Ex-Google exec brings Kickstarter model to careers of new grads

August 8, 2012: 1:03 PM ET

Upstart wants to offer students the chance to start their own companies.

FORTUNE -- In his 8 years at Google, where he was president of the company's enterprise business, Dave Girouard hired new college grads in droves. While the Google gigs might have made their classmates envious, it turns out that many of them would have forged different, more independent paths, had they been given the chance.

Now Girouard hopes to offer the next generation of college grads the option to pursue their non-traditional, entrepreneurial dreams. His new startup, Upstart, which is being unveiled on Wednesday, uses a crowd-funding model to let new college graduates raise money in exchange for a share of their future income.

"A huge fraction of kids want to do something different," Girouard said in an interview. Upstart is for those who want to "bypass the career center and do something on their own," he added.

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While computer science graduates from places like Stanford may already have ways to raise money, most college graduates don't. Girouard hopes that Upstart will appeal to everyone from those who want to start businesses, to musicians, artists or screenwriters. Starting in September, the service will be available to students from five universities, Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, University of Michigan, University of Washington, and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Upstart has devised a model that will allow students to raise different amounts of money depending on factors like their school, their major and the percentage of their income that they are willing to return to investors over 10 years. The model is based on expectations that investors will receive approximately a 6% return annually. Returns will be capped at 15% so no student will have to give up too much upside. And Girouard hopes that most investors will be successful entrepreneurs themselves, who will provide not only cash but also mentorship and advice.

In a pilot at the universities, Upstart has already helped to finance the dreams of several would-be entrepreneurs.

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Upstart itself will make money by taking a 3% cut of the funding offered to students, and a 1.5% cut of the money returned to investors. The company is backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Google Ventures, NEA, First Round Capital, Crunch Fund and Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.

Girouard said that Upstart-backed graduates could generate as many as 1 million new jobs over the next decade, even if many may never see their dreams fulfilled. "Will we cause more people to take risks? Yes," he said. "Will some fail? Yes. But over time, we think it is a good thing."

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Miguel Helft
Miguel Helft
Senior Writer, Fortune

Miguel Helft is a San Francisco-based Senior Writer at FORTUNE, where he covers Silicon Valley. He joined FORTUNE in August 2011 following a 5-year stint as a reporter at The New York Times covering companies like Apple, Facebook and Google. His knowledge of Silicon Valley and the tech world runs deep. He worked as a software engineer at Sun Microsystems in the late-1980s, and for the past 15 years, he has chronicled major industry events -- from the Microsoft antitrust trial to the dot-com boom and bust - at publications like the Industry Standard, the San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times. Born and raised in Argentina, Helft emigrated to the U.S. to attend Stanford University, where he earned a BA in Philosophy and a Master's in Computer Science.


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