When Jasper Lau, DMSB'19, pledged $500,000 to support new initiatives at D'Amore-McKim School of Business in 2023, it was very much a moment his younger self had waited for—and worked hard for. But before he began helping entrepreneurs soar in his roles with two of the most dynamic venture capital firms operating today, Lau first bet on himself.
The early days
Lau, who founded Era in 2022 and serves as the co-founder and managing partner of 8090 Partners, began honing his entrepreneurial skill set early. He went from manning lemonade stands on hot summer days as a kid to a teenager with a talent for spotting more unique gaps in the market.
For instance, when he saw the need for a quality DJ service, the entertainment scene was sparse in Ohio where Lau grew up—and that's how DJ JLau was born. From weddings to bar mitzvahs, Lau was your man.
“I was always good at creating value for other people. I understood what people wanted and what people needed, and I knew how to provide that,” says Lau. “I was never amazing at science; I was never amazing at sports—my varsity sport was business.”
As an investor, you always want to bet on the stock that's $1 now but could potentially be $100 in five years. You want to bet on the innovators, the trailblazers. I felt like Northeastern was a trailblazer on the cutting edge of innovation.Jasper Lau, DMSB'19
An only child, Lau watched how his parents worked hard to build a life after immigrating from China and Hong Kong. Through witnessing their struggle, Lau knew two things early on: He wanted to be successful, and he wanted to make money.
“But I won the lottery in the sense that even though we didn't have anything, I had amazing parents who instilled in me phenomenal values: respect for people, kindness, empathy,” he says.
These days, Bloomberg is writing articles about Lau; his suits are sharp and designer, and on any given afternoon, he's in conversation with heads of state and some of the wealthiest families in the world. Needless to say, the Laus no longer have to struggle.
“Northeastern was transformative for me”
Those struggles fundamentally shaped Lau, and talking to him now, it's easy to sense that this late-20s mogul is wise beyond his years. And refreshingly humble.
“I had to grow up faster than my peers,” reflects Lau. While his friends were living carefree childhoods, Lau was navigating American culture for his parents, who did not speak English. “I was the one returning the broken vacuum at Sears. I was the one ordering McDonald's at the drive-thru, translating the menu. To this day, I still do everything around the house. As a result, I lived two lives—a child on the playground and an adult at home.”
He may have carried a lot of responsibility at home, but in high school, Lau admits he could have been a better student. His college counselor deterred him away from applying to the Ivies and urged him to consider Northeastern, noting its upward momentum.
“As an investor, you always want to bet on the stock that's $1 now but could potentially be $100 in five years. You want to bet on the innovators, the trailblazers. I felt like Northeastern was a trailblazer on the cutting edge of innovation,” says Lau. “Northeastern was transformative for me. I'm absolutely convinced it will be equally transformative for other students. I'm giving back now because I want to help advance Northeastern's mission and impact across its ecosystem.”
As an undergraduate at D'Amore-McKim, Lau knew he wanted to build a business; he just didn't know what business. He had good instincts, though, and he knew what people wanted. At the time, he knew digital currency was hot, so Lau started a fund by raising money from fellow Huskies.
“I realized I was really good at fundraising and connecting with people, because I knew how to deliver value to people,” he says.
Early successes aside, it wasn't an automatic ascent to the top. Lau had his heart set on a co-op with the San Francisco-based Lumia Capital, which rejected him, so he took a role supporting the chief risk officer of UBS in New York.
When that co-op was over, a determined Lau flew out to Silicon Valley, knocked on a bunch of doors, and ended up convincing the Lumia team to take him on as an intern. Within weeks, Lau had merged his parents' work ethic with his entrepreneurial determination, Northeastern knowledge, and innate talents to become an investor for two semesters, doing things that were unheard of for 20-year-olds.
“I didn't even know what venture capital was until I spent a year with Lumia Capital and learned the trade of venture investing, backing entrepreneurs, nurturing entrepreneurs and relationships,” he says. “I fell in love with venture investing because it was the perfect combination of helping entrepreneurs and working with the smartest people to build ideas and businesses that could impact so many lives.”
Momentum and success
After graduation, Lau joined two Lumia partners who started their own fund to invest in under-represented emerging market entrepreneurs, finding early success with a company called Careem. It grew to be the largest rideshare app in the Middle East and eventually sold for $3 billion.
It was a smash hit, but Lau wanted something more—to work for himself.
He needed an idea. It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Lau had nothing but time on his hands to figure it out. He'd spent years building relationships with billionaire families, but he noticed they lacked access to the best-in-class technology opportunities. That's when the idea struck.
“I wanted to be a bridge between them and Silicon Valley and build a community of like-minded, forward-thinking families,” he says.
He pitched the idea for 8090 Partners—named for partners who were mostly born in the '80s and '90s—to his co-founder Kerem Ozmen and his family, owners of a multi-billion-dollar defense contractor. To Lau's delight, they were in. With more than 30 multi-billion-dollar family partners or investors, 8090 took off in 2020. Representing 25 industries across 19 countries, 8090 made over 24 investments in leading late-stage companies like EquipmentShare, Odeko, Nanotronics, and others.
Then, in the summer of 2022, FiscalNote—one of Lau's companies with 8090—went public on the NYSE at a $1.3 billion valuation, and with his newfound liquidity, Lau bet on himself again. He founded Era.
“Our mission is to pull together the collective expertise, the strategic intelligence, and the strategic capital of our firm's families to back category-defining transformative technology businesses, but also build them as well,” says Lau.
With Era, Lau is leveraging the know-how within his base of partner families to back “the most transformative, most daring entrepreneurs on Earth,” he says. Though Lau has already begun investing millions across the early-stage ecosystem, he's keeping the fund details under wraps for now.
“When I think about companies that we partner with and invest in, I ask myself, ‘Will this company be around in 25 or 30 years?' It needs to have a generational impact. I'm looking for the next Facebook, the next Microsoft, the next Apple. Something that will disrupt an entire industry.”
Lau is also bringing that mindset to mold the next chapter of D'Amore-McKim as an inaugural vice chair of the debut New York Executive Leadership Council and as the youngest member of Dean David De Cremer's Dean's Executive Committee, which Lau calls a “sounding board” for the dean, about whom Lau is especially excited.
“He wants all students to be globally responsible business leaders with high ethics. And he's focused on what matters, which is, ‘How do we execute? Now let's go out and grow the business,'” says Lau.
As for growing business, Lau's advice for Huskies is to focus on building key relationships at Northeastern.
“Be intentional about who you surround yourself with. Obviously, have your day with buddies who you can count on, but as an enterprising young individual, you have to have another bucket of friends who are also going to help you ascend in career, in life,” he says. “Always challenge yourself and expand your horizon in terms of who you want to meet. And stay curious.”