UCSD isn’t particularly well-known for finance, but Yash Thukral and Nathan Yee are hoping to change that with a new investment fund run by students.
UC San Diego doesn’t have an undergraduate business major, though other adjacent majors — like international business — or minors exist. Yash Thukral, a Thurgood Marshall College junior double majoring in applied mathematics and management science, is working to create a pipeline from UCSD into the finance world with his new student-run investment fund, TRITON FUNDS.
Thukral founded TRITON FUNDS in Winter Quarter of 2018 with two friends, Nathan Yee, another Marshall junior, and longtime childhood friend Sam Yaffa, who is currently a junior studying at California State University, Northridge. Disappointed with the gap between alumni and students and frustrated with the lack of proper work for interns, the trio had an idea to create a fund where students could get experience in finance, investing, private equity, and venture capital by working with alumni mentors.
“We went to the streets of La Jolla, Prospect Street, where the financial area is,” Yash said. “We had a few mentors back our idea, and said, ‘look: you paper trade this fund, create a brand, create something sustainable, something that actually makes sense for the students involved to grow. All the investors and mentors want to give back to students and help them grow.”
In fact, TRITON FUNDS now has over 20 mentors. Thukral rattles off a short list of examples: Mitch Thrower, the founder of events.com; Howard Leonhardt, who runs various technology and medical operations in southern California; and Jeff Moorad, former CEO and minority owner of the San Diego Padres. Many of the academic mentors are graduates of UCSD or current staff and faculty.
Since its founding, TRITON FUNDS has built connections directly into UCSD’s career systems; it’s now part of Port Triton, HireRady, and the Academic Internship Program. Amazingly, because of this integration, it’s even possible to get academic credit for general education requirements or a business minor for working at TRITON FUNDS. More importantly, students get direct experience with real work.
“If you’re doing an internship somewhere else… I’m trying to be PG,” he paused, and gave up. “You do b****-work. Especially in this industry, investment banking and private equity, if you’re in college and you’re a first, second, or third year, you’re not going to be doing anything worthwhile. You’re going to go on a laptop, you’re going to sit there, and you’re going to do Excel work. Maybe some research that’s going to be outdated by the time they try implementing it anyway. We hated that. We said no, that’s not what we want to do.”
In other private equity internships there simply isn’t enough time to watch an entire deal flow from beginning to end. Thukral says that “by the time you get an internship and leave, you won’t even have been on a call with a company.”
Instead, students working at TRITON FUNDS get to do whatever they’re passionate about over a longer timeframe. The investment fund has blog and website managers, finance interns, a crypto trader, and a fund accountant.
“You walk in, you say you want to look at this company. You find these companies online, where you want to look, any companies you know in whatever industry you want. You do your research on that company and the whole industry and compare side-by-side.” This quarter, they are focusing on consumer products, life sciences, and internet technologies.
This form of experience is incredibly useful to UCSD students of all majors; many students pursue entrepreneurship after college and hands on experience is invaluable no matter the field. Students part of this program will come in as a student and leave with the experience to start their own fund or company.
“Especially in this industry, investment banking and private equity, if you’re in college and you’re a first, second, or third year, you’re not going to be doing anything worthwhile. You’re going to go on a laptop, you’re going to sit there, and you’re going to do Excel work. Maybe some research that’s going to be outdated by the time they try implementing it anyway. We hated that. We said no, that’s not what we want to do.”
Investors at TRITON FUNDS are subject to investing in public companies. Thukral explains that since public companies’ financial statements and records are very transparent, students can examine them to see why a public company is successful. In comparison, private companies aren’t as transparent: While they can be successful, it’s hard to know the step taken to achieve that success. At TRITON FUNDS, where education is the primary objective, it’s extremely helpful for students to see the full process in order to analyze it. Thukral notes that every student that has been with TRITON FUNDS has now seen full deal flow, from the first call to close.
While most would assume a fund run completely by students is quite a risky venture, Thukral says people have expressed interest not in spite, but because of that aspect.
“So many companies that we’ve called, the first that they’ve said is, ‘I don’t like to take a lot of these calls because people try coming to us for money, investment opportunities, and we want to be with the right people. We took this call because we knew you were students. We like giving back and understand it’s an educational opportunity for you as much as it is for us,’” Thukral explained enthusiastically. “Alumni love it. We got mentors on board just because we’re a student-run group. [Representatives from the Rady School of Management and the UCSD School of Medicine] spoke with us and said, ‘We love the idea. We’re contributing because you’re students.’”
Thukral also describes other various success stories: For example, a blog post analyzing precision medicine and the healthcare industry by Joe Cretella, a senior Earl Warren College student. He also cites the invaluable experience gained from the fund’s cryptocurrency trader, Alec Wilson, educating the entire staff on the intricate functions of the technology that powers Bitcoin, the blockchain.
TRITON FUNDS only started this year, but Thukral already has big plans for the future. While it’s possible to get academic credit for general education and business minor electives, Thukral hopes to extend that course credit to economics and communications departments in the future.
He also hopes that TRITON FUNDS will be able to attract larger companies to recruit at UCSD. During his first few years of college, Thukral was extremely anxious about his prospects after graduation. UCSD’s business school is good but still lacks the prestige to draw high-profile companies.
“Big corporations don’t recruit from here,” Thukral said. “We’re great in what we learn, but at the end of it, if no corporations come and recruit, where do we go?”
At TRITON FUNDS, mentors and alumni provide a place where anyone interested in finance can come and learn. Thukral clearly understands the value of the classroom, but also knows that it’s a means to an end.
“You learn so much in the classroom; I never want to put down what you learn in the classroom. But so much of what you learn in the classroom becomes obsolete by the time you use it in the world.”
Photo courtesy of TRITON FUNDS