by Jennifer Lee

Saint Mary’s University’s Venture Grade Fund made its first investment this week, contributing $15,000 to Trip Ninja, a startup for travel-planning. The investment was announced on Tuesday, at Volta Labs’ new event space in the Maritime Centre in Halifax.

Venture Grade is a venture capital fund operated by SMU students and it has raised about $200,000 to date.

“It’s taken us about two years to get this far,” said Ellen Farrell, professor of venture capital and entrepreneurship at SMU. “But now that we’ve reached this point and we have all of those pieces put together, [we’ll] be able to move quickly on other business investments.”

The fund started in 2016 at the Sobey School of Business at SMU, under the guidance of Farrell, who added that Venture Grade is close to announcing its second investment. Any payout from its investments by exits down the road will be channeled right back into the Venture Grade Fund.

In February, the Venture Grade team won second place at the Boston University Venture Capital Investment Competition, a tri-continental venture capitalist competition, beating out teams from Yale, Dartmouth and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Trip Ninja, the company that received Tuesday’s investment, is a software-as-a-service startup that has built a travel planning and booking platform to help travellers book the cheapest routes for multi-city travel.

Its travel-planning software will be sold to online travel retailers such as Expedia or Priceline. When retail customers are booking plane trips to several different places, Trip Ninja’s software helps online travel retailers find the best price.

“It takes a village to raise a startup,” said Trip Ninja’s co-founder Andrés Collart at the announcement. “Without this ecosystem that’s growing in Atlantic Canada, I doubt we could have come this far. Our partners have helped us refine our vision, execute our plan and learn new things along the way.”

The company has secured many investments, including $25,000 at the first Volta Cohort event. This Volta Cohort funding also secured Trip Ninja an office at Volta Labs, giving a space to the company’s seven full-time employees.

The next step for Trip Ninja is to officially launch its software with its first customers this fall. Collart didn’t say exactly who his clients are but he said they are in the travel agency industry.

During an interview, Collart said, “We’re working to close other deals with online and traditional travel agencies. From then on, it’s all about scaling the team and potentially another investment round, we’ll see at that point but right now it’s about growing this team and delivering to our current customers.”

Collart said once they start integrating the Trip Ninja software into the travel-booking industry, its services can reach over 20 million people worldwide.

“This is a win-win-win situation,” Farrell said during the announcement.

“Venture Grade’s partners and donors offer an unparalleled education experience, the students get the benefits of raising the capital, and the startup gets the investment to support their business.”