Venture for America gives grads nontraditional career path

By: Cassidy Colarik – Staff Writer

It is not unusual for college students to feel uncertain about what career they may want to pursue after graduating. It is this feeling of uncertainty that sometimes results in individuals choosing a more restricted career path upon graduating. An individual may choose to take the first job offer they receive, oftentimes in a more traditional workplace setting, even if it is not something he or she is passionate about. This is where the nonprofit organization, Venture for America, can come into play.

Venture for America is a two-year fellowship program for recent graduates who are interested in learning about what it takes to build a business and become an entrepreneur, while making an impact across the United States.

Creator of the organization, Andrew Yang, was a recent college graduate who realized he wanted to become an entrepreneur after working at a Manhattan law firm. After a failed business venture at the age of 25, he began working for a test prep company, in Manhattan, GMAT. He eventually became the CEO of GMAT.

Yang’s time at GMAT is where the groundwork for Venture for America was formulated. His experience and several years of training at GMAT led him to the conclusion that there should be an organization that creates a unique path for recent graduates. This path would help make early companies and startups more accessible for graduates, and provide them with resources from established and experienced entrepreneurs. Venture for America became a reality in 2011.

After applying and being selected for the program, fellows attend a five week training program at Brown University. During their training, fellows are given the opportunity to build relationships with their class and fellows, and gain valuable skill sets from professional trainers and experts.

Each week, fellows are given a challenge that requires them to put these skill sets to the test. A challenge could involve building and constructing a website in 48 hours that fellows pitch to a panel of judges; another challenge could be built around sales skills. These challenges give fellows a preview of what it is like working for a startup company: being in a situation where they are required to think on their feet and adapt quickly.

Once the training is over, fellows are placed with a startup company that is less than 10 years old, in one of 12 cities Venture for America is working with: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Providence, Rhode Island, San Antonio and St. Louis. The fact that fellows could be placed in smaller, U.S. cities that have great opportunities, but do not always attract individuals, is what sparked the interest of University of Dayton 2011 graduate, Joseph Guy, for Venture for America, as he is from the Dayton area originally. Guy said he fell in love with entrepreneurship while at UD because he was actively involved with Flyer Enterprises: first working at The Blend, then managing The Blend and Art Street Cafe. By his senior year, he had become the CEO of Flyer Enterprises.

Guy, who wanted to stray from a less conventional career path, said he was sold once he heard the company’s mission: “To revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship.” He said Venture for America was “a home run for me from an entrepreneurship perspective,” and has been working there since October 2013. Guy’s job is to raise awareness on college campuses across the country about Venture for America. He focuses on recruiting and marketing students, classes, professors, organizing events and getting involved with groups like Flyer Enterprises.

Venture for America is not just limited to business or entrepreneur students: only 20 percent of fellows from Guy’s 2013 class were business majors, showing that it does not matter whether or not someone is an English major or an engineering major because the organization is open to accepting college graduates who would like to learn more about pursuing a less traditional career and the world of possibilities as an entrepreneur.

Guy used one word to describe Venture for America: impact. It creates a platform that gives intellectuals the opportunity to impact the community, to impact a small company and the opportunity to make an impact on a U.S. company in business. According to a June 2012 article in the Washington Post, Yang said, “if you could place 20 entrepreneurs in Detroit and have each start a business, that would be incredible for Detroit. These regions need our top people helping to build businesses and create opportunities.”