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The Entrepreneurial Cheerleader

Zach Jaffe brought his startup experience to the MMM program and is using it to foster the enthusiasm on campus for entrepreneurship and venture capital.

Zach Jaffe (MMM ‘24) is the president of the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, which is part of Northwestern's MBA + MS Design Innovation (MMM) program — a dual-degree program between Northwestern Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management. 

Jaffe entered the MMM program with entrepreneurial experience, having worked for the startup Turbonomic that sold to IBM in 2021 for somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. He said his job now is to nurture and encourage that business-minded atmosphere inside the MMM program to create graduates who can excel in either specialty – entrepreneurship or venture capital (VC). 

Zach Jaffe“There's an absolutely palpable energy on campus right now in terms of startups and VC," he said. “My role is to be the cheerleader and the voice of the startup and VC community and make sure that the energy that's on campus right now around startups and VC is capitalized upon. They just need me to cheer them on and remove blockers for those looking to start their own ventures or recruit for startups or venture capital."

Jaffe is tackling this challenge while developing his own skills before diving into the VC world after MMM.

But he’s not waiting until after graduation to begin.

Jaffe currently is an investor in SineWave Ventures. He spent last summer in New York with SineWave, and since then has continued working with the company, meeting founders from across the country. He also is a managing partner with the Dorm Room Fund, a student-run VC fund focused on early-stage student-created startups.

He said his MMM education has been a strong asset in both ventures.

“MMM has impacted the way that I think as an investor. It's all about figuring out how to fix problems and what the problems are,” he said. “Every class is focused on that, and that's how you make money and build products that can change the world for the better.”

Jaffe contrasts that problem-first approach with those who merely come up with solutions without a waiting target audience willing to pay for them.

“Between Dorm Room Fund and SineWave, we see dozens of companies each month, and so many of them are cool and innovative,” he said. “But if they aren't solving a problem and if they don't have a way that people are going to pay for them, they're just a cool solution. They aren't a viable investment.”

The MMM program’s approach is focused on human-centered design, which holds to the theory that the way to develop the best products and services is to start with the potential end-users and do things that ease their pain points.

Jaffe said his role as cheerleader and bowling ball in the Entrepreneurship and VC Club is to further foster that approach. The result, he said, could have a big impact on more than just the MMM program.

“It's all about investing in companies that may not be profitable currently in hopes that they will one day change the world or change an industry,” he said. “I had this great startup experience before the MMM program, and now I'm doing the VC side, so I try to straddle the line between the two of them. I'm still in my infancy as an investor, but MMM has helped me distinguish what is a good investment and what is just a cool product."

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