Venture for America: A New Fellowship for Enterprising Millennials
In 2012, Brentt Baltimore, a graduate of Claremont McKenna College (CMC), did something that seemingly no one in CMC’s Career Services Office would have recommended: he turned down a six-figure position with a Los Angeles hedge fund to work for a venture capital firm in Detroit that paid only $33,000-a-year.
Mr. Baltimore is part of a small group of recent collage graduates who have decided to forgo seemingly attractive and lucrative positions to work for start-up businesses in gritty American cities, like Detroit, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Providence. Mr. Baltimore and his compatriots found these alternative positions with the help of a nonprofit organization called Venture for America (VFA). VFA is a relatively young organization that helps high-achieving college graduates find opportunities with fast growing start-ups around less-developed areas of the United States of America. The organization was founded by Andrew Yang, a successful entrepreneur, in 2011 with an aim to attract smart young people to entrepreneurship. Yang believes that these talented individuals should spend their time building companies, instead of becoming bankers or consultants, which are where the vast majority of top college graduates migrate to after school ends. After an intense application process, VFA selects 100 fellows, who are promptly brought to Brown University for a rigorous venture bootcamp. Employees from prestigious accounting firms, consulting firms, and design firms, like IDEO, visit with the fellows and help teach them about various aspects of business, finance, design, and marketing. After the five weeks have ended, the fellows are then shipped off to their respective companies located around the nation to begin their two-year positions.
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Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO of Venture For America[/caption]
Generally, VFA partner companies are less than 10 years old, employ less than 100 people, and operate in industries like e-commerce, biotechnology, finance, media, and clean technology. These companies benefit just as much as the fellows do as they receive top class talent for a fraction of the cost, making the value proposition of VFA quite compelling for both sides of the transaction. VFA fellows are exposed to a variety of businesses and sectors as they are forced to help with everything associated with start-up operations from web-design to accounting. This experience gives the fellow an invaluable skill set that many traditional jobs in finance or medicine simply can’t offer.
VFA also offers unique prizes that other employment opportunities can’t match, like the $100,000 award for one to five fellows who excel in their roles and wish to found their own business one day. Yet, the true selling point of VFA comes from a changing notion of what it means to be fulfilled. In the past, most graduates would have been thrilled to receive an offer from a hedge fund or national consulting firm, but today, many graduates are turning down these high-paying options for other experiences. Having a high salary is no longer the sole qualifier for determining whether a job is good or not. Young people now believe that there is a different framework for what is considered a good job these days and they are willing to sacrifice their paycheck to find more interesting or fulfilling work. VFA is tapping into this trend to help grow America’s fastest growing start-ups and rebuild its most dilapidated cities — a highly noble, but difficult goal.
By Harry Pellicoro CMC ‘15