“The culture of care at Rice, it sounds cheesy, but I really do think it applies to everything,” Baig added.

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