Kicking Off the Biggest VFA Accelerator Yet

The 2016 VFA Accelerator has begun!

At 8:30 am on a recent rainy Friday morning in New York City, 12 young entrepreneurs in the final year of the VFA fellowship boarded a bus to Philadelphia for the 2016 VFA Accelerator. It had already been a long week—the night before, they pitched their young businesses at VFA’s 5th annual Summer Celebration, where hundreds of attendees were eager to learn about their projects and companies. And just two days prior, these founders made the trek from Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Miami, Cleveland, and Columbus, leaving the cities where many of their businesses were born to move into a comfortable but modest 8 bedroom house in West Philadelphia, five minutes away from First Round Capital offices where they will spend the remainder of the summer.

The paths that these entrepreneurs took to get here are as varied as the businesses they’re building. But they all share a group of qualities that we think will make them successful—qualities every entrepreneur needs.

An insatiable curiosity to learn how things work—the type that gets you to cold email CEOs in the hopes of learning about their business from the inside, or to spend your weekend learning the intricacies of a new bot API.

A deep sense of ownership over your work. One that doesn’t let you go to sleep until you reply to that customer issue that came in at 11 pm.

A tactful persistence that opens new doors and keeps you going after hearing “no” 100 times, because that means you’re one rejection closer to getting the only “yes” you need.

The humility and self-awareness to help you put aside your pride when you need to ask others for help, or to tell your team that you need to drastically change course on a project they’ve been working day and night to finish.

The ability to emotionally detach. So when something significant happens—like your product crashes and disaster seems unavoidable, or it seems like you’re finally going to catch a lucky break from that investor who says she’s basically ready to wire you the money—you can step back from the situation with an objective lens and make timely decisions based on the facts at hand.

If this sounds like you, maybe you should consider building a company.

As we boarded the bus that morning to head back to Philadelphia for our first official day of the Accelerator, you could feel the mix of excitement and anticipation among the Fellows. Many left stable jobs to make this leap of faith, willing to tolerate uncertainty for the promise of an educational experience few choose to explore. The type of education that can only come from not just observing, but applying, not by simply reading cases but talking to entrepreneurs who have failed as well as triumphed, and not just dreaming of what could be, but by doing, even if success is anything but guaranteed.

I sat near the back of the bus with Zubin Teherani—a 2013 Fellow and the co-founder of LeagueSide, one of the three companies from the last VFA Accelerator cohort still working in Philadelphia. I listened to him juggle calls with his co-founder Evan and calls from customers, all the while bouncing between spreadsheets on his laptop, and I couldn’t help but admire the confidence with which the 25 year old did his job. Maybe it was the countless pitches to brands, mentors, and investors he’d done since starting at the VFA Accelerator last year. Maybe it was the two years he spent living and working in New Orleans doing business development for IDScan during his fellowship. Whatever the reason, it’s increasingly clear that this experiment is working, and that this summer will be a period of discovery and growth for everyone involved.

If you’re a Philadelphia based entrepreneur, or supporter of entrepreneurs, and would like to learn more about what we’re up to at the VFA Accelerator, send a note to sergei@ventureforamerica.org.

Sergei Revzin is the Entrepreneur in Residence at VFA, and is currently running the 2016 VFA Accelerator in Philadelphia. 

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