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Student to professional; a transformation taking place at UND's Center of Innovation

It may be unusual for North Dakota residents under the age of 25 to have the Red River Valley's economic future in mind and want to foster monetary growth for innovative thinkers.

It may be unusual for North Dakota residents under the age of 25 to have the Red River Valley's economic future in mind and want to foster monetary growth for innovative thinkers.

But four graduate students and one undergraduate at the University of North Dakota are doing just that. They comprise a managing board for the Dakota Venture Group - a student-operated investment fund.

The group is one-of-a-kind, the first solely student run venture fund in the nation. This means all the responsibilities including decisions, relationships, terms and actual monetary investment fall in the hands of the students.

"This is real life, real learning, real money," said Bruce Gjovig, director and entrepreneur coach for the center of innovation at UND.

The fund, which is a year old, has made one investment ( www.thewinestandard.com ), but has reviewed more than 60 proposals. All money returned from ventures will be deposited back into the investment fund; students will never get to place a dime in their pockets.


Though students are not financially reimbursed for their efforts, the experience and hands-on learning gives ||?Page=002 Column=002 Loose,0002.09?||them a competitive edge in a crowded job market.

"Economic development is such a neat concept; people realize what they're capable of, it's about empowering people," said Lee Groeschl, president of Dakota Venture Group.

Groeschl is responsible for bringing deals to the table.

The students are expected to locate potential deals, listen to pitches, evaluate, negotiate, invest and monitor; hopefully for a return. Special interest is dedicated towards companies in North Dakota and Minnesota as well as ventures from UND students and alumni."Each individual member takes on a role and a lot is accomplished at meetings," Groeschl said.

The group meets once a week on Sunday and each decision requires a super majority vote of four of five.

To think this group only invests time on Sunday into the project is a misunderstanding. Work is conducted seven days a week, said Groeschl, who likes having it on his mind daily.

Gjovig graciously reminds students while chuckling, "Money does not take spring break."The goal may seem obvious - make smart investments, but Gjovig stresses Dakota Venture Group has a true commitment to education. Available to the group is an advisory panel comprised of investment leaders who have industry experience.

"They will rarely give advice; rather, they'll point you in the right direction," Gjovig said.


Students also actively participate in conferences. And, UND is an attention-getter at conferences because of the rare, student-managed approach.

When Dakota Venture Group formed last year, Gjovig decided to make it student-run because, "people have more capability that we realize."

"My job is to be a coach, a leader, but not a manager. They can do just as well as anything I could do."

Groeschl and some of the other managers have been with the group since it's inception.

"The passion has come out in Lee, he's finding confidence, strength, and it's student after student that is undergoing this transformational experience," Gjovig said.

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