UT Alumni flourish in Austin’s venture capital ecosystem, give back

Shama Gupta, General Life&Arts Reporter

When Venu Shamapant and Krishna Srinivasan graduated with their master’s degrees from UT in 1990 and 1995, they never envisioned becoming venture capitalists, holding the ability to invest in potentially high-impact startups. However, the two spent the past decades running one of Texas’ most successful venture capital firms. 

 Live Oak Venture Partners, Shamapant and Srinivasan’s venture capital firm, invests in early-stage technology startups. Despite graduating over 30 years ago, Shamapant and Srinivasan remain connected to UT through their initiatives targeted toward helping students break into careers in technology startups and entrepreneurship.

UT’s success is our success.

— UT alumnus Krishna Srinivasan

Shamapant said that he and Srinivasan started their careers as engineers before gradually being drawn to Austin’s venture capital ecosystem. Eventually, they were inspired to start their own firm because of the bustling entrepreneurial culture around them and the opportunity in the space.

“When you’re a venture capitalist, you’re hanging around entrepreneurs all the time,” Shamapant said. “It’s only a matter of time before you get the entrepreneurial bug. We caught that and we wanted to start our own (firm).” 

Creighton Hicks, a UT computer science alum and partner at Live Oak, said that investing in people rather than just a product or market makes one of the firm’s main beliefs and makes them stand out amongst other venture capital firms.

“(We invest in founders) that are more missionary than mercenary,” Hicks said. “They have a passion and drive to make some sort of impact (and) are motivated by the mission, as opposed to … just the paycheck. Going through an early-stage startup is a roller coaster. There’s ups and downs, and if you’re driven by something bigger on that missionary aspect, that helps you get through the down parts.”

Additionally, Srinivasan also said that UT’s success remains important to Austin’s business and tech industry, and Live Oak tries to help students at UT get into the startup space however they can. 

“UT prospering and being successful in all its aspects is a topic that’s really passionate for Live Oak,” Srinivasan said. “I speak at a lot of classrooms to help educate students, and we (strongly believe) that UT’s success is our success.”

Most recently, Live Oak hosted an event on Oct. 5 in partnership with Texas Association for Computing Machinery. Ben Aubin, computer science junior and organizer of the event, said he reached out to Live Oak because he thought it would help aid budding entrepreneurs at UT. 

Aubin said at the event, Shamapant, Srinivasan and leaders from several companies Live Oak invested in shared experiences from their entrepreneurial endeavors and partook in casual conversations with students, providing them with insight into the business and technology worlds from experienced professionals. 

“One of the things that UT is missing … is that there’s not the same exposure and networks that you maybe get at other universities, at least yet,” Aubin said. “(I thought), ‘what happens if we bring really, really interesting people to campus and then create informal spaces for that human connection to happen that is so important for startup industries and startup cities?’”

The willingness to help this idea come to life on Live Oak’s part was really encouraging and exciting to see, said Aubin.

“It’s so incredible that Live Oak was willing to jump into this … just their willingness to bet on people and to take long-term investment in people is awesome,” Aubin said. “It’s so cool that they’re willing to do these things that won’t necessarily have a huge positive impact on them in the short term, but will really improve the ecosystem here at UT for entrepreneurs.”