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My Experience Hosting the First-Ever Michigan Ross ETA Conference

Jessica Liang and her co-founder Kyle Sansom (MBA ’23).

I co-founded the Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA) Club with Kyle Sansom (MBA ’23) to educate and motivate Ross MBA students to pursue a career in ETA, also known as search funds. 

Jessica Liang smiles at the camera in this professional headshot.
Jessica Liang, MBA/MPP '23

ETA, through search fund vehicles, is buying and running an existing business. Our club, which reached 70+ members in its first few months, is building out infrastructure and a Michigan search fund alumni network. It also hosted a successful inaugural Ross ETA Conference.

I accidentally learned about search funds in November 2020 when I popped into an online information session hosted by Anacapa Partners because I saw that its office was next door to my hometown. It turns out that Anacapa is one of the largest and oldest search fund investor firms.

I remember my jaw dropping when I learned that there was a model through which I could acquire and become CEO of a company as a young MBA graduate. I ended up applying for and receiving the opportunity to intern at Anacapa during summer 2021. By the end of the summer, I was hooked. I am so excited to launch my own search fund, Steadfeather Capital, after graduation!

A group of attendees chat at tables for the ETA Conference.

To add a cherry on top, it was such an honor to learn last month that Kyle and I had won the Club President of the Year award from the Ross MBA Council. It sure made the entire experience of starting and running the ETA Club extra rewarding.

Throughout the fall semester, we invited many of the largest search investment firms to campus to deliver corporate presentations and to host coffee chats with students. There was so much interest that we had a packed schedule – we had a different firm come to campus almost every week!

The visits covered many topics, including an overview of ETA by Pacific Lake Partners, trends in search by Trilogy Search Partners, how to prepare for ETA during business school by NextGen Growth Partners, a day in the life of a search entrepreneur with WSC & Co., financial modeling for ETA by the Brydon Group, seller relationship building by Endurance Search Partners, and much more. The fall curriculum was intended to educate students on increasingly sophisticated search fund topics, culminating in the inaugural Ross ETA Conference on November 11, 2022.

Jessica and guests chat at the ETA conference.

Ross has produced a number of successful search CEOs in past years, but there has never been a formalized entity. Our hope with the club was to establish an institutionalized channel for the Ross ETA community to stay connected. Kyle and I decided that hosting the first-ever Ross ETA Conference would announce our emergence into the ETA world. We filled all of our sponsorship tiers and secured almost all of our panelists within three weeks of reaching out to the community–extremely quickly, I presume, because investors, CEOs, and searchers alike were so excited to connect with our Michigan students.

We kicked the conference off with a welcome networking reception at the Richard L. Postma Family Clubhouse on the U-M golf course. Nearly 100 attendees–ranging from search investment firms, ETA service providers, current Ross students, students from other schools, and Ross alumni–gathered in the Tauber Colloquium for a day of informative panels featuring seasoned CEOs/operators and investors.


Moderator: David Hiemstra (Quadec Private Capital LLC)                 
Panelists: Ted Baxa (WSC & Company), Ron Wexler (NextGen Growth Partners), Lisa Forrest (Live Oak Bank), Peter Ciaverilla (Sharon's Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc.)

This panel explored the three main search models (self-funded, traditional, and accelerator) in detail, with a focus on helping prospective searchers understand which model might suit them best.                 


Moderator: Bruce Moszcelt (Blue Frame Capital Partners)                 
Panelists: Jonathan Dunn (Cerbo EHR), Sam Hyde (Circle Surrogacy & Egg Donation), Ned Tomasevic (Reusability)

This panel drew on the experiences of three Rossers-turned-CEOs to understand what it takes to find and run great lower-middle market businesses.                 


Moderator: Andrew Bieber (Relay Investments)                 
Panelists: Dylan Rebois (Trilogy Search Partners), Jack Bulmer (Pacific Lake Partners), Michael Mahre (Anacapa Partners)

This panel focused on key deal pitfalls that searchers run into from an investor’s perspective. The panel delved into common themes among searchers who fail to buy a company–or buy an underperforming company–and how searchers should use their investors to evaluate deals throughout the various deal stages. 


Moderator: Cecilia Marie Lulli (Relay Investments)                 
Panelists: Courtney Dunn (Cerbo EHR), Nikita Sunilkumar (Trilogy Search Partners), Michelle Kime, MBA, CPIM (NextGen Growth Partners)

This panel explored the traditionally homogenous make-up of search entrepreneurs while drilling into the true qualities, characteristics, and values that are needed in successful search entrepreneurs.  

We bet on ourselves when we came to Ross. Many students gave up jobs and salaries to take on debt and a two-year hiatus from the workforce. We bet on ourselves because we knew we’d graduate with even better prospects. When you bet on yourself, others are inspired to bet on you. I will fundraise between $10-$30 million, maybe even more, for the size of the kind of business I want to buy.

A booth at the ETA Conference.

As I bet on myself, investors will bet on me. And business owners will bet on me to enhance their legacies and to take their company to the next level. I will bet on myself to serve where I am needed: not in the Fortune 500 corporations, but in the small businesses that are the backbone of American society.

The Ross ETA Conference was sponsored by the Zell Lurie Institute, HMB Legal Counsel, Anacapa Partners, Relay Investments, NextGen Growth Partners, Live Oak Bank, Blue Frame Capital Partners, and GT Entrepreneurs.

The ETA Club at Ross is looking forward to our second annual conference next year! Those curious about ETA, aspiring search entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers will find it to be a fantastic opportunity to connect and learn firsthand from successful search fund CEOs.

learn more about the eta club