The Organizational Piece

I’ve been imagining Venture for America for years now.  It wasn’t called Venture for America initially, it was a vague set of ideas, loosely strung together as ‘The Solution.’ 

The Problem is that we have a ton of talented, motivated young people emerging from schools each year that don’t have access to the sort of opportunities that they want.  There is a structural defect in that the most visible and accessible pathways are presented by large, rich, professional services companies.  But not everyone is designed to be a banker/lawyer/consultant, and it would be a truly dysfunctional economy if they were.  

When visiting Brown University for an Entrepreneurship Panel in late 2008, I met Charlie Kroll.  Charlie told the story of how he’d wanted to be a banker as an undergraduate, but instead entered a business plan competition and started a company in Providence as a college senior.  He didn’t really know what he was doing at first, and Andera went through some rocky times in its early years.  He stuck with it though.  Fast forward to eight years later, and his company was thriving and employed 85 people.  85 jobs that would not have existed but for Charlie.  I heard this story and said, “My God Charlie, if more of our top kids walked the path you’ve walked, our country would be a different, much better place.”  Being a humble guy, Charlie demurred.   I could have added that they would also likely have far more interesting, engaging, fulfilling careers.

So the seeds of Venture for America were planted as early as 2008.  But one of the lessons that I’ve learned over the years is that ideas are like vessels that need to be filled with time and energy to become real.   I was the CEO of a rapidly growing company at the time that required all my attention.  It wasn’t until 2010 that my hands became free(r) and ‘Venture for America’ had a chance to become real. 

Seeing Venture for America now take shape is heady stuff.  The confidence, passion, and talent level of our first 28 Fellows are off the charts.  It’s humbling; I was NOT as developmentally advanced at their stage.  I tell myself that it’s because it was a different era (when I graduated from college, the Internet had just made the scene, and I was using Netscape to access sports scores), but it’s likely more than that. 

I needed three years in law school and five months at a corporate law firm to send me out into the world highly motivated to do something else.  I needed to climb the wall and get a good look.  A number of our Fellows have had a brush with an investment bank, consulting firm, gov’t agency, or non-profit, and also find themselves charting a new and different course. 

In my experience, most organizations are poorly designed for really smart, independent-minded, motivated people.  This is true even, or especially, for those that employ large numbers of highly educated types (e.g., my old law firm).   Yet in order to have an impact, you have to traffic successfully in an organization.  No matter what position or role you take, you’ll have colleagues, customers, backers, supporters, board members, advisors, etc. and learning how to build and navigate those relationships takes time.  Much of the struggle lies in finding what type of organization and role works for you.    

During my wall-climbing days, I thought that there were two variables – talent and work ethic.  But that misses the organizational piece, which is likely the most important. 

Our first Fellows are extraordinarily smart and motivated.  I have no doubt that a significant proportion of them will lead companies one day.  But their most important quality is that they’re outstanding people who will find their appropriate role in an organization and find ways to contribute.  They’ll find the boundary and stretch it, but do so in a way that will maintain the integrity of the organizations around them.    

One of my good friends, Chris Ryan, was one of the first Teach for America Corps Members.  He’s a Physics major from Harvard, so he’s clearly a smart guy.  But as smart as he is, his character is on an even higher scale.  I remember thinking that there must have been something special about the first TFA’ers. 

There’s something distinct and special about the people Venture for America has attracted this first year.  It’s the surest sign that we’re building something great.      

Talent Allocation in Job Creation

Anthony De Rosa recently sat down with Venture for America founder and CEO, Andrew Yang, to talk about the real issues in job creation and how VFA will help the start-up industry take the lead on job creation. Yang says VFA will provide the bridge between the mass of enterprising recent college grads who want to learn how to build a business and create jobs, and companies on the other side who are looking for such talent.

Come See Andrew Yang at SXSW: “How to Build Entrepreneurship Communities”

We’re pleased to announce that our founder, Andrew Yang, will head to SXSWi this year to sit on a panel called “How to Build Entrepreneurship Communities.” The panel will include other expert community builders Brad Feld, Paige Craig, Nick Seguin, Mark Nager, and Mark Davis. If you have a good question that you want the moderator (Shane Reiser) to ask Andrew or the other panelists, add it in the comments section and we’ll make sure Shane gets it on the list!

Here are the details for the panel:

What: How to Build Entrepreneurship Communities

Where: Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon D (500 East 4th Street)

When: Sunday, March 11th 3:30 PM- 4:30 PM CDT

You can RSVP and see who else is going on Plancast here.

Welcome to the First 28 Venture Fellows!

We recently sent out a newsletter welcoming our first 28 Venture Fellows to those who had signed up to receive periodic updates. To receive the newsletter every month or two, just enter your e-mail address at the bottom of the page under “Get the Latest VFA Updates.” Thanks to everyone for supporting VFA!   

Venture for America

Hello VFA friend and supporter,

We are proud to announce 22 newly successful candidates for the Venture for America Fellowship Class of 2012!For a sense of the incoming class:


As you’ll see, it’s an impressive group!  We have 3 high school valedictorians, two college 4.0s, mechanical and electrical engineers, coders, a state tennis champion, business plan competition winners, young people who have already run and started businesses, and Fellows from national universities from across the country.  I hope you’re as excited as we are to put them in position to contribute in the months ahead.

The deadline for applications is February 20th, so it’s still not too late if you or someone you know would like to apply to become a Venture for America Fellow for 2012.

New Additions to the VFA Team

With our Venture Fellows in the fold, we need someone to focus on their training and development.  On that front, we’d like to welcome our new VP of Programs, Eddie Shiomi.  We are very fortunate to have him, as he’s spent the past 7 years as the director/trainer for the CORO Fellows Program in Public Affairs and is a veteran at human capital development.  He’s got the right orientation to help build our Fellows into motivated leaders.

We’d also like to welcome our new Admin and Development Associate, Megan Hurlburt.  Megan is going to make sure that we fly straight, follow up with people properly, and raise some money!  Megan is a Boston native, won an award for having the highest GPA of her graduating class at the College of Charleston, and triumphed over the 200+ people we had apply for this position.

VFA in the News

Venture for America was recently featured in both the Wall Street Journal and Forbes as an innovative way to spur job growth.  In addition, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has agreed to attend our Training Camp this summer.  There is a tremendous amount of excitement around VFA’s mission to get more of our best and brightest innovating and creating opportunities for themselves and others around the country.

What’s going on at VFA?

For those of you near New York, Venture for America will be hosting its 2012 Annual Launch Event the 2nd week of June.  We will have details for you as the summer approaches.

Right now, we’re fundraising to support operations and expansion. We are looking to raise approximately $500,000 from private individuals and Foundations. If you believe that Venture for America’s mission is one that you would like to support, please take a moment to make a contribution on our website.  Any amount helps, big or small.

VFA is making phenomenal progress in record time, and it wouldn’t be possible without you. Thank you all for your confidence and support.

Fellow Spotlight

I’ve attached below an excerpt from the application essay of one of our Fellows, Scott Lowe. Scott has a 4.0 in Engineering Physics with a Computer Science emphasis from the University of Oklahoma.

From Scott’s application:

Just months ago, I was on track towards becoming a quant, in fact my senior capstone research is centered around financial mathematics: studying information cascades in FOREX markets using Fokker-Plank equations, researching several econophysics models including the statistical treatment of money, wealth, and income, and learning traditional financial mathematics including option pricing theory via the Black Sholes equation. While I enjoy the work because of my love of mathematics, I luckily realized that this career path was simply designed to exploit inefficiencies in markets in order to extract profits from others. This financial realm known as trading is a zero sum game where for every dollar you make, someone else loses a dollar, and I know I’m not destined to become such an obvious parasite on society. Granted, not all finance organizations are so void of value; I see private equity and venture capital firms as providing the necessary service of allocating capital to companies that need and deserve it. Their funding allows entrepreneurs to transform ideas into reality, and for that reason I was very excited to learn that Detroit Venture Partners had been enlisted as a VFA startup.

In searching for other ways to apply myself towards improving the world and making a difference while also satisfying my intellectual curiosity, I luckily stumbled across Venture for America. Regardless of what startup I potentially end up at, I know that I will have the opportunity to absorb vast amounts of knowledge on how to create and lead organizations from successful entrepreneurs while also adding value to distressed communities through job creation. This is something I am very passionate about, and I believe that this passion, when combined with my broad background and excitement to relocate after graduation makes me the perfect VFA applicant.

Scott Lowe is an extraordinarily talented young man who would be successful in most any field. We believe that, if placed in an appropriate environment and given some training and support, Scott is the sort of young person who will someday start or lead a company that will create dozens, perhaps hundreds of jobs. We are looking forward to seeing if we are right, and we hope that you are excited to join us.

All of the best,



“Generation Z” and Encouraging Entrepreneurship in North Carolina

Check out this interesting article in the Raleigh News & Observer about the challenges facing current college seniors, members of the newly-christened Generation Z.  From exploring hacker culture at Duke University, to discussing how to keep graduating talent in North Carolina, to a few words from VFA Founder Andrew Yang on what opportunities these new challenges present, reporter Tori Stillwell explores entrepreneurship in the Triangle.