Going alternative

Competition for a place at the LSE Alternative Investment Conference competition is fierce. Hannah Langworth speaks to some of this year's organisers to find out why

There's plenty of information out there for students about investment banking, but far less about alternative investing - a vital part of the finance world. The LSE Alternative Investment Conference, an annual fixture since 2007, aims to remedy the situation.

The two-day event introduces students to the worlds of private equity and hedge funds in turn. Private equity firms gather pools of capital from investors which is then invested in companies that they believe they can improve, creating, with luck, large returns when the company is eventually sold on or listed. Hedge funds put investors' capital into a wide range of specialised and complex investments, also hoping to generate large profits. Both of these types of firm offer fascinating careers, but can be difficult to access.

"We run the event to educate the next generation of business students about alternative investments so they can learn to navigate their way through the field", says Michael Sidgmore, Chair of this year's organising committee. What's more, the event is designed to give students not just information, but also connections in this world: "We want to provide a platform for the alternative investment industry to get in contact with students", adds Alexander Drummond, the committee's co-president.

What makes the alternative investments sector interesting? For Michael, it's the intellectual challenges: "In this field you have to take so many things into account - the macroeconomic picture, how politics affect business, finance and the markets, and how you can structure a fund." Alexander's interest is more personal. Having had experience in setting up his own start-up, he's interested in how good ideas are funded and grown through capital, which is a part of what the alternative investment industry does.

Many other students are also drawn to this world - nearly 4,600 of them applied for the 350 places up for grabs. The students selected to attend all had a interest in alternative investments and sparkling CVs, but they came from all across the world - "from as far as Singapore, Australia, China, California and Hawaii", says Michael.

The successful applicants were treated to events including talks from industry insiders about the business, panel discussions, careers advice, and networking sessions. A highlight of the two-day event was the "Best Trade Idea" competition. Says Michael: "We wanted students to participate actively, so we asked all 350 attendees to submit a trade idea in advance, all of which were then judged. Feedback was given by the judges to the finalists live at the conference and at the end of it we had our first LSE AIC best trade idea competition winner." Alex picked out the conference's many distinguished speakers as a personal highlight for him, particularly opening speaker Financial Times US managing editor Gillian Tett: "She made a fantastic keynote speech. She gave us a 40,000-foot view of what's going on in finance, and emphasised that we need to bring investment back to (being about) how credible the people are that we're dealing with."

To the credit of Michael, Alexander and the rest of the committee, this large and complex event ran smoothly. But there's not much time for the committee to enjoy a well-earned break as the organisation of next year's event will begin almost immediately.