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Asher Kraut '17

What do flying cars, Ranney School, and California have in common? Asher Kraut, a member of Ranney’s class of 2017, a recent graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and currently Head of Dealflow at Starburst Aerospace.
What do flying cars, Ranney School, and California have in common? Asher Kraut, a member of Ranney’s class of 2017, a recent graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and currently Head of Dealflow at Starburst Aerospace.

The Panther alumni took time to speak with our Alumni Relations Office to share what he’s been up to for the past four years and how his time at Ranney helped prepare him for his current venture.

What have you been up to since graduating from UCLA?

Honestly, I have a pretty crazy job that is nothing like what I thought I would be involved in. The company I work for, Starburst Aerospace, funds early-stage aerospace and defense companies. We work with and fund entrepreneurs who are building the tomorrowland we’ve been promised for decades. As value-add investors, we help them navigate the complex world of aerospace and defense.  

How does this differ from what you left Ranney determined to do?

When I graduated from Ranney, I wanted to be an investment banker. Growing up, my father worked on Wall Street so a career in finance was certainly in my DNA. I was primarily motivated by observing the other parents at Ranney: because of materialistic things like the cars they drove, but recognizing that none of the parents had to make hard trade-offs that most traditionally do (i.e. if you do this, you can’t do that). Finance, to me and in particular early-stage venture, is the physical mechanism for how you can have your cake and eat it too. You need credit and other resources to finance the things you want in your life and thus it’s inevitable you will need growth capital at some point, no matter the order of magnitude.

Economics was the natural choice of major for me in college because I’ve always liked numbers more than writing, but I’ve always been a very theoretical thinker. Being in Los Angeles opened my aperture to new careers and career paths. There suddenly were more than the five to 10 jobs that were “accepted” and that everyone was doing with economics and finance. I am a creative person at heart and a competitive person by nature so it’s safe to say entrepreneurship is something I am passionate about. When you look at what is the finance behind entrepreneurship it is venture capital, so after graduation, the two sides of the coin I was looking at was either work for an early-stage company to help them grow or go work on the other side of the table and join a team funding the next generation of dreamers & doers. Venture felt better than investment banking for me; I like big ideas and working with ambitious people more than spreadsheets.

Tell us about why you chose to go to UCLA when the majority of Ranney graduates choose smaller schools closer to the east coast.

My narrative has always been rooted in being different. It goes without saying that California is significantly different than the east coast--the weather is not the same, the people are not the same, the homes are not the same. I also wanted to go to a college that was universally regarded as a top school,  but not a popular choice among my classmates. UCLA is not a common choice for Ranney graduates--I think I was the first graduate in 11 years to go there. That aside, what’s an interesting piece of the story is that UCLA actually wasn’t my first choice. I originally wanted to go to the University of Chicago but didn’t get in, which ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise for me.

Choosing to go to a larger state school, I was aware that my fellow classmates were ready to compete academically at a higher level, but I knew I was set for success because of my Ranney education. What’s great about Ranney’s classes is that they are very much so college-like. In college, you are rarely taught anything objectively which is not easy for many to adapt to and something I was certainly ready for at UCLA which took some of my classmates a bit to adjust to.

How did you get involved in a venture capital firm specifically investing in aerospace?

I like to be ridiculously different. I like to be the person at the table with the answer no one expects and space venture capitalist definitely checks that box.

Space is completely ludicrous. It’s a domain that very few people have expertise in. The attraction for me outside of “everyone wants to be an astronaut when they grow up” is that I’m a supreme opportunist. We’re in an interesting time when space is becoming accessible because of the many technological advances and mindset shifts on how space can be used so there’s tremendous growth opportunity in the sector specifically.

Can you tell us about a project or company that you are excited about?

I personally love to travel and at Starburst we also invest in aviation technology. We have invested in a company that is developing hybrid-electric aircraft for regional transport, and another company that is developing hydrogen-powered aircraft which will be near-zero-emissions. The fact that you will soon be able to travel from Los Angeles to Las Vegas or New York to Boston with zero emissions is going to change the world. 

The last thing I’ll share, which is going to sound ridiculous, is that there is about to be a relatively large influx of air taxis and flying cars on the market. Now, these don’t look like a regular Honda Civic that will take off from four wheels, but there are a number of electric helicopter-like vehicles that will become a normal form of transportation. Just imagine going to the field next to the basketball courts at Ranney to take a ride to New York for the night.

Asher Kraut earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently the head of global dealflow at Starburst, helping to select and invest in promising aerospace and defense startup companies. Previous to Starburst, Asher co-founded a consumer financial technology startup company, checkmate, while enrolled at UCLA. Asher currently splits his time between California and New York. 

Starburst Aerospace is the world’s leading global aerospace and defense startup accelerator, venture investor, and strategic advisory practice. With offices in Los Angeles, Paris, Munich, London, Tel Aviv, Mumbai, Montreal, Madrid, Seoul, and Singapore, the team has built an ecosystem of key players with thousands of startups in its network.

Current students and Panther alumni are welcome to contact Asher if interested in a mentorship, internship, or position at Starburst Aerospace. Please email him at asher@starburst.aero.

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Tel. 732.542.4777

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