| Sep 21, 2021 | Michael Benigno
Fordham Angel Fund Makes First Investment in Student Startup
By Kelly Kultys
Just over two years ago, Ethan Manning, a film major at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, was going to see movies in theaters that he expected would be packed; instead they were half empty. Manning and a few friends decided to pick a theater in the city and started tracking attendance.
“We were kind of shocked by the numbers that came out of it,” said Manning, who will graduate in December. “On average, I think something like 85% of the seats were just left empty.” And this was before the pandemic.
Manning walked away from that experience knowing that he wanted to do something to help the industry that he loved.
“I want the theater experience to stay alive—even with the combative forces from streaming services and other difficulties, especially with COVID,” he said.
That’s how Cinesave was born. The company, which was just chosen as the first investment by the Fordham Angel Fund, aims to help small independent theaters track and analyze data about when people are attending and help them make decisions about pricing, marketing, and other strategies. Cinesave aims to help movie theaters collect data on and make better decisions for their audience members.
“He’s thought of movie theaters—which I think is a very clever idea—as an airplane,” said Albert Bartosic, GABELLI ’84, head of the Fordham Foundry. “Once you push the button, the movie starts showing whether there’s two people in the seats, or whether there’s 1,000 people—it’s still the same cost.”
Bartosic said that by using dynamic pricing to get more people in the seats, theaters could not only benefit from ticket sales, but also the extra purchases of food and drinks.
Cinesave received $15,000 to start, and can earn an additional $10,000 if the company hits certain milestones. That would add up to the total that the Angel Fund can invest in a company—$25,000.
Fellows From Across Fordham’s Schools
The Fordham Angel Fund began about two years ago with an initial investment of $100,000 from Fordham and the Gabelli School of Business. Since then, the fund has been reviewing applications and working with founders. Cinesave was the first company chosen.
The fund has two main parts to it—students who work as venture associates, known as the Angel Fund fellows, and an investment committee, made up of a board of professional venture capitalists and angel investors. The Angel Fund comprises about 16 students from across all of Fordham’s undergraduate and graduate programs. The group allows them to gain hands-on experience in the startup and venture capital world.
“They’re out there looking for investment opportunities—they’re interviewing founders, they’re talking about companies, they’re assessing whether or not the company is ready for funding,” Bartosic said. “It’s a long road to find the entrepreneur, find the team, cultivate that relationship, understand the business, do the due diligence, and then finally, present to the investment committee.”
Jennifer PoChue, who also goes by J.A. Thomas in her writing, was one of the fellows from the Angel Fund who brought Cinesave to the group’s attention.
“There really is a sense of community in film, and that’s where my passion for the Cinesave project stems from,” said PoChue, who is working toward a master’s in social work at the Graduate School of Social Services.
Convincing the Angel Investors
The investment committee, which is the other half of the fund, is made up of five investment professionals who work as venture capitalists or who are angel investors in other companies.
“What they do at the meeting, in the nicest possible way, is ask annoying questions and [try to]shut down the idea,” Bartosic said with a laugh. “That’s their job—they can’t write a check to fund everything that comes through the door.”
Bartosic said that it’s a testament to Cinesave’s founders and the company’s model that the committee was convinced to invest in them.
Chan Ho Park, a senior business administration major at the Gabelli School, oversees the fellows as the fund’s Rose Hill director of operations. He said that Manning’s commitment and idea are what sold the committee on Cinesave.
“They mentioned a lot about having a product that actually changes or helps solve an issue,” he said. “Cinesave really does that—it tackles an issue the movie theater industry hasn’t been able to solve.”
Manning said that participating in Foundry programs such as the Pitch Challenge helped prepare him for the process of applying to the Angel Fund.
“It’s always a challenge to take the ideas you have and communicate them properly to people who are important,” he said. “What [the Foundry mentors]did was strip down my business to a more reasonable pitch that focused on the parts that actually drew in people’s attention.”
Manning said that Cinesave plans to start with helping theaters first before potentially moving to a customer-facing model.
“We’re going to give these tools to theaters so they can evaluate how their company’s doing, and basically build smart ways for them to discount their own tickets,” he said. “As we evolve, we will eventually open up to that front-end consumer side.”
Ideally, at that stage, consumers would then be able to purchase discounted tickets from their site or app.
Manning said that the initial investment from the Angel Fund would go to startup costs such as incorporation and legal fees, advertising, and underwriting the costs of a website and payment-processing server.
Bartosic said that the students, both on the Cinesave side and the Angel Fund side, gained valuable hands-on experience.
“It’s a great experience for entrepreneurs to be able to see what it’s like to go through the process,” he said. “And it’s a great experience for the Angel Fund fellows to see what that’s like in terms of bringing a company to the investment committee and learning how venture capital works.”
Park said that he’s been able to see what works and what doesn’t from the investment committee’s view.
“I was really excited about a deal last semester that I thought was going to get funded, and the investment committee just disagreed with my views, which I think was great. I looked at the deal one way, but they looked at it a different way,” he said. “And through that, I got to learn a ton.”
This story was originally published on Fordham News.
–Photo by Bud Glick