Venture capitalist Josh Kopelman listens to aspiring entrepreneurs pitch thousands of ideas each year, but it’s not every day that 8- and 9-year-olds join that long line of those trying to convince him about the next “can’t miss” investment opportunity.
That’s what happened last week when two third-grade classes from Perelman Jewish Day School’s Stern Center in Wynnewood traveled to University City to meet with Kopelman at First Round Capital, a firm he founded that has invested in companies like Uber, a private car service. Well-known in the world of Internet innovation and venture capitalism, Kopelman founded Half. com, an online used bookseller that eBay later acquired, and he was named one of the top 10 angel investors in the United States by Newsweek in 2012.
The Perelman classes were rich with the seeds of venture capitalists. Kopelman’s son, Jacob, was among those making pitches, as were Hunter Kimmel and Jessie Singer, the son and daughter, respectively, of Wayne Kimmel and Marc Singer, venture capitalists at other firms, who also listened to student pitches at First Round.
In meeting rooms inside the brightly lit, hip-looking office, the students more than made up for their lack of capital with loads of enthusiasm.
The field trip was part of a unit on business and economics in which the third-graders worked alone or in groups to develop ideas for their own businesses. In doing so, they had to ask themselves questions like what problem they were trying to solve through their venture, how they could profit from it and what competition already existed.
Third-grade teacher Susan Miller said she started the project this year to teach the students about economics and to put a new spin on the classic question: What do you want to be when you grow up? She didn’t want them to think about existing jobs but rather to invent ones for themselves.
“My thought with this was, why do you have to think about an occupation, why not have a dream?” Miller said.
And dream the students did.
Jacob Kopelman, Hunter Kimmel, Jacob Hare and Ethan Cohen wore shirts they had designed with logos for their business, Sports Kingdom. They said they would beat their competitors — Dick’s Sporting Goods, Modell’s and such — by allowing customers to test the gear inside the store for free or take it home and try it by paying half the cost of the product. They recognized that baseball bats can get dinged up and said they would have demo versions of each bat.
The students also explained that if you don’t like what you try, you don’t have to buy it. Their products would, of course, also be available at cheaper prices than their competitors, they said.
The young entrepreneurs had to remain composed as classmates and the venture capitalists offered feedback following each presentation.
Daniel Wachs and Ilan Tauber planned to start a bakery that advertises itself as a place where you can find joy. They said they intended to bake all the goods themselves.
But a friend, Ben Meyers, offered a different notion.
“Even though you said you’re going to make all your own stuff, I kind of recommend Daniel’s mom,” Meyers said. Daniel’s mom, Rachel, was in attendance and said she had given Meyers some homemade biscotti once.
Ava Susser-Stein and Elle DiBranca want to start a mall for dogs.
“We were thinking of California, because a lot of famous people are there,” Susser-Stein said.
The mall will offer a “Puparazi" service for customers to take photos with their animals, and doghouses with elevators — for around $100.
“How do you think you’re going to make money?” one student asked. “Elevators cost $1,500, and if your houses only cost $100?”
Josh Kopelman said he was impressed by the students’ basic understanding of business terms and their “seriousness of thought and depth of thought.”
He joked, “Who knows if one of these students will be the next Mark Zuckerberg 15 years from now?”
The students did not have to anxiously await word on whether the venture capitalists had given their business plans the green light. They all received certificates of incorporation before heading back to the bus.