Welcome to Training Camp: The Fellows have landed!

It’s here! We’ve finally landed at our home away from home – Brown University in Providence, RI! The Team and Fellows came by car, train, plane, and, even UHaul to spend the next five weeks at Training Camp. We can’t wait to give the Fellows the chance to explore everything the “Creative Capital” (and one of VFA’s original 5 cities!) has to offer.

Andrew talking

Day 1 was a whirlwind. After a welcome message from Andrew and the VFA Team, we revealed the Fellows’ teams and dove into our first challenge, where they had the chance to quickly get to know one another and work together during the “Smart People Should Build Things…with Legos” Challenge. How would you like to try copying a lego structure from memory?

From words of wisdom to pop culture references, here are a few of our favorite quotes:

“We don’t just want to exist in the world – we want to  improve it.”

“You will all become job fountains.”

And, of course, an X-men reference that only half of us understood.


We topped off the day with our Welcome Dinner (and a projection of the World Cup, of course), where the Fellows, team, and some special visitors from one of our biggest supporters, UBS, came together to celebrate the kick-off of our third annual Training Camp. Portugal’s last-second goal against the United States only dampened the mood slightly– with over a hundred new faces from the Class of 2014, it was a great chance for some of the team and Fellows to get to know one another.

Over the next 5 weeks, our new Fellows will hear from expert trainers, work through team challenges, and develop the skills they need to hit the ground running in August at their companies. After five weeks of late nights, hard work, and fast friends, the Fellows will be in fighting shape to tackle any challenge startup life throws at them.

Group photo

We’ll be sharing weekly updates, posts from Fellows, and more, or you can check back anytime to see #VFABootcamp in real time!

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VFA Update: New Cities, New Ventures, and a VFA Party

Want to know what’s going on at VFA? Check out our most recent newsletter below, and if you haven’t already,
sign up to stay in the loop with more updates like this one!


Dear VFA Friends and Supporters:

Happy Spring from Venture for America HQ! While our 2013 Fellows continue to work hard in their cities across the country, our 2012 Fellows are looking ahead to the future, with some even ready to start companies of their own (check out one of them below!). Meanwhile, we’ve been adding new partners, new cities, and most importantly, new members of the Class of 2014. Read on for more updates on what’s happening at VFA. 

Tickets are now on sale for the 3rd Annual Summer Celebration!

We don’t know about you, but we can’t think of a better way to kick off the summer than attending this year’s Detroit-themed #VFAParty on June 5th. Past speakers have included Tony Hsieh, Arianna Huffington, and Jeff Weiner, along with sponsors like the Huffington Post, American Express, and more. So… what do we have in store this year?

We’re thrilled to welcome Chairman & Founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, Dan Gilbert, joining us all the way from the Motor City to talk about his work transforming the city through real estate investments, placemaking initiatives and the relocation of his businesses and employees to downtown Detroit.

We hope you can join us to celebrate our new Fellows, the graduation of our inaugural Class of 2012, and all our efforts over the past year. Tickets will be on sale now through June 4th, but DISCOUNTED TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE through May 15th. Get them while you still can! 

Other special guests include:  Charles Best, Founder of DonorsChoose; David Brooks, Author and Op-ed Columnist, New York TimesAlisa Volkman, Co-founder of Babble.com; Dave Gilboa, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Warby ParkerDhani Jones, New York Giants & Fox Sports 1Donald Katz, Founder & CEO of AudibleCyrus Massoumi, CEO & Founder of ZocDocJon Oringer, CEO of Shutterstock and many, many more. Check out the full list here.

Get your tickets for the Summer Celebration today!

Fellow Founder Spotlight: You know those days when coffee just won’t do it? 

Fellow James Fayal found himself having those days… well… everyday when he first started working full-time. But unlike the coffee-addicts out there, he wanted an alternative way to stay alert without the side effects (and thought some nutritional value would be nice, too).  So what’s a Fellow to do?

After he and another Fellow, Rickey Ishida, started looking for healthier ways to get the jolt they needed, the VFA pair realized the options were pretty limited. So in true Fellow fashion, they started blending their own teas, and eventually were getting requests from friends who wanted to get their hands on some super-tea of their own. 

And so, Zest Tea was born– a caffeine-packed line of teas that comes in flavors like Apple Cinnamon Black and Pomegranate Mojito Green (mmmm…). Now, Zest Tea has been filling orders since January and have already sold over 400 tins (including quite a few to VFA HQ…). We have to admit, we’re pretty big fans. (Bye, energy drinks!)

Want to get your hands on some ZestTea?  Visit GetZestTea.com today to support our Fellows and try it for yourself! 

New Fellows, New Cities… Welcome to VFA Year 3.  

Since last fall, we’ve been stacking the Class of 2014 with a new group of impressive and hard-working entrepreneurs-to-be. With our last deadline passed and one more selection round to go, we’re 80 Fellows strong for 2014 and can’t wait to round out the group later this month. Meet a few of our newest Fellows below…  

Muhga Eltigani, U. of Pennsylvania ’14
Worked for the EPA, interned for a startup, and was a consultant for a firm in Ghana. A Philly native who wants to help reviatlize her hometown. 

Austin Rhoads, Elon University ’14
Dual Marketing and Business major who has started three small businesses, including a consulting firm and a lawn-care company

Swad Komanduri, Cal Tech ’13
Helped start ReMaterials, a cleantech social venture that repurposes waste into affordable shelter for slum inhabitants in India 


And here’s where you can find us this year…

Along with our current 8 VFA cities– Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Providence– we’re so excited that this year we’ll be sending Fellows to help build businesses in 4 more budding startup hubs. Team VFA has been out pounding the pavement for the last few months determining which cities have the companies and capital to make it happen. 

So where in the world (uh, America) will you be able to find us in 2014? Check out our new cities below! 


Andy Chatham, VFA ’12, along with Adam Joseph ’13, Shilpi Kumar ’13, and Ali Sheppard ’13 spearheaded the planning of the first City as a Startup conference.
City as a Startup: VFA goes to Vegas

Sure, what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay there… but we couldn’t keep this one to ourselves. We want to extend a special thanks to our Fellows and supporters at Downtown Project in Las Vegas for hosting Venture for America for the first ever City as a Startup conference!

Over 100 VFA team members, Fellows, and partners from our cities descended on Downtown Vegas to hear from Keynote speakers like Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos; Graham Weston, CEO of Rackspace; and a handful of other leaders spearheading the charge to turn their cities into entrepreneurial hubs across the country. 

We learned a lot, had even more fun, and can’t wait for the the next City as a Startup conference (which already has cities like Detroit and San Antonio interested in hosting). Let the countdown begin…

We’re looking for summer interns! 
We’re a small, hardworking, passionate team, and we also have more fun than anyone we know. Sound like a good way to spend your summer?  Visit our jobs page today for more info.

Join Team VFA

Get a peek inside VFA HQ

The Muse recently paid a visit to VFA HQ to meet our quickly growing team, explore our office, and help us show off all the awesome things that happen day-to-day. We know you’re curious. 

Want to get involved in VFA?

You can…
– Become a Mentor
Make a Donation
– Spread the Word
… and more!

For more info, join us at our next VFA Meet and Greet in NYC on Tuesday, May 13th! 


You’re invited to the VFA Summer Celebration!

June 5th, 2014
IAC HQ: 555 W. 18th St., NYC
Keynote Speaker: Dan Gilbert, Founder & Chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures
Get your tickets today!

Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang



Miami, here we come!

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We are so excited to announce today that thanks to the support of the Knight Foundation, Venture for America will be expanding to Miami in 2014!

We’d like to extend a special thanks to all the talented entrepreneurs and incredible organizations leading the charge to create a thriving startup ecosystem there–we couldn’t be more thrilled to send a crew of our talented (and lucky!) 2014 Fellows to help Miami’s businesses grow.

Check out the blog post below from our Founder Andrew Yang about VFA’s Miami expansion.

(Originally published on the Knight Foundation blog)

Ask a startup CEO what she needs most, and – after the knee-jerk reaction, “Money!” – she is likely to tell you that her biggest challenge is finding great talent. Next, ask a smart and enterprising young person what he wants most out of an entry-level job, and he will likely say he wants to gain skills, make career progress and do something meaningful – exactly the opportunities a startup can provide.

Why can’t these two people meet one another? Because armies of suits show up on college campuses each year, and funnel our best and brightest off to financial services and consulting firms in a handful of cities. Startups in Miami have no coordinated way to access these channels, and young people have no systematized means for finding or vetting startup opportunities. That’s where Venture for America comes in: We level the playing field so that the startup CEO can find highly vetted talent that is eager to go to work for her and make an impact. Essentially, Venture for America is a two-year fellowship program that places recent college graduates with promising startup companies in U.S. cities with significant human capital needs. We currently operate in eight cities, and Miami is our next destination.

We all know that entrepreneurship is the engine of job growth in America, and that many of our historically great cities are in serious need of job creation. What you may not know is that for every one person an innovation-oriented firm hires, five new jobs quickly follow in the wider community. Imagine if the same proportion of talent that currently flows to professional services went instead to startups and early-stage growth companies in Miami. How long would that take to meaningfully impact job growth and innovation?

Venture for America has found all the right ingredients in Miami: a bevy of entrepreneurs, such as Brian Brackeen of Kairos and Andres Moreno of Open English, who have staked out this incredible community to grow their companies; a contingent of ecosystem-supporting organizations, such as The LAB Miami, Endeavor, Refresh Miami and Rokk3r Labs, which are working overtime to build a thriving entrepreneurial community; and community leaders and investors – including Knight Foundation – that are providing the capital necessary to see it all through. We want to add another key piece to this puzzle by helping draw young talent to Miami’s urban core.

Venture for America’s mission is to revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship. In the coming years, we plan to help dozens of talented recent college graduates get to work at exciting startups in Miami. Ultimately, we hope they will put down roots and set up shop as entrepreneurs in their own right, creating a virtuous cycle of job growth and economic development.

How do we know this will work? Because we are watching it happen in other communities. Venture for America launched in Detroit (as well as Las Vegas, New Orleans, Providence, R.I., and Cincinnati). Since arriving in Detroit, our class of 12 VFA Fellows has bought a foreclosed mansion at auction and are rehabbing it on weekends, started a nonprofit organization that teaches entrepreneurship skills to underserved middle school students, and started companies such as Banza – which makes a high-protein chickpea-based pasta – with manufacturing in Michigan. This is in addition to playing vital roles at companies that are growing rapidly. We are excited to see what our VFA Fellows will do in Miami – with the support of Knight Foundation and all of our friends in its incredibly welcoming entrepreneurial community.

CBS Evening News visits VFA Training Camp

This summer while we were at Brown University in Providence, CBS Evening News came by to find out just what our Fellows are all about.

Check out the story below to hear from Avery Houser (’13) and Mike Mayer (’12), see the Fellows in action at Training Camp, and even get a peek inside one of our Providence partner companies (and huge success story!), Teespring.

[Excerpt] Professional Services as Business Training

There’s fewer than two weeks left until the release of “Smart People Should Build Things” by our Founder, Andrew Yang! We’ve released a handful of excerpts over the past few weeks, and you can check back for even more between now and the February 4th release.

To pre-order your copy today, visit SmartPeopleShouldBuildThings.com!

As we’ve seen, one of the most frequently pursued paths for achievement- minded college seniors is to spend several years advancing professionally and getting trained and paid by an investment bank, consulting firm, or law firm. Then, the thought process goes, they can set out to do something else with some exposure and experience under their belts. People are generally not making lifelong commitments to the field in their own minds. They’re “getting some skills” and making some connections before figuring out what they really want to do.I subscribed to a version of this mind-set when I graduated from Brown. In my case, I went to law school thinking I’d practice for a few years (and pay down my law school debt) before lining up another opportunity.

It’s clear why this is such an attractive approach. There are some immensely constructive things about spending several years in professional services after graduating from college. Professional service firms are designed to train large groups of recruits annually, and they do so very successfully. After even just a year or two in a high-level bank or consulting firm, you emerge with a set of skills that can be applied in other contexts (financial modeling in Excel if you’re a financial analyst, PowerPoint and data organization and presentation if you’re a consultant, and editing and issue spotting if you’re a lawyer). This is very appealing to most any recent graduate who may not yet feel equipped with practical skills coming right out of college.

It seems like an incredible set of benefits. How can there be any downside either to the individual or to the economy that a significant proportion of our top graduates are being professionalized as bankers, consultants or lawyers?

The nature of professional services dictates that you work on a deal or a client engagement that lasts a brief period and then ends. You’re usually staffed on a deal that will last for a finite period until the deal either comes through or falls apart. You begin a new transaction or client engagement every several months, perhaps longer if it’s a protracted consulting project. You’re used to relationships measured in weeks or months, or only hours or minutes in the trading context. Clients arrive and demand a flurry of activity until a transaction is complete, then disappear. Senior managers at your firm maintain relationships with clients, but you’re a level or two removed. You often develop strong relationships with colleagues due to the long hours, extensive travel and intense work environment. But you’re used to people coming and going very quickly as teams either shift and change or people leave the firm. For example, the attrition rate at one top consulting firm is 30 percent per year, which is one reason they’re always hiring.

The constant flow of different deals is presented as a selling point by many consulting firms and investment banks. They’ll say it’s “fast-paced,” things are “changing all the time,” and that you’ll work on one deal or project “and then move on.” Most operating companies, in contrast, typically rely upon long-term relationships to function well. They require a significant commitment in which the time frame is measured in years, not weeks or months. Turnover is detrimental to developing a good management team; building a business, and building up the value of one’s equity and relationships within an industry, takes time.

As a professional service provider who is changing clients or transactions every period, it’s hard to become emotionally invested in your work. It’s like trying to be concerned about taking care of a car you’re renting. Your clients are themselves big companies, and your interaction with them will often be limited to the occasional meeting with a senior executive or a manager. If you’re a consultant, you’re generally set up in a conference room from Monday through Thursday in a far-flung city; then you fly home on Thursday night. You’re there as a transaction cost because someone wants to get something done. One ex-consultant I interviewed noted, “It’s hard to get personally attached or invested when you know you’re only there for a number of months. I had assignments and deliverables that I knew would get changed after six months because we were a stopgap solution — I knew my work would disappear in a little while after the new system was put in.”

Your appetite for risk generally diminishes as you get older. This can become even more pronounced in a professional setting. You spend your working life in nice offices around well-compensated people.

You often have support staff from day one. The only people you interact with work at large public companies. Your expenses creep upward over time, and you get used to having nice things. Your interpersonal obligations mount, and the people you’re dating and family members expect you to earn lots of money. As you adapt to your role and circumstance, taking a risk professionally becomes more and more of an abstraction.

Once, while I was having drinks with a friend of mine after she started working at a top-tier consulting firm, she said, “Before I got here, I thought I could do anything. Now, I feel like you can’t do anything unless you have a budget of millions of dollars.”

In the minds of college seniors, and thanks to prodigious investment on the part of the firms themselves, professional services — financial services and management consulting — have become conflated with “business” when really they’re a narrow subset or category of businesses with distinctive features.

If you work in professional services you will be paid handsomely and have a brand-name firm on your résumé. You’ll gain skills, confidence, and exposure. But you may also become heavily socialized and specialized, more risk averse, and accustomed to operating in resource-rich environments with a narrow set of deliverables. You’ll be likely to adopt an arm’s-length relationship with your work. You won’t build anything; instead, you will compartmentalize and put the armor on each day as deals, clients and colleagues come and go.

Professional services are being used as a de facto training ground for our top college graduates — with mixed results for everyone concerned. In particular, going into banking or consulting to learn how to start or run a business is not always ideal; the processes are very different, and give you a sense of companies trying to do different things. It’s like trying to learn how to become a chef by going to a company that runs analyses for large restaurant chains. Yes, you’ll get a better grasp of how chain restaurants work. But will you learn to cook?

There are, of course, any number of successful business builders and entrepreneurs who started out as professionals, as one would expect given that literally half our top graduates have pursued these paths for the past couple decades. David Gilboa worked at an investment bank before co-founding Warby Parker. John Delbridge worked in equity research before co-founding Mimeo. People have long careers that aren’t defined by their first few years.

And it’s easy to get excited about a potential hire if he has spent a couple of years at a top firm. There’s a good chance that this person is smart, motivated, capable of long hours and detail-oriented work, and is looking for a change. If applying to work at a startup, he probably expects a pay cut and has the right motivation.

But if I had a dollar for all the bankers, consultants and lawyers I’ve met who told me that they were “really interested in entrepreneurship,” I’d be awfully rich. Meanwhile, they struggle to transition into different roles, and many of them have lost some of the qualities that would have enabled them to take on their original ambitions.

Their problem isn’t just theirs — it affects all of us. We’re breeding large battalions of indifferent professionals in a handful of cities, when what we need is something very different. We need committed builders.

From SMART PEOPLE SHOULD BUILD THINGS by Andrew Yang. © 2014 Andrew Yang. Reprinted courtesy of HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Congrats to our Round 2 Innovation Fund Winners!

We’re thrilled to announce that after six weeks of hustling and fundraising, yesterday marked the close of the VFA Innovation Fund: Round 2! The seven teams of Fellows made an impressive showing, having raised almost $40,000 while vying for the chance to get access to an additional $20,000 in funding for our winners.

As always, we’re blown away and incredibly proud of all of our participating teams. This is yet another example of how motivated and ambitious our Fellows are, and we couldn’t be more excited to help them launch projects in their cities and take their ideas to the next level. Thank you to our friends at American Express OPEN Forum and RocketHub for making it possible!

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First, congratulations to our winner, 2012 Fellow Brian Rudolph, who raised over $17,000 to launch his company, Banza! Greek Pasta. In addition to the money he raised, Brian will get $10,000 from the Innovation Fund to continue to bring his awesome culinary creation to even more people across the country.

Brian, who’s been on the path to becoming an entrepreneur since selling candy out of his locker in middle school, started making Banza! as a gluten-free, high-protein alternative to regular pasta to maintain his healthy lifestyle. (We’ve taste-tested it here at VFA, so you can trust us when we say this stuff is delicious and nutritious!) Thanks to the Innovation Fund and Brian’s hard work getting the word out, he’ll now have over $25,000 to move production out of his own kitchen and get the equipment he needs to grow his business. We have a feeling we’ll be seeing Banza! on supermarket shelves before we know it!

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 5.58.01 PMWant more info about Banza! Greek Pasta? You can check out the website and video, and check back for updates on how to order some chickpea pasta of your own!


Second Place:

Bandaloo by 2013 Fellows Kate Leisy and Zubin Teherani
Bandaloo will receive $6,000, in addition to the $12,000+ they raised, to launch the first 48-hour event for local musicians to meet, form bands, meet industry leaders, and perform– all within the same weekend.

Third Place:

CowSciutto by 2013 Fellows Chris Hikel, Anhton Tran, Oliver Li, Jack Farrell, Chelsea Amsley, and Matt Fulton
CowSciutto will receive $4,000 for a total of over $8,000 to help bring their delicious new meat-snack to market!

[EXCERPT] Talent Allocation is a Zero-Sum Game

VFA Founder and CEO Andrew Yang will release his first book, Smart People Should Build Things, on February 4th, 2014. Check out the most recent excerpt below on the chosen paths of talented young people, and check back for more in the coming weeks.

You can also pre-order your copy today at SmartPeopleShouldBuildThings.com!

Excerpted from SMART PEOPLE SHOULD BUILD THINGS by Andrew Yang

You could ask, so what if our talented young people all march off to become lawyers, doctors, bankers, and consultants? Isn’t that what smart people are supposed to do?

There are a few problems with this stance. First, the degree to which the recruitment infrastructure exists is a relatively recent phenomenon. Bain and Company, a premier management consulting firm, wasn’t founded until 1973—now it employs over 5,000 talented people and recruits hundreds per year. The financial services industry has mushroomed in size, with Wall Street firms employing 191,800 at their peak in 2008, up from only 65,300 in 1975. The growth in professional services has given rise to an accompanying set of recruitment pipelines only in the past several decades.

Yet the allocation of talent is a zero-sum game. If the academically gifted are funneled in higher numbers toward finance and consulting, then lesser numbers are going into other areas, such as the operation of companies, startups, and early-stage enterprises. In the United States, companies with fewer than 500 employees account for almost two-thirds of net new jobs and generate thirteen times more new patents per employee than do large firms. If the US economy had generated as many startups each year for 2009–12 as it had in 2007, the country would have produced almost 2.5 million new jobs by 2013. If we’re interested in spurring long-term job growth, we want as much talent as possible heading to new firms so that more of them can succeed, expand, and hire more people.

Further, the current talent flows have a pronounced regional bias. The hubs for financial services and consulting are New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, and these cities are magnets for the preponderance of top university graduates. Meanwhile, dozens of other US cities and communities are home to promising growth companies that don’t have the talent they need to develop and expand. Companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Providence, Baltimore, Cleveland, and other cities are poised to hire and to provide new opportunities and products. Yet our national university graduates are being consistently channeled elsewhere.*

Professional services industries like finance, consulting, and legal services are, by definition, meta-industries. That is, they serve to help large companies raise money, buy and sell each other, reorganize, implement new systems, conduct complex transactions, and so forth. They are dependent on companies coming into being and becoming big enough to hire them. The economy needs more companies to start, grow, and thrive in order for the service organizations themselves to prosper. For example, if Mark Zuckerberg had become an investment banker or gone to work in a bank’s information technology department, then the bankers wouldn’t have had Facebook to take public. It’s actually far better for the investment banks (and everyone else) that instead of heading in their direction, he started his own company.

Another issue is that professional paths aren’t always the right fit. Everyone reading this knows a host of former lawyers, bankers, consultants, academics, or doctors for whom the work or environment was not right, many of whom eventually left the profession or stuck around halfheartedly. This represents a massive social cost. Instead of an army of bright college graduates, we are left with an array of often indebted former professionals who are only starting years later what should have been their first act. Some find roles that fit. But for most this transition is not seamless; there are often time-consuming stumbles and periods of exploration before a new path is forged or found—if one is found.

Last, and perhaps most important, professional services socialize individuals in ways that are not conducive to their ability to contribute in other ways. All of us, and particularly young people, have a tendency to view ourselves and our natures as static: you’ll choose to do something for a few years, and you’ll still be the same you. This isn’t the case. Spending your twenties traveling four days a week, interviewing employees, and writing detailed reports on how to cut costs will change you, as will spending years editing contracts and arguing about events that will never come to pass, or years producing Excel spreadsheets and moving deals along. After a while, regardless of your initial motivations, your lifestyle and personality will change to fit your role. You will become a better dispenser of well-presented recommendations, or editor of contracts, or generator of financial projections. And you will in all likelihood become less good at other things. You will not be the same person you were when you started.

It is no accident that many of those we regard as our most productive individuals—Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Jack Dorsey, Reid Hoffman, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and the like—were not products of our professional paths. Michael Dell actually entered the University of Texas intending to go to medical school. He probably would have made a fine doctor. But thanks to him over 100,000 people are now working at his namesake company, both in Texas and around the world.

* One could argue that our national university system has become a de facto talent drain for much of the country. Many states and communities send their top students away to great schools, never to hear from them again.

From SMART PEOPLE SHOULD BUILD THINGS by Andrew Yang. © 2014 Andrew Yang. Reprinted courtesy of HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

In Memory of Ovik Banerjee, Class of 2012

Ovik Banerjee 2It is with great sadness that we honor the memory of Ovik Banerjee, a Venture for America Fellow and graduate of the University of North Carolina, who passed away unexpectedly in Las Vegas, where he had been working for the Downtown Project for the past year and a half. Ovik, whose home was Alabama, was an adventuring 20-something, passionate about the environment, sustainability, entrepreneurship, the Green Bay Packers, and, of course, the Tar Heels and the Crimson Tide.

We mourn with his family and friends and the entire Venture for America community.

We will be holding a memorial for Ovik this Thursday, January 16th at VFA HQ. We invite guests to stop by at their convenience, so please feel free to join us and share your stories or memories. Details are below:

Memorial for Ovik Banerjee
Open Thursday, January 16th between 6:00-8:00pm
Location: 40 West 29th St., Suite 301

For those who knew Ovik and would like to share any memories, we will be compiling photos, stories, and more to honor his memory.

Here’s how you can reach us:

Thank you for sharing your notes and memories with us and Ovik’s family.

Huffington Post: VFA Fellows Making an Impact

Last week, VFA teamed up with our friends at the Huffington Post to produce a week-long blog series about how our Fellows are making an impact on their companies, cities, and beyond.


Why Four 20-Somethings Bought a House in Detroit

The four VFA Fellows of Rebirth Realty on how they’re helping to rebuild Detroit one house at a time.


Putting the “Us” Back in Music

Kate Leisy ’13 and Zubin Teherani ’13 on how they hope to bring collaboration back into the music industry through Bandaloo, a startup weekend for bands.


From Jobs Created to Jobs Filled in Detroit

Derek Turner ’12 on how he and his company, Grand Circus, are helping fill the tech talent gap in Detroit.


Empowering an Island of Misfit Toys

Chelsea Koglmeier ’12 on how she and her team at Roadtrippers are building a strong team in Cincinnati, OH.


You Don’t Need Experience to Make an Impact

Mike Wilner ’13 on how jumping head first into an opportunity is the best way to make an impact.

For more from VFA Fellows, supporters, and our Founder, Andrew Yang, visit our page on the Huffington Post!

[Excerpt] Smart People Should Build Things:
The Prestige Pathways

VFA Founder and CEO Andrew Yang will release his first book, Smart People Should Build Things, in early 2014. Check back between now and the February 4th release date for more excerpts. You can also pre-order your copy today at SmartPeopleShouldBuildThings.com!

Excerpted from SMART PEOPLE SHOULD BUILD THINGS by Andrew Yang

Let’s imagine a very large company. It is a leader in its industry and much admired by its peers. It invests a tremendous amount of money–literally billions of dollars a year–in identifying, screening, and training its many employees. Those employees who are considered to have high potential are sent to special training programs at substantial additional cost. Happily, these top training programs are considered to be among the best in the world. After these employees complete their training, the company encourages them to choose for themselves the division in which they’d like to work. Employee preferences are deemed to be the most efficient way of deciding who works where.

This seems like a good system, and it works well for a long time. However, perhaps predictably, many of its most highly rated employees eventually become drawn to the finance and legal divisions because these divisions have very effective recruitment arms, are more visible, pay better, and are thought of as providing a more intellectual level of work. Over time, proportionally fewer of the top recruits go toward the management of the company or the company’s operations. The company’s basic training division is considered a backwater, with low pay and low recognition. And only a relative handful of employees go toward research and development or the launching of any new products.

Take a second to think about the company described above. What do you think will happen to this company as time passes? And if you think that it’s not set on a path to success, what would you do to fix it? This company reflects, in essence, the economy of the United States of America.

If you are a smart college student and you want to become a lawyer and go to law school, what you must do has been well established. You must go to a good school, get good grades (already accomplished, for many), and take the LSAT (a four-hour skill test). There is no anxiety in divining the requirements, as they are clearly spelled out. Most undergrads, even those with little interest in law school, know what it takes to get in. The path location costs are low.

The same is true if you want to become a doctor. Becoming a doctor is hard, right? Sort of. It is arduous and time-consuming, but it is not hard if you have certain academic abilities. You must take a battery of college courses (organic chemistry being the most infamous and rigorous of them) and do well, study for the MCAT (an eight-hour exam), and spend a summer or even a year caddying for a researcher, doctor, or hospital. These are time-consuming, hoop-jumping tasks, to be sure, but anyone with a very high level of academic aptitude can complete them.

If you attend an Ivy League university or similar national institution, legions of suit-wearing representatives from the big-name investment banks and consulting firms will show up at your campus and conduct first-round interviews to fill their ranks each year, even in a down period (as with the recent years following the financial crisis). They will spend millions of dollars enlisting interns and educating the market annually. Most freshmen have no idea what management consulting is, yet seniors can rattle off the distinctions of different firms with little difficulty. All undergraduates have friends in the classes above them who have gone through this process and gained analyst or associate positions at major investment banks and consulting firms.

Again, the requirements are clear: you have to have good grades, be able to perform some cognitive tasks with words and numbers in the form of case studies that you should prepare for and practice, and hopefully look good in a suit. It is also very helpful if you spend a summer in college doing something that can be presented as relating to your professional interest; in many cases it’s necessary that you intern at the employer the summer before your senior year in order to get an offer. Summer internships have become vital for getting jobs in the most selective firms, so the process begins quite early–junior year at the latest. This path requires some early choices, but you don’t have to spend time taking another standardized test. Of course, many of the people who go into finance and consulting take the GMAT and go on to business school.

These structured paths are clearly laid out, and are pursued collectively by many–or most–of the students who have been screened and sorted as the academic and cognitive elite. These “prestige pathways” have become the default options. In 2011, 29 percent of employed Harvard graduates went into finance or consulting, while 19 percent of the class applied to law school and 18 percent applied to medical school. That’s a majority of the class. California (San Francisco), New York (New York City), and Massachusetts (Boston) were the only states that received over one hundred Harvard grads in 2012, with Illinois (Chicago) and Washington DC, being the only other destinations to receive fifty or more. The statistics from Yale, Dartmouth, Penn, and other top schools are similar.

Perhaps this is somewhat surprising–wouldn’t college students at these top schools be positioned to blaze their own trails and pursue less conventional routes with the access that they have been given?

Unfortunately, hardworking, academically gifted young people are kind of lazy when it comes to determining direction. If you give them a hoop to jump through, jumping through that hoop can take two, twenty, or two hundred hours, and it won’t make a big difference. But they are quite lazy when it comes to figuring out what path to take or–more profoundly–building their own path. They’re trained to get the grade or ace the application. That is what has made them successful in most every conventional respect each step of the way up to their senior year in college, at the point that this process is well underway.

“It’s doing a process that you’ve done a billion times before,” explains Dylan Matthews, a 2012 Harvard graduate who wrote for the campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, before becoming a journalist. He adds, “Everyone who goes to Harvard went hard on the college application process. Applying to Wall Street is much closer to that than applying anywhere else is. There are a handful of firms you really care about, they all have formal application processes that they walk you through, there’s a season when it all happens, all of them come to you and interview you where you live. Harvard students are really good at formal processes like that, and they’re less good at going on Monster or Craigslist and sorting through thousands of job listings from thousands of companies whose reputations they don’t know. Wall Street and consulting (and Teach for America, too) turn applying to jobs into applying to college [again], more or less.”

Of course, the same procedural comfort level applies to law school and other graduate programs, and the same mindset pervades competitive campuses around the country.

From SMART PEOPLE SHOULD BUILD THINGS by Andrew Yang. © 2014 Andrew Yang. Reprinted courtesy of HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.