Announcing Diversity Scholarship for VC Unlocked with Stanford CPD

Diversity is in our DNA 

Anyone familiar with 500 Startups knows diversity is one of our core values. 

We are concerned with the current “mostly male, mostly white” panorama in the VC world. According to TechCrunch, only 7% of senior partners at the top 100 venture firms are women and less than 1% are black or hispanic.*

At 500 Startups, our team comes from more than 20 countries, and we have invested in startups in over 50 countries. About half our team is female, and more than half are people of color. About half of us like peanut butter and jelly; the other half thinks disco dancing is still cool.

We look and act different from most other venture capitalists, and we kinda like it that way. Our founders are also diverse; we work hard to discover and invest in people who come from many different walks of life.

The most diverse (and the craziest) team of unicorn hunters in Silicon Valley

Diversity Multiplier Effect

In the past, we have offered scholarships to VC Unlocked to people traditionally overlooked in the VC world. Their participation in the program helped them catapult their careers in venture to success. Here are just a few examples:

Arlan Hamilton – Arlan became the first black woman to launch a syndicate on AngelList after participating in our program in 2014,  Her fund focuses on  black, latino, gay or female entrepreneurs.

Katherine HagueKatherine launched Female Funders after taking our program. Its an online community where female angel investors can get inspired, learn, network, and invest. The organization’s mission to empower 1000 women to make their first angel investment.

Pocket Sun and Elizabeth GalbutAfter meeting each other in our inaugural 2014 class, Pocket and Elizabeth co-founded SoGal Ventures, the first female-led millennial venture capital firm.

Pocket and Elizabeth, co-founders of SoGal Ventures

We are proud of all of our past scholarship recipients, who have used the knowledge and network they acquired in the program to really start tipping the scales in the venture ecosystem. 

We want to continue to be part of the solution.

Scholarship Details

This year, we will once again be offering ten 12K scholarships for VC Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing.

We run this two-week executive education program for investors in partnership with Stanford Center for Professional Development. It will take place July 24 – Aug. 4th, 2017 in Palo Alto, CA.

The scholarships are earmarked for accredited investors who have been traditionally under-represented in the VC industry, especially women and/or ethnic minorities.

We are looking to identify individuals who will use the knowledge learned in the program in order to build diverse innovation ecosystems in and around their community.

To qualify, applicants should fill out the main application form as well as the additional scholarship application on the program website: The scholarship application requires a short essay and a video about participation in the program will benefit the applicant’s community. 


VC Unlocked with Stanford CPD is Back!

Applications are now open for our highly sought-after Venture Capital Unlocked investor education program.

It will be held July 24th – August 4th in Silicon Valley.

An early admission rate of 21K is available through May 1st for a limited number of spots.

Apply Here

Venture Capital Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing is a two week executive level education program in which participants get an inside look into 500 Startups’ investment playbook and gain firsthand access to top Silicon Valley VCs, angels, startups and entrepreneurs.

Hear from past participants on why they decided to take the program and on their favorite VC Unlocked session.


The program is taught by our highly experienced 500 Startups partners and Stanford faculty who specialize in venture capital and innovation. 

Our guest speakers have included VCs like Jason Calacanis (, Launch),  Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures), David Hornik (August Capital), Judith Elsea (Weathergage Capital), Tim Draper (DFJ), Jason Calacanis (Launch,, Aydin Senkut (Felicis Ventures), Jeff Clavier (SoftTech VC) and Mari Baker (Clayman Institute, Stanford).

Tim Draper addresses the class

For a limited time, accepted applicants who confirm and secure their spot by May 1st will have a 3K reduction in tuition. We are accepting applications here:

Over the two weeks, program participants refine their investment theses and frameworks with insightful feedback from 500 Startups partners, Stanford faculty, and their peers.

Investment Thesis Feedback session
Investment Thesis Feedback session

They screen real startup pitches at our investor-only Demo Day and assess startup deals together. They dive into the dynamics of fundraising as well as the legal and financial aspects of deal-making.

Surprisingly for many, the relationships formed with the other participants often end up being the most valuable element of the program long after it finishes.

Our 100+ alumni have started funds together, shared and co-invested in deals, and serve as LPs in each other’s funds.   


You can see more details in some of our past blog posts:

If you are interested in joining, apply now. Spaces are limited.

Apply here.

BAM!: 500 Startups Reveals Accelerator Secrets…Again


We are excited to announce the next session of our newly rebranded Bootcamp for Accelerator Managers (BAM!). 

#500BAM will be held in San Francisco April 24-28th. Apply here:

In this one week deep dive, 500 partners share all the juicy secrets they’ve learned after running 40+ accelerator programs for different stages in the startup lifecycle.

Participants will learn how 500 Startups rocketed to the top of the accelerator food-chain and became one of the best accelerators in the country and the world.


Building on the success of our first Bootcamp for Accelerator Managers

We ran our inaugural bootcamp, called VC Unlocked: Accelerator edition, in May 2016.

It was both fun and eye-opening for the 18 participants (40% women) from 14 geographies, who spent one week learning about 500 Startups’ many successes and failures.

The managers came from a mix of private, government, university and corporate accelerators.


Their favorite sessions were “Metrics for Success” by Founding Partner Dave McClure, “Making $$$, i.e. Why Most Accelerators Fail” by our CFO Paul Yoo and “Evaluating Accelerator Applicants and Due Diligence” by the Head of our Mountain View Accelerator, Elizabeth Yin.


A “one-size-fits-all approach” certainly does not apply in the accelerator world. Its important for up-and-coming accelerator managers to understand different models.

Participants heard from the leaders of Moderne Ventures (a real estate accelerator), UpWest Labs (an accelerator that links Israeli entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley) and Village Capital (a social entrepreneurship accelerator).

They also got to meet the team and chat with founders during their visit to the Highway 1 Hardware Accelerator.


The group got a taste of 500 Startups’ energy while they screened startup pitches at our exclusive 500 family-only “Preview Day.” They said loved our culture, enthusiasm and above all, our transparency and willingness to reveal our “secrets.”

Apply now for the April 24th-28th Bootcamp

The 2017 edition will build on the success of our first program and will bring together accelerator managers from around the world to learn and share their experiences.

To learn more see:


Photo credits: Paulina Szyrmer and Yiying Lu

From “Here, Take my Money” to Investing with Vision

We just finished up our 3rd investor training with Stanford Center for Professional Development and we are on a roll!

The highly diverse mix of participants spent two weeks unlocking the secrets of venture capital investing and refining their investment theses.

They participants finished the program with a much clearer vision of where they are going and how they plan on getting there.

They also left with a certificate from Stanford, a maroon baseball cap and a crazy, fun group of friends and future co-investors that were very excited about their new investment theses!

The Venture Capital Unlocked program ran from July 25th – Aug 5th and was held at Stanford University and the 500 Startups accelerator in Mountain View.

Diverse Geographies + Diverse Investment Backgrounds = Magic

Even though 500 Startups purposely designs its program to attract diverse participants, this time we actually had at least one representative from every continent except Antarctica (maybe next time?).  

Of the 28 participants, 70% came from outside the United States and 40% of the class was made up of female investors.

Participants came from a variety of investment backgrounds, including angel investors (30%), representatives of existing venture funds (26%), accelerator fund managers (18%), family offices looking to expand into tech investing (16%), government funds (5%), and investors with a social impact focus (5%).

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 11.25.16 AM

Before joining the program, most participants had executed somewhere between 0 and 20 deals, with the average person having made 5 deals. As a class, they already have over 100M raised and ready to invest.  

Most of them plan on raising more and deploying about 150M over the next 3 years, with an average of 30 deals per person.

200% Increase in Confidence in Investment Thesis

During the program, 500 Startups investment partners and Stanford professors helped participants rethink their investment theses and strategies.

At the beginning of the program, only about 25% of participants reported feeling confident or very confident about their investment theses.

They started the program with investment theses such as, “I invest in companies referred by trusted friends.” Another participant said, “To date, my investment thesis can be best described as ‘here, take my money’. In the future, it’ll be ‘you can have my money only if you fit my investment thesis’.

However, throughout the two weeks, many people took the time to really ask themselves hard questions about their investment strategy and the strengths they bring to the table.

By the end of the program, 73% of class had significantly changed or refined their investment theses, and 70% reported feeling very confident about their new thesis.

Participants presented their Investment Theses to 500 investment partners, Stanford professors and fellow participants
Participant Investment Thesis Presentations to 500 investment partners, Stanford professors and classmates

Strengthening Investors’ Opportunity Assessment Skills

The program’s agenda was packed with back-to-back activities in which participants developed their opportunity assessment skills, interacted with founders at 500 Startups’ Preview Day and Demo Day, and engaged in lively debates among themselves about the merits and drawbacks of startup deals.

They dove into cap tables and term sheets, analyzed the legal and financial considerations of running a fund, and looked at how to help founders with M&A and exit strategies.  

The investors also got to hear from some of the top VCs in the Valley. Their favorite session by far was a shark tank-like session in which Jason Calacanis, one of the most active angel investors in the world,  interviewed 2 founders from our current batch. He asked the founders many tough questions and revealed in a “sportscaster” style side commentary how their answers sounded to investors.

Jason Calacanis and Dave McClure share their words of wisdom with program participants

What Participants Had to Say about the Program

Participants said the program helped them structure their previous knowledge of venture capital and increased their investing confidence.

They left the program with an incredible network of friends and partners who will help them on their journey as new VCs and angel investors.

Here is what some of our participants had to say about the program in their own words:

- Bonnie Lo, Partner at NewQuest Capital Partners, Hong Kong
Bonnie Lo

VC Unlocked is a great introduction to Silicon Valley startup investing.  Its an opportunity to access some of the top investors in the community and hear from them their experiences first hand.  For those who are interested in raising a fund to invest in start-ups, this is a great introductory course. Touches on structure and considerations of fund raising, as well as investment approach. Helps those who have some idea on their investment thesis to hone in on their thesis and strategy.  The class is very diversified and helps to build bridges with like-minded investors across the globe. There are almost 50% women and 12 countries represented!

– Bonnie Lo, Partner at NewQuest Capital Partners, Hong Kong

Sharif El-Badawi, Partner Lead, VCs and Startups at Google, Mountain View, CA
Sharif El-Badawi

VC Unlocked brings together the brightest emerging investors from around the world for an intense immersion into the intricacies of academic and real world venture capital. Students learn from Stanford professors, industry legends and evolve their investment theses in real-time while getting a chance to engage with real startups and founders at Demo Day.  

– Sharif El-Badawi, Partner Lead, VCs and Startups at Google, Mountain View, CA

JP Duque, Founder at Cantera Capital, Mexico
JP Duque

VC Unlocked delivers a powerful mix of world-class academics (Stanford) and insightful, actionable advice (500 Startups and many notable guest speakers) – in a candid, off-the-record environment. Learning from and building a network with my classmates, a global and diverse group, was equally rewarding. I highly recommend VC Unlocked if you are serious about VC.

– JP Duque, Founder at Cantera Capital, Mexico

Kenza Lahlou, Co-founder of StartupYourLife, Morocco
Kenza Lahlou

VC Unlocked was a truly unique and valuable experience for me. I learned a lot and met incredible people both on the team and participant sides. It helped me clarify my vision and investment thesis, answer the questions I was asking myself and double my confidence in what I want to achieve.

– Kenza Lahlou, Co-founder of StartupYourLife, Morocco

The Career-Changing Impact of Learning How to Invest

Our flagship Venture Capital Unlocked investor training program is back! The 2 week executive ed. program that we co-run with Stanford Center for Professional Development is now accepting applications for its July 25th – August 5th cohort.


Getting the Inside Scoop

In the program, participants get an inside look into 500 Startups’ investment playbook and gain firsthand access to world-famous Silicon Valley VCs, angels, startups and entrepreneurs.

We are looking forward to another great session taught by Stanford faculty and 500 Startups partners, as well as top speakers like the ones who visited during the February cohort (below).

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Program Impact

At the end of 2015, we highlighted the successes of some of our VC Unlocked participants in a 3-part series on female VCs. You can see them on our blog:

Paula Schwartz, Founder of Startup Boat
Pocket Sun, Founding Partner of SoGal Ventures.
Katherine Hague, Creator of Female Funders

Feb ’15 participants Diana Moldavsky, Elizabeth Galbut and Pocket Sun at 500 Startups Demo day

More recently, we caught up with a few other past participants and discussed the impact the program has had on their professional lives.

Many called the program “life changing,” and spoke about how it really gave them the confidence they needed to embark on a new chapter in their careers.

New Syndicates and Funds

Several past participants were inspired to start syndicates, which have turned into funds. Arlan Hamilton, a young black, female, gay woman turned heads in the largely white investing world after taking part in our inaugural class in May 2015.  

She started an early stage syndicate on Angel List, which turned into a VC fund called Backstage Capital which invests in “over-achieving underrepresented founders.”

Another example is Mohammed Mubarak Al Khater, who after meeting a founder while in Silicon Valley during the VC Unlocked program, felt inspired to invest personally. The founder was raising a bridge round and told Mohammed he would allocate him 10M in the round if he could raise it within a month.

Mohammed Al Khater with his certificate of completion from Stanford CPD
Mohammed Al Khater with his certificate of completion from Stanford CPD

Mohammed went back to Qatar, tapped into his network, partnered with a friend, and together they raised 11.2M in less than three weeks. They formed a new vehicle, MKaNN Ventures, in order to be able to invest in future opportunities.

The Network Effect

One of the greatest benefits of the program is the strength of the network that it creates among participants.

All of the participants regularly communicate with each other to share deal flow and advice, as well as organize and attend events together. Many continue to meet up with each other around the world.

Feb '16 program participants Lee McNutt and Carolina Canida met up in Miami in March to explore a company together.
Feb ’16 program participants Lee McNutt and Carolina Canida met up in Miami to explore a company together.

May 2015 participants Elizabeth Galbut and Pocket Sun even started a fund together (SoGal Ventures).

Some serve as LPs in each other’s funds and countless others have co-invested in companies together, many of which are in the 500 Startups portfolio.

Better & Stronger Investment Theses

The VC Unlocked program uses a project-based learning approach in which participants are continually refining their investment theses throughout the program with the help of 500 partners and Stanford faculty. Many of the participants we spoke to said this was an invaluable part of the course, since they continue to use their theses every time they evaluate a deal.

Stanford professor Michael Lepech with the May 2016 class.

Learning Directly From the Portfolio

One company that passed through the investment thesis filters is Piper, a DIY minecraft computer for kids.

Four VC unlocked participants invested in the company after seeing their founder pitch at Batch 15 Demoday during our February 2016 session.

Piper also scored a new PR representative in Masha Drokova, an angel investor and PR specialist who took part in VC Unlocked.

Participants look at Piper's product, a DIY minecraft computer, at Preview Day
Founder Mark Pavlyukovskyy showing Piper’s DIY minecraft computer to VC Unlocked participants at Preview Day

How to Join the Next VC Unlocked 

If you would like to be part of this fun and effective network of newly inspired VCs from around the world and take your VC career to the next level, join our next class on July 25th.

Seating is limited, so be sure to apply soon to secure your spot at


Our Accelerator Secrets, Revealed

Dave McClure often shows a slide when he is explaining how 500 Startups works. It only has three bullets:

  • Find Smart People.
  • Give Them Money.
  • Wait for Good Shit to Happen.

It seems simple but it pretty much sums up what makes 500 Startups so awesome. Our no bullshit style and #HaveFunGetShitDone motto has been one of the factors for the success of our accelerator program, which Dave McClure and Christine Tsai launched back in 2010.

The program runs four times a year and accepts less than 3% of applicants, so technically it’s harder to get into 500 Startups than an Ivy league college. Its also been named a top-tier accelerator in numerous studies, including one by the Kauffman Foundation that came out this week.

500’s managing partners are now opening the playbook and will be sharing how they achieved this feat in only six years of operation.  

Venture Capital Unlocked: Accelerator edition kicks off in just three weeks in San Francisco. Here we give you a sneak peek at some of the tips and tricks we will be sharing with participants. If you want find out more, join us May 2 – 6th in San Francisco.


1. Find your special sauce that will add value to startups (and market the hell out of it).

Studies have shown that the three major factors entrepreneurs consider when selecting a an accelerator program are: (1) brand (2) quality of mentors (3) networking opportunities. Meanwhile, the top reasons founders cite for not applying to an accelerator are lack of awareness of the program and lack of understanding of the benefits.[1]

The majority of accelerators are less than five years old and are still making a name for themselves. It’s important that they quickly identify their differentiating factor and clearly position themselves in the ecosystem.

Whether you are a corporate accelerator focused on digital health innovations or an accelerator within a public university with no sector focus, you need to be explicit about the benefits of your accelerator.

500 Startups became a top-ranked accelerator that is recognizable around the world by zeroing in on our secret sauce of making lots of little bets on companies and then helping them with distribution and growth (because we realized we were pretty good at that).

Having a strong brand and value proposition will in turn help you to attract good mentors and increase the quality of networking opportunities for your founders.

Building our crazy sexy global brand

2. Don’t be afraid to iterate on your program.

We are constantly making adjustments to the design of our curriculum and trying out new programs in response to our founders’ feedback and the types of services we predict will be most helpful to them.

When we started out, we used to market 500 as “design, data and distribution” and then evolved to focus on “distro.”  As we have progressed, we have iterated numerous times on the curriculum, adding elements such as the hugely popular Marketing Hell Week (MHW – one week chockfull of talks on marketing).

In the batch thats kicks off in May, we switched the order around to start with MHW, then we’ll spend 2.5 months on Distro, followed by Demo Day pitch prep and DemoDay, and then the last month will be spent on fundraising.

We have tried several new programs in different geographies. We ran five accelerator programs in Mexico City focused on Latin American startups and their specific market needs.

We also launched a traveling Distro Dojo in ten different cities around the world to train post-seed, pre-A companies to do better growth marketing, and we give them the funding to do it. And we’ve even started running pre-accelerator programs in other countries to help companies get up to speed at the idea phase.

Announcing one of our ten Distro Dojos

3. Find smart people (and give them money and wait for good shit to happen)

An accelerator is all about the people. Your accelerator will only be as good as your people, and that includes both your team and the founders they select to participate in the program.

Your team members recruit and select startups, implement the curriculum, organize events, and maintain the relationships with investors and mentors. All of this adds up to your reputation. You better trust them completely.


Our incredible international team, looking all white and innocent

As for founders, you have to get out there and look for them. No matter how strong your reputation, you need to be continually recruiting quality founders.

As with most things in life, quality is much more important than quantity. A survey by Unitus seed fund found that even the accelerators with a well established brand put a significant amount of effort into sourcing quality applicants for their program. [2]

At 500 Startups, we do this by traveling all over the world to meet with founders and making ourselves available to them even if they don’t live in the top 5 startup hubs. We have partners on the ground in 20+ countries who help develop local ecosystems, create relationships with local entrepreneurs and keep tabs on founders who are ready for one of our accelerator programs.

4. Think your model works? Prove it by tracking KPIs and surveying your grads.

Start by defining what success means for your accelerator. Most measure the success of their programs using a range of criteria, including revenue growth, company survival rate, financing activity, follow on investment, investor returns, frequency and size of exits, alumni network, place in comparative accelerator rankings, job creation, impact etc. etc.

No matter how you define it, having a database of quantitative data to back up your claims is always a good idea. Its also a good practice to survey the companies in each batch both at the beginning of the program to measure expectations and at the end of the program to see how well they were met.

Asking for the Net Promoter Score is an important measure you can use to communicate how happy your founders were with the less quantifiable aspects such as quality of mentor advice or community building events.

Some of our accelerator grads, who we plan to track over the years.

5. Build the community you want to see. Be an important link in the innovation chain.

The reason accelerators exist in the first place is because human beings are social creatures. Entrepreneurs who go through a good accelerator program tend to be more successful than those who work on their own because they feel supported and part of a greater community. 

Your accelerator should play a key role in building this community and strengthening the innovation ecosystem in your geography or sector. This means bringing together many different actors including founders, investors, universities, VC funds, corporates, other accelerators, and a large number of supporting actors and organizations. You can’t create a “Silicon Valley” mindset overnight.

Studies have also shown that accelerators that interact with their investors deeply and in a number of different ways are associated with large, involved investor networks as well as higher success metrics. [3] 

The more active you are in your community, the easier it will be to attract top mentors for your founders, not to mention investors who will start seeing you as a filtered source of deal flow, much the way top ranked universities provide a filtered source of candidates for top jobs.

500 Startups stands out as one of the only funds in Silicon Valley that is aggressive about investing in international markets.

From the getgo, we made it a top priority to be present in different countries and this strategy is paying off as we have become a brand name in many different entrepreneurship communities around the world, which helps us attract quality founders, mentors and investors and build a truly global entrepreneurship community. 

Shameless plug: If you want to know more and get into the nuts and bolts of how to run a top-notch accelerator, join our our one week bootcamp on how to run a successful accelerator on May 2- 6th in San Francisco.

art animation dog power gif art



Many thanks to Yiying for artwork and Christine Tsai, Bedy Yang, Susan Su, Marvin Liao and Tanya Soman for their help and input.


[1] Michael Birdsall, Clare Jones, Craig Lee, Charles Somerset and Sarah Takaki, “Business Accelerators: The evolution of a rapidly frowing industry.” University of Cambridge, Judge Business School. 5/1/2013

[2] Unitus Seed Fund, Capria Accelerator Fund: 2015 Global Best Practices Report on Incubation and Acceleration

[3] ibid

Categories All

Announcing VC Unlocked: Accelerator edition

Have you ever caught yourself wondering how 500 Startups became one of the top accelerators in the United States in only five years? Well now is your chance to find out!

After running 20 batches of what is basically a bootcamp for companies (and doing a pretty darn good job), 500 startups is now launching a bootcamp for VCs on how to run an accelerator.

The program, Venture Capital Unlocked: Accelerator edition will run May 2nd to 5th in San Francisco. Apply here.

Why 500 is doing this

As anyone paying attention may have noticed, a lot of accelerators have been popping up recently, even in the most unexpected places such as the Department of Homeland Security, the National Association of Realtors, or Venezuela.

While some are doing well, many of them are failing, because running an accelerator is REALLY HARD (trust us).

As part of our greater mission to help develop entrepreneurship and venture capital ecosystems around the world, we want to share both our growing pains and our many successes with others so they can also excel (and hopefully send us some deal flow while they’re at it).


What do I get out of it?

In Venture Capital Unlocked: Accelerator edition, current and aspiring accelerator managers will take a 1 week deep dive into everything it takes to start and run a successful program.

It will be taught by 500 founding partners Christine Tsai and Dave McClure, along with managing partner Bedy Yang and various investment partners involved in running 500’s accelerator (Marvin Liao, Elizabeth Yin, Sean Percival and many others). They will offer an inside look at the 500 Startups accelerator playbook for the first time.

Dave McClure addressing our most recent VC Unlocked group at Preview Day in Mountain View

The instructors will share lessons learned throughout five years of operation and answer key questions such as:

  1. What makes you special?: Position your accelerator to get quality startups in the door
  2. How will you make money?: Explore the most viable revenue models and learn about the relevant legal issues when investing in startups.
  3. How do you choose startups? Practice due diligence and company selection while evaluating real start up applications.
  4. What’s your program? Plan a curriculum and key events to really add value to your companies.
  5. How do you create community and become a valuable link in the chain? Become the most important player in your ecosystem and attract high profile mentors, as well as follow on investments for your companies.

During the program, participants will:

  1. Hear and learn directly from top accelerator founders and managers in Silicon Valley
  2. Receive feedback on their accelerator from fellow participants and 500 Startups investment partners
  3. Put the concepts into practice by screening and evaluating startups
  4. Screen pitches at our invite-only investor events, including our sneak “Preview Day”
  5. Visit the headquarters of a top accelerator in the Valley

How will we do all of this in one week? We’re not sure, exactly.

Join us next month and watch the magic unfold.

How do I apply?

Apply by April 15th, 2016 at

We have limited seating so we encourage you to apply early. Successful applicants will be notified on a rolling basis.


exercise dancing vintage retro working out

Program details*:

Tuition fee of 9.6K includes 5 days of densely scheduled talks and interactive workshops led by 500 partners and VIP guest lecturers, tickets to 500 Startups’ investor only Preview Day and Demo Day, one visit to another top local accelerator, breakfast and lunch daily, an opening and closing dinner, and countless SV networking opportunities. NGO discounts available.

See preliminary Program Agenda*.

*Details and agenda are subject to change.


Venture Capital is More Art than Science: 5 Secrets of VC Revealed

The number one takeaway of the VC Unlocked investor training program was that there are lots of different paths to becoming a successful investor – and no one way is best. This was great news for the diverse group of participants, who came to Silicon Valley from all over the world for an intensive two week course run by 500 Startups in partnership with Stanford Center for Professional Development.

The program, Venture Capital Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing, ran from Feb 8 – 19th, 2016.

On the last day of the program, participants reflected on the question, “Did we really unlock the secrets to venture capital?”

The answer was a resounding yes.


They agreed that although there is not one formula for success in the game of venture capital, which is more art than science, the program gave them a framework for thinking about different aspects of VC such as starting a fund, fundraising, assessing opportunities and structuring term sheets.

Many participants noted that the program was just the right combination of theory and practice. The teaching staff was comprised of Stanford professors Michael Lepech, Mike Lyons and Pedram Mokrian, together with 500 Startups partners Dave McClure and Bedy Yang, who have extensive tech investing experience.

Participants also heard from eight rockstar Silicon Valley VCs, each of whom came to the industry in different ways.

vcu_banner-original-2 (1)

Thanks to the advice and insights provided by the guest speakers, the program participants left the program inspired to apply the lessons learned in their local ecosystems.  

Here are five of the top takeaways:

1. Stand for something; be a brand.

Nearly every one of the VCs mentioned how important it is build one’s personal brand and have a recognizable portfolio in order to generate deal flow.They encouraged participants to speak, host dinners, post content and to generally be active in the specific sphere they chose.

Other insider tips for generating deal flow included “join an angel network and steal their deal flow”, “be a twitter nerd in your country for entrepreneurship” and “ask founders about which of their friends’ companies they are most impressed with.”

VCs like Dave MClure and Mark Suster have definitely followed their own advice. Suster has a popular blog called Both Sides of the Table, where he publishes new content almost religiously every Sunday night for his 243K followers. Meanwhile, Dave blogs on under the name 500hats and tweets all day every day to more than 300K Twitter followers.

Tim Draper explaining the Draper brand.

2. Have a thesis; be explicit about your investment criteria. 

A large part of the VC Unlocked program was focused on helping participants refine their investment theses so that they could be more focused when evaluating deals.

Jeff Clavier of Soft Tech VC encouraged participants to be explicit about their investment criteria and to have a defined differentiated strategy, whether related to geography, sectors and industries, stage, value-add, infrastructure or ecosystem. He recommended applying the investment thesis as an absolute filter.

Clavier summarized his firm’s investment criteria as the “3 asses: a smart ass team, building a kick ass product, in a big ass market.” He has specific questions that his team asks themselves when making a deal and if the answer is not a clear “yes” to all of them, they pass.

Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures stressed that there is no clear recipe for success. He said, “Find something that works for you based on background and which companies you think you can be the most useful to. Stick to this, but be open.” He encouraged the class to envision the future when making investment decisions.

Two of the participants working on refining their investment theses.

3. Listen to your gut when investing in a team.

Many of the most successful VCs in the Valley spoke of the importance of the founding team and listening to their gut feeling when first meeting with founders.

The Stanford professors said a way to measure your conviction about a team when you are working for a fund is that you would be willing to put your own money into the deal.

Tomas Korte of AngelPad said that after the A round, most companies really have one founder who is leading the decision making in the company. If he doesn’t spot that kind of leadership in one of the founders in the initial meeting, he doesn’t invest.

Jason Calacanis said his “superpower” was finding resiliency in founders. He added that once he has committed to a company, he tries to find ways to be an important resource for the founders. He said,”The person who is most helpful to founders wins.”

AngelPads Tomas Korte shares his secrets with the class at Stanford.

4. Always be transparent and accountable – both up and down.

Reputation and relationships are key to the VC-entrepreneur community. VCs urged the program participants to always be sure to communicate clearly and transparently with LPs, other VCs, and founders. They said many of their best deals came through a friend or contact. 

Building an ecosystem around you, especially in geographies where they are just beginning to form, is very important.

5. Stay hungry. Stay open. Stay humble.

Participants remarked that no matter how much experience a VC has, it doesn’t make her better at picking winners. A lot of the game is luck. In this asset class, you have to stay in the game, stay positive, and remain humble. 

Jeff Clavier warned participants to be aware of the “quick pass” in which VCs pass on an opportunity to meet with founders because they didn’t seem interesting at first glance to they are “too busy”. He recommended keeping an open mind as the merits of each opportunity, especially if founders seem legit and the reference is from a respectable source.

 The class also explored topics of personal bias and how it affects decision-making, especially during the diversity session with Mari Baker from the Clayman Institute of Gender Studies. They came away with tips on how to recognize bias in themselves and how to think twice before jumping to conclusions.

According to Aydin Senkut, the key to the success of his firm, Felicis Ventures, is that they deliberately brought in partners from diverse ethnic backgrounds, which makes it easier for them to make objective decisions. He says, “Our immigrant DNA brings us closer to our founders.” Felicis backs companies in 35 different countries.

So there you have it, we have revealed a few of the secrets of venture capital. Now you will have to take the full program in order to learn the rest…

Apply for the next session at

Photos by Yiying Lu

Jason Calacanis and Dave McClure with the class in the Mountain View office of 500 Startups

VC Unlocked class ready to invest $600M in startups

As a group, the participants in our Venture Capital Unlocked investor training program plan to invest over $600M in startups around the world. Several of them are already in talks with 500 Startups B15 companies after seeing them pitch at our most recent DemoDay.

The program, which is taught by 500 Startups in partnership with Stanford Center for Professional Development, ran from Feb 8 – 19th. It is a 2-week crash course on investing strategies, tools and tactics for investors who want to learn how Silicon Valley really operates.

The group of participants was an impressive bunch from all over the world, who over the course of two weeks shared notes, deals, laughs, and (perhaps too) many a cocktail.

VC Unlocked participants at B15 DemoDay

As to be expected from a 500 Startups program, the class included people of all ages, races and nationalities. 30% of the participants were women.  70% were international and most of the US participants came from non-SV geographies such as Miami, New York, Texas, Hawaii and even that 51st state otherwise known as Canada.

More than half the class are angel investors, about ⅓ work for a venture fund and ¼ work for a family office. We also had several participants who work for social impact funds or in government-related funds. All together, they plan to make about 1800 investments with the 600M in money raised ready to invest.

The participants’ experience in terms of number of VC and angel deals made per person spanned from zero to seventy-five deals, with an average of 8 deals made per person prior to starting the program.

Several of our B15 companies are already in serious discussions with angel investors and fund managers from the class. 

Participants look at Piper's product, a DIY minecraft computer, at Preview Day
Participants check out Piper’s DIY minecraft computer, at Preview Day

The program is designed to ensure a highly diverse mix of participants, so there is a lot of potential for partnership and new ideas among the class. Three of the main goals of the program are that participants:

1) Strengthen their investment theses with the help of Stanford faculty and 500 Startups partners

2) Develop their opportunity assessment skills using a decision-making framework and have in depth discussions on deals and associated risks

3) and of course, network with all that Silicon Valley has to offer.

We had a full agenda, and participants got the chance to hear from some of the world’s top VCs.

Most of the participants said they were drawn to the program because they were looking to add structure to their knowledge of venture capital and increase their confidence in making deals.

It seems their expectations were met as at the beginning of the program, about 50% of the class reported feeling not so confident about their investment theses. By the end of the program, 90% reported feeling confident or very confident about their theses, especially after presenting them in intimate small group sessions and getting valuable feedback from faculty and classmates on the final day of the program.

Thesis presentations

As a class, they plan on making about 1800 investments over the next three years, and with a $600M budget, that’s some serious investing. To be successful, they will need their newly acquired skills, their network both in Silicon Valley and around the world, and a whole lotta luck.


Countdown to Venture Capital Unlocked – 4 spots left

Its T minus 2 weeks until our next session of Venture Capital Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing.

We are currently in the final stages of selecting participants for our joint program with the Stanford Center for Professional Development that runs Feb 8th – 19th. As of now, there are only four spots left (apply here.)

Speaker List


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Our visiting instructor and speaker list so far includes:

  • Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures)
  • David Hornik (August Capital)
  • Judith Elsea (Weathergage Capital)
  • Tim Draper (Draper Fisher Jurvetson)
  • Jason Calacanis (Launch,
  • Aydin Senkut (Felicis Ventures)
  • Jeff Clavier (SoftTech VC)
  • and many others

Speakers will be opening up to program participants about the challenges they’ve faced in early stage tech investing, including how to access to deal flow, which companies to say “no” to, how they built out star portfolios, and how they’ve helped the world’s top companies grow and scale.

The group of participants is once again shaping up to be a diverse representation of the future of venture capital.


Week 1 

  • An overview of the venture capital industry and recent trends
  • Individual investment theses
  • A look at how to assess opportunities and select companies
  • Hear from experts from various verticals, who will be sharing their investment theses and portfolios.

Week 2 

  • Deep dive into the details of how to build an accelerator or set up a fund
  • Visits to top accelerators and VC funds in the Valley in order to see a range of approaches.

Throughout the program, participants will be working with real companies that are currently fundraising and will have a chance to interact with founders at Preview Day and Demo Day.

They will be undertaking a deeper analysis of the pitches with the guidance of Stanford professors and 500 partners, and may even decide to write a few checks.

The week culminates with participants presenting the projects they worked on throughout the program as well as a certificate ceremony.

Check out the preliminary agenda here.

Program Leadership

The program will be led by faculty from Stanford Center for Professional Development (Mike Lyons, Michael Lepech and Pedram Mokrian) and 500 Startups’ managing partners Dave McClure and Bedy Yang.

There are 4 spots remaining. Apply at

Finally, while the most of the material will not be recorded or available to the public, here’s one sample from last year’s program with guest speaker Jason Calacanis.

In this video, Jason reveals what a new investor needs to do to become someone who gets chased by deals, and not the other way around.

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