Despite his academic success, Jackson Boyar, BA’12, spent his early years at IU struggling with balance, belonging, and self-confidence. As an East Asian Languages and Cultures major, the majority of his friends on campus were international students facing similar challenges. “I was always interested in how communities can welcome people who are different,” Boyar said.
Boyar graduated magna cum laude in 2012 and worked for L.E.K. Consulting, serving clients in aviation, retail, and private equity. Because he was fluent in Chinese, Boyar was sought after to help a local boarding school mentor its international student population. In the process, he found his calling.
Boyar left L.E.K. and launched Mentor Collective in 2014, a company that helps colleges and universities provide mentoring to students using a scientifically backed technology platform.
The next four years were tough. “I was doing the ramen noodle thing,”
Boyar recalled. “But I believed in our mission to help students find the right relationships so they could flourish.”
In 2018, Mentor Collective began to gain steam, securing Indiana University as a client. Shortly thereafter, IU Ventures entered the picture.
Seed money propels growth
IU Ventures invests in and supports early-stage companies through three programs: the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, and IU Founders and Funders Network. Each program takes unique approaches to support entrepreneurs affiliated with Indiana University.
In 2019, IU Ventures invested $500,000 in seed money in Mentor Collective. The following year, IU Ventures doubled down on Boyar’s vision, bringing the total to $1 million.
In the process, Mentor Collective grew from 19 to over 70 employees, secured 100+ institutional partnerships, and formed more than 100,000 mentoring relationships, including 8,000 at IU alone.
“If IU can produce students who go about and change the world, that’s great,” Boyar said. “But if IU can also be a place that capitalizes on the best ideas, it can truly catalyze the influence of the university. If IU Ventures didn’t invest in us, there would be tens of thousands of students who would not have benefited from our mentoring services.”
Boyar noted that IU would realize a significant return on its investment. “I feel very good that I’m able to provide a healthy return to my university,” Boyar said.
The potential to do more good
In Indiana alone, IU Ventures made new and follow-on investments in 15 companies during 2020 and was recognized as one of the top three most active funds in the state.
IU Ventures President and CEO Tony Armstrong believes they’re just scratching the surface of what they might achieve. “We’ve been investing in about two percent of what we see in our pipeline,” Armstrong said. “If we had more capital, that number would be higher, as we see many more investable IU opportunities than we have resources to support.”
In addition to supporting a greater number of IU-affiliated companies, more funding would enable IU Ventures to grow its internship program for IU students, increase alumni outreach, and build valuable community partnerships.
“IU Ventures is unique in that it’s trying to build community around the IU system, experience, and brand,” Boyar said. “To me that’s not a transactional attempt to make a quick buck on the back of entrepreneurs; it’s actually an investment in furthering the mission of IU.”
Interested in supporting IU entrepreneurs? Your gift to IU Ventures will advance its work to invest in and support early-stage, IU-affiliated startup companies.
Learn more about additional giving opportunities by contacting Jonathan Barada, vice president at IU Ventures, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-561-2247.
This article was originally published in the 2021 issue of Imagine magazine.