From left, Justin Kwitchoff, Gabriel Mocelin, Paola Scotto Di Perta, Lan Phan
Jan. 23, 2024
They didn’t know if they could do it. Had they made a mistake? Did they reach too high? Nerves gave way to excitement as their guest speaker’s flight landed. Time seemed to slow with every passing second. The car pulled into the parking lot, the driver opened the door and out stepped the CEO of New York-based investment firm Star Mountain Capital, Brett Hickey.
He had come to USF’s Tampa campus to speak with the Investment Club at USF, one of the largest such student-organized clubs in America. Members wasted neither time nor words after greeting Hickey.
“We’re thankful for what your company is doing, and we have gained valuable experience from the internship program that is priceless to our careers,” said Gabriel Mocelin, club president at the time. “We would like to further impact our USF community with your help.”
During the three-minute walk from the parking lot to the auditorium, the students detailed a philanthropic proposal to support their club. Impressed, Hickey agreed to make a generous donation.
Students don’t often spearhead efforts to secure private gifts supporting their classmates. And success for such initiatives is even more rare. But this is the type of courage expected from finance students and the Investment Club aims to embolden its members, compounding their success in the classroom.
The club formed in 2016, created by a small group of finance students. In just seven years, its ranks have swelled to over 1,300 members, making it the largest student-led organization at USF and the largest such organization in the southeastern United States. Members gain equity research and investment management opportunities, along with unrivaled networking and mentorship. The club has a strong history of alumni placement in firms that shape global financial markets.
“We really wanted something better for USF. We wanted an opportunity that students didn't have in the past, and that is what Star Mountain Capital has been able to provide with their apprentice-style internship program training to more than a dozen club members to date,” said Mocelin, now club chairman. “When it comes to finance industry recruiting, this program brightens the spotlight on Muma College of Business students.”
Star Mountain Capital’s relationship with USF began in 2021, when it expanded into the Southeast with a customized downtown Tampa office designed to provide employees with lifestyle opportunities akin to those at its New York City headquarters. It also executed a talent development strategy, including a year-round internship program focused on training the next generation of finance professionals.
Star Mountain Capital quickly recruited its first USF intern. Soon after, it had three more on board. To date, Star Mountain Capital has promoted several former interns to full-time roles as analysts.
Hickey says the students’ work ethic impressed him. So when club members pitched the idea of a bigger investment, he felt both his company and the students could benefit.
“Star Mountain is committed to lifelong learning and recognizes the importance of undergraduate studies coupled with relevant internship experience to shape young professionals’ careers as they enter the financial industry,” he said.
“We want Star Mountain Capital to be a part of USF students’ careers and help develop their skills at an early stage. It was a pleasure to provide this support through the donation, and we believe with the students’ ambition and determination, the donation can produce compelling returns by encouraging students to reach farther and higher.”
As their relationship evolved, Star Mountain Capital was named the club’s permanent founding corporate partner. As part of their ongoing partnership, Star Mountain Capital participates in two club events each semester and has the option to occupy one investment committee observer seat. The agreement will provide continued educational content and guidance for club members, as well as additional internship opportunities as Star Mountain Capital continues to grow its operations and team in Tampa.
“One of the key characteristics about Star Mountain Capital versus many other firms is their willingness to develop students early on in their career,” says Paola Scotto Di Perta, USF student intern at Star Mountain Capital. “The transparent, open, and collaborative culture creates a great environment to learn, including where — even as interns — we are able to participate on the weekly investment pipeline and investment committee meetings as well as work directly with senior team members.”
The club’s leadership team has established a culture of excellence and reciprocation. As members graduate and move on to work in high finance, they reach back and help the students coming after them.
“We want USF students to feel empowered to aim higher than they thought possible and to pursue differentiated educational and career opportunities that the Investment Club can provide,” says Justin Kwitchoff, Star Mountain Capital intern and club vice president.
The club has also helped establish a student-managed investment fund class at USF St. Petersburg, and hope to one day run a real fund on their own.
“We’ve stood out as a student finance organization that helps out the general student body, hosts guest speakers and brings recruitment firms to campus,” Mocelin said. “That really showcases how we strive for excellence every day because we're going out of our way to provide a better opportunity for the students.”
About Star Mountain Capital
Star Mountain Capital is a specialized investment management firm focused exclusively on the U.S. lower middle-market (LMM), comprising approximately 200,000 businesses. Star Mountain Capital takes a data-driven approach to investing into the U.S. LMM through two complementary investment strategies: (i) direct debt and equity investing and (ii) secondaries (acquiring LP interests and direct assets and making primary LP commitments) and NAV loans to other U.S. LMM funds. Star Mountain Capital believes these complementary strategies provide data-enhanced, scalable, diversified, and customizable access for its investors to established businesses that generally have at least $15 million in annual revenues and under $50 million in EBITDA.