By Michael B. Farrell, Globe Staff
With preppy good looks and a casual confidence, Hugo Van Vuuren moves effortlessly among the student body at Harvard University, holding court with undergrads in the Yard or in a Harvard Square coffee shop.
But Van Vuuren, 29, is not a student, or a faculty member. He is a venture capitalist with campus office hours.
From an outpost inside Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Van Vuuren helps run the Experiment Fund, a roughly $10 million investment pool backed by successful venture capitalists who are Harvard graduates themselves. Harvard appears to be the first university to officially collaborate with an investment firm to target its students while working from an office on campus.
The university allowed the alumni to open shop as part of a larger campaign to help students explore starting their own businesses, before they even graduate.
More pointedly, it is the specter of Mark Zuckerberg driving these changes on the Harvard campus: Students want to emulate the youthful billionaire’s fast ascent to fortune, and university officials, especially, want to avoid losing another Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard in 2004 and moved to the West Coast to start Facebook.
“The Facebook effect on campus is that kids with a burning desire to start a company have validation,” said Patrick Chung, a venture capitalist with New Enterprise Associates and cofounder of the Experiment Fund. “Because there’s been that sea change in the way that many students think, colleges and universities have to recognize that.”
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