From 2013 intern to 2016 Fellow
Domenic Merolla ’16
"It's hard to avoid platitudes—this was the most fundamentally important career decision i’ve ever made. But there's even more to say."
When senior year rolled around, Domenic knew VFA was in his future. He had spent the last three years getting close to the VFA team, and applying to join HQ in New York was tempting. But by then, the team had tripled in size, and a lot of the earlier kinks had been smoothed out. “When I started interning at VFA, it was in its very early stage,” he says. “That’s what I cut my teeth in, and that’s the kind of environment I’m most excited by.” While VFA is still young, Domenic knew he wanted to be at an earlier stage company—so he applied to be a Fellow.
Starting from scratch at Updraft Ventures
During the match process, Domenic found the scrappy environment he was looking for—he got a job at Updraft Ventures, a new company founded by 2012 Fellow Ethan Carlson. Domenic describes Updraft as a “quirky small businesses incubator”—they partner with aspiring entrepreneurs and help them open up profitable small businesses that can turn a profit within a year. For now, they’re focusing on escape rooms. (Ethan is the founder of Escape Rhode Island, so he knows what he’s doing.) At Updraft, Domenic shepherds their aspiring entrepreneurs through every step of the process—from helping them find the right space all the way up to bringing in the first escape room customers. He’s even given himself a crash course in electrical engineering using Ethan’s college textbooks (necessary for some of the more complex puzzles). It hasn’t been easy, but it’s precisely the early-stage, scrappy environment he hoped to find.
Facing new challenges together
It was tough bonding with the other Fellows at Training Camp in Providence, then watching them disperse all over the country at the end of the five weeks. But Domenic’s put in the effort to maintain those relationships, and his Fellow friends do their part, too. “VFA Fellows put their money where their mouth is,” he says. “If they say let’s catch up soon, they actually follow through.”
In his VFA cohort, Domenic has 170 peers who understand the intensity of startup life. A Fellow friend recently gave him some advice that resonated: Give yourself credit for the things you’re doing well, even when you make mistakes—don’t choose to define yourself by what you’ve screwed up. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but a useful one when you’re building something from scratch. Entrepreneurship is a constant exercise in rebounding from mistakes, and it never hurts to have a hand up. Or 170 of them.