Park Perspectives: Big Red Ventures’ co-founders inspire current Park Fellows

By: Park Perspectives
Over 80 guests traveled to NYC to attend the first annual Big Red Ventures meeting

By Brian Guo and Kyle Johnson, both Two-Year MBA ’19 and Park Fellows

Park Perspectives are authored by Park Leadership Fellows

Twenty years ago, Park Fellows Alex Ivanov, MBA ’00, and John Kyles, MBA ’00, saw a gap in Cornell Johnson’s MBA curriculum. They were looking for practical exposure to the venture investing space, something that wasn’t a focal point at universities, let alone society as a whole. To resolve this gap they created Big Red Ventures (BRV), Johnson’s student-run evergreen venture capital fund. (With evergreen funds, returns and exits are deposited back into the fund.) At the time the organization was formed, BRV provided students the practical and educational experience around sourcing, vetting, and investing in startups. This was revolutionary. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the venture community was a black box and only a handful of people knew anything about investing in early stage startups. Fast forward to 2019, and venture capital and startups are all the craze.

Park Fellows leaving a legacy

While at Johnson, Alex and John were both Park Leadership Fellows. One component of the fellowship is to complete a service project during the second year of the MBA, which lead Alex and John to found BRV. By establishing BRV, hundreds of students have received exposure to venture capital and dozens of startups have received funding.

BRV’s first annual meeting

Fast forward two decades to 2019. It’s showtime. Sara Yun, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’19, was running through the halls at the Cornell Tech campus, making sure BRV’s first annual meeting was being perfectly orchestrated. More than 80 guests traveled from across the country to take part in the event. The annual meeting was divided up into three specific sections.

First, to kick things off, the fund managers performed a full-fund overview: reviewed our portfolio companies, discussed deal flow, examined our investment in Hue.Ai, and highlighted key wins for the year. We discussed our successful recruiting outcome and our first place finish in VCIC’s (Venture Capital Investment Competition) northeast region and fielded questions from former fund managers. To wrap up part one, we handed the stage over to Caper, a 2018 investment, to pitch their product, as they are preparing for their next round of funding.

The second section comprised several special guests that were in attendance for the event. Both co-founders of BRV, Alex and John, were able to attend and provided graceful words about their motivations and aspirations around starting BRV. To keynote our annual meeting, Sara brought in Zach Schildhorn of Lux Capital. Zach provided tremendous insight into Lux Capital’s successful investment philosophy, which has effectively differentiated Lux from other major VC funds. Imparting important lessons he learned from his career path, Zach also challenged students and professionals in the room to take chances and to think differently from others.

John Kyles and Alex Ivanov, MBAs '00 and founders of Big Red Ventures, speak at the first annual meeting nearly two decades after they left Johnson.
John Kyles and Alex Ivanov, MBAs ’00 and founders of Big Red Ventures, speak at the first annual meeting nearly two decades after they left Johnson
Zach Schildhorn, Lux Capital, served as the keynote speaker during the BRV annual meeting and provided insight into Lux Capital’s successful investment philosophy
Zach Schildhorn, Lux Capital, served as the keynote speaker during the BRV Annual Meeting and provided insight into Lux Capital’s successful investment philosophy

To wrap up the meeting, we broke out to a networking session that was so successful that our speakers, guests, alumni, and student entrepreneurs networked much longer than we had the space reserved. It was satisfying to see all our guests deep in conversation and connecting with one another. People were learning about BRV, reminiscing about their times in Ithaca, and listening to startup pitches.

A lasting impact and learning from the BRV legacy

BRV Annual Meeting attendees network at the Cornell Tech space on Roosevelt Island, NYC
BRV Annual Meeting attendees network at the Cornell Tech space on Roosevelt Island, NYC

Although not perfect, it was rewarding that our class programmed the first annual meeting for BRV, building on the lasting legacy that Alex and John started 20 years earlier during their time as Park Fellows. Today, Park Fellows continue to seek out opportunities that allow for lasting impact; we strive to create something as impactful as BRV with our Park projects, which is rather difficult given the short amount of time we have here in Ithaca.

As we started our Park project, we took a similar approach to Alex and John. After speaking with key stakeholders in the Johnson community and leaders within the entrepreneurship ecosystem, opportunities were identified that would help to communicate a clear defined path for entrepreneurs and funding to support their endeavors.

Our ultimate vision is to create an incubator program and a defined entrepreneurship track for Johnson students with the sole purpose of increasing the probability of success for startups coming out of Cornell University. This means leveraging the broader strength of Cornell by connecting students across programs, from the Law School to the College of Engineering, and from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to Computer and Information Science. We aim to outline a clear path both academically and administratively to guide Johnson founders, while trying to identify resources and secure funding to support their budding ideas. As we look to establish a summer incubator program for Johnson students looking to pursue entrepreneurship, we are looking to replicate the lasting impact that Alex and John establish with BRV. We can only hope to create something that will have as wide of an impact.

Link to learn more about the Park Leadership Fellows program

About Brian Guo, Two-Year MBA ’19

Portrait of Brian Guo, Two-Year MBA '19

Prior to Johnson, Brian was a portfolio manager at Bank of America U.S. Trust where he partnered with two senior portfolio managers to manage over $1.5 billion in client capital. Originally from New Jersey, Brian graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2012. At Johnson, he served as co-president of Old Ezra Finance Club, Fund Manager of BR Ventures, treasurer of the Volleyball Club, and a Park Leadership Fellow. Brian Guo interned with and will be starting full-time with J.P. Morgan’s Technology Investment Banking group in New York City.

About Kyle Johnson, Two-Year MBA ’19

Portrait of Kyle Johnson, Two-Year MBA '19

For seven years prior to coming to Johnson, Kyle worked in a project management role for high-rise construction projects in San Diego, CA. Kyle is a Park Fellow and Consortium member and serves as VP of marketing and prospective outreach on the Consulting Club board. Kyle spent his summer with EY Strategy out of its Denver, CO, office for his summer internship, and will be returning full-time. Kyle, his wife Christy, and his son, Winter, love exploring the incredible Ithaca food scene and hiking many of the beautiful trails in the region.