Tulane Campus Ambassador Experiences 3 Day Startup

Zoe Chaves

 

Name: Ethan Levy

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

University: Tulane University ’16

Majors: International Studies & Business

Company: ComeFail

 

One of our promising young entrepreneurs working as a campus ambassador at Tulane University, Ethan Levy, recently participated in 3 Day Startup (3DS), a non-profit organization that seeks to kick-start student-run companies and build entrepreneurial capabilities in university communities through their program. It’s like Startup Weekend, geared exclusively toward talented college students.  They are a tremendous organization that has conducted over 100 programs on 5 continents and have launched 54 companies that have received over $18 million in funding. As VFA continues to grow, we look forward to partnering with 3DS and other organizations that are making entrepreneurship a viable path for young people in college and after graduation.

Check out our recent interview with Ethan where we dive into his experience with VFA, 3DS and how both are helping him launch his new venture, ComeFail.

Q | How did you first catch the entrepreneurial bug?

I caught the entrepreneurial bug when I was 7 years old, when I was on a 5-day hike with my family. As a seven-year old, hiking seemed long and painful. But what really got to me was boredom. There was nothing to do but hike. So I started thinking and came up with a “business plan,” which would make me CEO of a store called “Which What Who.” At first I would sell my collections, but later I would sell practically anything that my customers wanted for a really good price! I spent the day sorting out all of the details with my family, and they all agreed to work in my store. It was encouraging. I ranted about my store for eight whole hours. Although bizarre, it was on that summer day that I decided my dream was to become an entrepreneur.

Q | How did you first get involved with VFA?

Various people had referred me to VFA, but I never understood what it was or took it seriously until I met Sean Rowland, the campus ambassador at Loyola University in New Orleans. After learning more about the program, I was intrigued. After meeting with Joe Guy, Community Marketing Manager at VFA, I was convinced that I should get more involved by becoming a campus ambassador at Tulane.

Q | Can you tell us a little bit about the venture you are starting?

I am starting a venture called ComeFail, which is an online platform for student entrepreneurs to share their ideas, improve them, and attract the resources they need as their businesses grow. Built on the philosophy that (smart) failures produce amazing growth, ComeFail is a safe space for young, college entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty. Our purpose is to increase the number of entrepreneurs and their likelihood of success, and by redefining the culture of failure, we aim to minimize fear and maximize self-improvement.

Q | What led you to participate in 3DS?

I first heard of 3DS when I was participating in Startup Weekend. Students from the University of New Orleans recommended that I participate, since it would be a great opportunity for me to connect with other students and grow my business.

Q | Could you describe the 3DS experience at a high level?

3 Day Startup is an event that brings students together for 3 days to work on startups. Having now participated, I can say it’s an incredible experience. 3DS encourages students to spend one weekend in the startup field, giving students a taste of the startup lifestyle and all of its great energy. Students are rarely given the opportunity to get away from schoolwork and social life to work on their ideas. 3DS gives students that opportunity.

Check out this brief documentary that shows students in action at 3DS.

Q | How did your venture change and improve as a result of 3DS?

Thanks to the 3DS experience, my venture grew more in 3 days than it did in 15 months. I came into the 3DS event with a concept called Launchange, which was a concept for an online platform that would connect students within universities based on skills and interests so they could build businesses together. Launchange was one of two ideas that were selected. After being grilled with tough questions from the 3DS faculty advisor, I was convinced that Launchange was not worth building. This led me to pivot to ComeFail. I believe that our product is now much stronger and more likely to succeed. Also, my teammates (who participated in the event with me and are pictured below) are more excited. Shortly put, 3DS energized my team and improved our product significantly.

IMG_3069 (1)

Q | What advice would you give a student that’s interested in building something?

Go for it. Fail early and fail fast. Learn with each failure. Embrace uncertainty. Have an open mind. Have fun during the process. Be up for the challenge. Be resilient. Starting a business can be tough, so you have to learn to enjoy the process.


Ethan is just one of 60 individuals officially representing VFA at universities across the country. His experience at 3DS is just one example of the many opportunities available to our campus ambassadors.  If you are interested in joining our team, learn more about the position and apply on our jobs page.

In Their Own Words: Our Fellows Share the VFA Story [VIDEO]

What’s it Really Like to be a VFA Fellow?

Everyone enjoys a good story, but what makes a good story great is when you can hear it directly from the source. That’s exactly why we created our newest video to showcase the dynamic environments our fellows are living and working in, and how the fellowship experience has helped them launch their careers as entrepreneurs.

Like what you see?  Dive deeper into what our fellows are doing on the job, consider submitting an application for an upcoming deadline and share with others that are interested in learning how to become successful entrepreneurs.

It’s Never Too Young to Start Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

Pic 4 LAST WEEK, NEW ORLEANS ENTREPRENEUR CHRIS SCHULTZ VISITED KIPP CENTRAL CITY SCHOOL IN NEW ORLEANS TO TAKE PART IN THE STARTUP EFFECT, A NON-PROFIT STARTED BY FOUR VFA FELLOWS. NOW, CO-FOUNDERS MIKE MAYER AND BILLY SCHRERO ARE TEACHING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS TO EMPOWER YOUTH WITH THE NECESSARY TOOLS TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY, PROACTIVELY, AND CREATIVELY, RESULTING IN INNOVATION AND VALUE CREATION.

SCHULTZ, WHO HAS CO-FOUNDED LAUNCH PAD & FLATSTACK, AND IS CURRENTLY LAUNCHING A NEW VENTURE CALLED NIKO NIKO, INVESTS IN NEW ORLEANS COMPANIES THROUGH VOODOO VENTURES. BASED ON HIS SUCCESS LAUNCHING COMPANIES, HE HAS TAKEN AN INTEREST IN MENTORING OTHER ENTREPRENEURS, WHICH LED HIM TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT.

READ ON TO HEAR MORE ABOUT CHRIS’S EXPERIENCE HANGING OUT WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT KIDS AND THE WORK MIKE AND BILLY ARE DOING IN NEW ORLEANS. ULTIMATELY, THEY HOPE TO SPUR ENTREPRENEURIAL THOUGHT WHERE IT MATTERS MOST – IN THE MINDS OF THE YOUTH IN THESE GROWING CITIES WHERE VFA FELLOWS ARE PLACED.


By Chris Schultz, Co-founder of LaunchPad & Flatstack in New Orleans (Originally published in Huffington Post)

“Who wants fireballs going out, and who wants her shooting flames?” Lionel asked.

The hands went up for fireballs, and Lionel spun around the flame out of the trumpet arms on Fiona Flames, the new character that he prototyped in real-time the ideas being generated by the class of 7th and 8th graders at KIPP Central City in New Orleans.

Pic 1We were in front of this eager group thanks to a new program called Startup Effect, launched by newcomers to New Orleans, Billy Schrero & Mike Mayer, two Venture for America Fellows working with startups in the city.

Startup Effect is an after-school program designed to expose middle school students to real-world startups and inspire them to “Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!” the call and response mantra that Schrero and Mayer shout like coaches during the fast-paced afternoon session.

Lionel Milton is the creator of Mardi Brah, an iPhone football skills game set in the streets of New Orleans, and he had come on this day to get real product feedback from the students who were, in fact, the target audience for the game. The Mardi Brah challenge was prototyping and the students had been taught the importance of “play & refine” and once you design something, you have to test and evolve. The week prior, they had designed a stick figure drawing of a new character for Mardi Brah, and Lionel was here to turn it into a real character in the game, right before their eyes.

Pic 7

Lionel took the prototype the students had created and sketched the female character before digitalizing it and putting it up on a giant screen where the students could provide input and watch the prototyping process. The kids were mesmerized as Lionel constructed Tutti based on their input, carefully running through color choices and adding details like a hair bow and getting her eyes just so. By the time we got to the fireballs coming out of the trumpet-arms, the students had seen their vision executed and the prototype was ready for the game.

Startup Effect is a powerful new program on many levels. The students at KIPP Central City are being exposed to real companies and learning cutting edge startup thinking, and getting started early. The mantra keeps reminding the students that they have the opportunity to do anything they want, they just have to work at it.

Schrero and Mayer are going beyond their full-time positions as Venture for America Fellows with Staff Insight and Federated Sample in New Orleans. They’ve taken it to another level and decided to make an impact beyond just working hard and helping those companies succeed. They have build a program in Startup Effect that will positively impact students in New Orleans and is scalable across Venture for America cities.

It’s a virtuous cycle of paying it forward, and we’re fortunate to have Venture for America & Startup Effect in New Orleans.

Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!

Adjusting for Risk

Andrew Yang’s most recent Huffington Post article digs into how we get more of our most talented young people to embark on the high-risk, high-reward path to entrepreneurship and building businesses.

Check out the article below and subscribe to Andrew’s articles on the Huffington Post here!


Originally published by Huffington Post

Occasionally a company is born that creates immense value, generating hundreds of jobs and even transforming multiple communities. At Venture for America, we are looking to find the people who are capable of helping found or build these companies.

One reason why entrepreneurs are admired is that they often take on a degree of risk in launching a new business. There’s reputational risk; your name is on the line to your friends and family who know what you’re doing (and they really should know). Then there’s financial risk; at a minimum you’re devoting time with uncertain reward, and presumably forgoing some form of income and/or putting your own money in to get the business off the ground. If a business doesn’t achieve its goals, the founder(s) often experience significant personal consequences.

How do we increase the odds of individuals taking on the challenges of starting a new business?

One of the quandaries is that many of the people who would have the most to offer as a founder or inventor have other appealing options. Let’s say that you were to line up 100 brilliant 21-year-olds that might have the potential to start a company someday. You tell them, “Okay, you have two choices. You can commit to being an entrepreneur. There’s a 10 percent chance that you become extraordinarily successful, wealthy and create hundreds of jobs. There’s a 30 percent chance that you’re a modest success. And there’s a 60 percent chance that you toil in obscurity for years and have some good stories to tell. Alternatively, you can commit to a high-paying career at a well-regarded company, and there’s a 95 percent chance you’ll succeed by most conventional standards.”

What would the 100 brilliant 21-year olds do? Most of them would probably opt for the latter path, because they only have one outcome to consider — their own. They have one life to live, and with the first option, both the chances of failure and the consequences may come across as unacceptably high. These individuals have often been successful at whatever they’ve put their minds to up to this point, which may make taking on risks unappealing. Plus, their parents may have invested considerable resources getting them to this point, increasing the pressure to ensure a return.

What would happen if you were to line up the same 100 21-year olds and give them the same choice, but with this change: “You will all sign a contract that if you become an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur, you will share the financial and reputational rewards with the other 99 people here in this room by hiring as many of them for your venture as you can.” Would this change anything? Now, each person’s downside would be significantly reduced as long as someone in the cohort does extremely well. Taking on the risky path could become a much more reasonable bet for each as a result of the collective understanding.

One way to get more of our most talented young people to embark on the higher-risk, higher-reward path is to create a community and network. It might be a lot easier to take risks if you’re part of a group who will look out for one another.

Professional Services as a Training Ground

Recently, Huffington Post and Business Insider published an article by Andrew Yang on the “Professional Services as a Training Ground.” In the article, Andrew explores the pros and cons to the post-grad “Plan” many college seniors have, which is to spend a few years at a larger firm before leaving and joining a smaller company.

You can check out the article below, and if you would like to subscribe to Andrew Yang’s articles on the Huffington Post, you can do so here.


“Professional Services as a Training Ground” by Andrew Yang

One of the most frequent narratives I encounter in achievement-minded college seniors is a (very reasonable) plan to spend several years advancing professionally and getting trained (and paid) by an investment bank or consulting firm or law firm. Then, the thought process goes, one can set out to do something else with some exposure and experience under one’s belt. This mindset is reinforced by the intense recruitment culture at many schools.

I subscribed to a version of this mindset when I graduated from Brown back in the day. In my case, I went to law school thinking I’d practice law for a few years (and pay down my law school debt) before lining up another opportunity. I wound up working at the firm for less than six months before leaving to co-found a start-up.

My sense is that there are plusses and minuses to ‘the Plan.’ There are some immensely constructive things to be said about spending 2 – 3 years in professional services after graduating from college:

    1. Training. Professional service firms are designed to train large groups of recruits annually, and they do so very successfully. You will emerge with a set of skills that can be applied in other contexts (e.g., Excel modeling if you’re a financial analyst, Powerpoint if you’re a consultant, editing if you’re a lawyer). You also often develop domain expertise (e.g. you’ll work in a particular industry and so you become conversant with the firms in that field, etc.).

    2. High-level work product. If you spend time at a bank/consulting firm/law firm, you will become excellent at producing world-class work. Every model/report/presentation/contract needs to be sophisticated, professional, and error-free, in large part because that’s one of the core value propositions of your organization. The people above you will push you to become more rigorous and disciplined, and your work product will improve across the board as a result.

    3. Socialized professionally. After a couple of years in a professional setting you’ll get used to dressing presentably, preparing for meetings, speaking appropriately, showing up on time, writing professional correspondence, etc. You can speak corporate. You also become accustomed to working very long hours. These attributes are transferable to and helpful in many other contexts.

    4. Learn how large organizations work. If you work for a top professional service provider that is hired by big companies, you will grow to understand how successful corporations make decisions, organize themselves, adopt policies and procedures, purchase from suppliers, etc. You will also learn to be process-driven, which is necessary for most large organizations to function properly.*

    5. Confidence. If you spend a couple of years at a big-name firm, it gives you an acute sense of the sort of people that populate and succeed in these environments. They’re your friends and colleagues (and you, for as long as you’re there). Emerging from a firm gives you a sense that you’ve worked among some of the best in a field, and that you’re as capable as anyone else.

    6. Credentialing. Similarly, your experience at a big firm is a great signal to prospective employers and partners. It will give you a source of credibility with clients, investors, and anyone else you deal with for the rest of your career.

    7. Network. You will almost always leave a professional services environment with a few noteworthy friends and relationships. These contacts can prove to be extremely valuable both personally and professionally.

    8. Motivation (sometimes). Some people who come out of these firms are ideally motivated and hungry. They’ve seen the other side, and now they want to accomplish something and make a mark. They’re not afraid to work hard, and they’re determined to achieve something significant outside of their old context.

It’s a pretty impressive list, to be sure. It’s no wonder that so many recent graduates find these options so compelling. So what are the drawbacks, if any? After going to law school, practicing law briefly, working in start-ups for over a decade, running a GMAT prep company for 5+ years, and seeing any number of personal career paths play out, here are some potential considerations: 

    1. Different Process/Output. In professional service environments, the output is almost always analytical (e.g., a set of valuations for a company, a series of cost-cutting recommendations). Sometimes, an analysis can take months to generate, with a half-dozen people working on it for hundreds of hours. In the start-up setting and in most companies, the output is action-oriented. You need to be getting things done and making decisions, often with limited information. You need to hire people, devise and improve a product, get customers and drum up business, market yourself and the company, learn how to manage and lead a team (when they’re not all either analysts or support staff), allocate scarce resources, etc. For most companies, the value is in the execution. You pick a path and find out if you’re right in real-time, and then change approaches accordingly. Mistakes are acceptable if they’re the result of moving forward. You develop judgment and instincts around execution that are very different than what is sometimes jokingly called ‘analysis paralysis.’ It’s the difference between examining a company and operating it.

    2. Switching Costs. Much has been made about how companies struggle to innovate and challenge themselves if they have a business that is successful.** People function the same way. If you’re a young professional making $100k producing spreadsheets/analyses/recommendations, it’s extraordinarily difficult to then switch to doing something else where you’re starting from scratch. I’ve seen many people leave to try their hand in another arena (e.g., writing, starting a business, etc.) and get discouraged with their lack of pay or quick success, particularly when they’re competing with people who have been engaged in the new activity for years.

    3. Difficulty Identifying Opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, exciting companies are not generally reaching out to banking analysts/junior consultants/corporate lawyers with great opportunities. Start-ups, for example, often hire out of personal networks and people who are actively engaged in the start-up community. Headhunters are eager to place you at another investment bank/consulting firm/law firm, but they’re virtually always industry-specific (it’d be a tougher sell for them to try and help people switch, plus the commission would be smaller). This is exacerbated by the fact that, for many professionals, this is the first time they’ve had to engage in a conventional job search (most were recruited directly out of school). Many of them struggle. Sometimes people will find a promising opportunity, but often they grope unsuccessfully. Many wind up giving up and applying to business school.***

    4. Narrowed Focus and Competency. Professional service providers often become very good at their particular discipline at the expense of other capacities. The skills developed in finance/consulting/law are valuable in certain contexts, but most businesses revolve around some other central activity (e.g. retail, energy, tech, entertainment/media, etc.). Many professionals become specialized in certain types of roles (e.g., the number-cruncher/analyst/lawyer) and don’t have the chance to develop in ways that would make them more central to building or driving a business.

    5. Value Creation vs. Optimization. By the time a company can hire an investment bank or consulting firm, it generally has already reached a certain stage of development. You’re seeing mature organizations that are trying to do a deal (buy another company, go public, etc.) or optimize. Consequently, your exposure is well past the stages where much of the value gets created. You have limited exposure to what makes small organizations grow and succeed, as well as minimal experience executing with limited resources.

    6. Commitment/time-frame. The nature of professional services is that you’re typically working on a deal or a client engagement that lasts a brief period and then ends. You’re used to relationships measured in weeks or months (or even days, in the trading context). You’re also used to colleagues coming and going very quickly (e.g., the attrition rate at one top-tier consulting firm is 30% a year, one reason they’re always hiring). Companies, in contrast, typically rely upon long-term relationships to function well. They require a significant commitment, where the time frame is measured in years, not weeks or months. Turnover is detrimental to developing a good management team. Building up the value of one’s equity and relationships takes time.

    7. Relationship with Work. 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 care about a car you know 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. You’re there as a transaction cost because someone wants to get something done. You’re grease on a wheel. Your main motivation is to avoid looking bad to your superiors who may not expect you to stick around long-term because they’ve seen so many young people come and go.

    8. Appetite for Risk. One’s 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 1. The only people you interact with work at large public companies. Your expenses creep upward over time – you get used to nice things. Your interpersonal obligations mount. As you adapt to your role and circumstance, taking a risk professionally becomes more and more of an abstraction. 

In my view, professional services have become conflated with ‘business’ when really they’re a narrow subset/category of businesses. College seniors would often benefit from figuring out what their long-term aspirations are and then try to pursue them directly. In particular, going to banking or consulting to learn how to start or run a business is not ideal. It’s like trying to learn how to become a chef by going to a company that sells things to restaurants.

One of our goals with Venture for America is to introduce some of the benefits of professional services environments (e.g. training, strong work product, socialization, credentialing, network, etc.) while enabling some of our best and brightest to take risks and become action-oriented builders from the beginning of their careers. At a minimum, they’ll have 2 years of seeing how early-stage businesses perform from the ground floor. Entrepreneurship is something you get better at over time, and an early start can make a big difference.

I also hope that Venture for America can represent part of a more genuine range of choices for our talented young people to start their careers and develop professionally. What they do should be more than a function of which organizations and industries have the highest levels of resources to recruit.

  • *Professor Gregg Fairbrothers, Director of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, made this observation and shared it with me. Great guy – Dartmouth students are lucky to have him.
  • **The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen spells this out in complete and compelling detail.
  • *** The average post-MBA job tenure is less than two years, and the same types of firms recruit the second time around.

Tony Hsieh and Las Vegas

We had the privilege of heading to Las Vegas earlier this week to meet with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, and his team Fred Mossler, Zachary Ware, Arun Rajan, Connie Yeh, and Don Welch. As one of the many people who have read Tony’s book ‘Delivering Happiness’, I had been looking forward to the meeting for some time.

After seeing them in action, it’s impossible not to be blown away both by what Tony and his team have accomplished and what they are now undertaking. Zappos’s almost 2,000 employees are scheduled to move downtown into the old City Hall next year, but that’s just the beginning. Don and Zach are looking to incubate and launch more than 100 small businesses in downtown Las Vegas in the next several years to help build a thriving residential and business community. They’ve already occupied a floor of a beautiful downtown apartment building, the Ogden, with Tony and the team moving in. Tony has put out the word to everyone at Zappos that if someone is passionate about a business they would like to start downtown, let him and Fred know. The Zappos employee who picked us up at the hotel discussed meeting with colleagues and brainstorming in his spare time.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the vision is its comprehensiveness and scope. Connie Yeh is tasked with building a new school downtown that re-envisions what a school would look like if you were to design one from scratch today (Hint: they admire the Khan Academy). Tony recently bought First Fridays, a non-profit arts festival that takes place downtown because they wanted to see it continue and take it to the next level to enliven the area. They are considering buying the local minor league baseball team – its stadium could soon accommodate Zappos employees on a regular basis. It’s all part of the Downtown Development project that has been christened “Sin City to Sim City” with good reason.

If virtually anyone were to tackle such a wide-ranging set of initiatives simultaneously, you’d have a hard time envisioning it. But having visited Zappos, you begin to see what is possible. Tony and his team have built a billion-dollar company by embracing people’s individual capacities and empowering them to express themselves. Tony, Fred, Zach, Connie and Don are clearly motivated and committed in the best of ways and bring a wealth of resources to the table. It’s hard to imagine a more fertile environment for breaking past molds and building a community from the ground-up.

Tony and Zach define their roles as gathering passionate people together and supporting them. There’s going to be a transformation in downtown Las Vegas in the next several years. And it’s open to anyone who wants to join in.

Visiting Detroit: Fact and Fiction

Guest Blog post by one of the first 2012 Venture for America Fellows, Derek Turner:

Detroit is the protagonist of two diverging stories presented by the media. In the first, the city plays the role of the tragic hero—a once-great entity now downtrodden and defeated, slowly letting out its final, labored breathes. In the second, Detroit is the vigorous underdog, coming to terms with its troubled past (and present) while striving boldly into the future among a chorus of nay-saying, seeking glory in the unknown.

I flew to Detroit for a weekend to understand which of these stories has a claim to reality, and I am convinced it is the latter.

My name is Derek – I’m a senior at Columbia University, a native Arizonan, and a person who pursues adventure when I see it. This past winter, when a friend visited the city and witnessed its distressed state, Detroit captured my attention. I could not shake the image of a city drained of inhabitants, with empty skyscrapers and vacant streets, yearning for cultivation and innovation. Like a slate made blank again, the city sounded like it was begging for someone to have the courage to write its new story—to paint its new future.

Perhaps it’s my Southwestern, frontier-minded roots, but I was utterly intrigued. I needed to see the place for myself. The first weekend in November happened to be a long weekend and I decided to check it out. Though I didn’t know anyone in Detroit, I had to see if the city was really playing host to young people with huge visions of entrepreneurship, industry, and revitalization. Armed with a couple contacts from VFA’s generous President Andrew Yang, I got on a plane to the Motor City.

Driving into the city, the more pessimistic version of Detroit’s story seems the more credible. On the blocks that aren’t barren of buildings, there are boarded-up windows, sagging porches, and dilapidated homes. And that’s before the Michigan Central Station—that empty icon of blight—comes into view. The city is definitely hurting, and every abandoned building adds to the chorus of despair.

But as they say, looks can be deceiving—and in Detroit they certainly are. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find what I found: a small but incredibly passionate community of individuals who have dedicated their work to bringing the city back from the brink. Over the course of the weekend, I was invited to meet with people like Jake Cohen, Vice President of Detroit Venture Partners, and Dan Izzo, the Training and Launch Chief of Bizdom U, an incubator.

People like Jake and Dan don’t cover up the reality of Detroit. They don’t dress up and explain away the bleakness. No—instead they outline how this moment of vulnerability for the city is the perfect fodder for greatness. And it’s not all talk—in the same breath they point to massive building renovations, successful startups, and big business transplants to downtown that have already happened. To them, Detroit’s best days lie ahead, and with enough work they will turn the bitter soil of today into old-school American prosperity tomorrow.

Of course, the work will be long and success isn’t guaranteed. To bring a city like Detroit back to health is a generational endeavor, but they’ve already made progress and they have the energy necessary to go in for the long haul. With some help from other dedicated people who are committed to giving Detroit sustained success, the vision really could materialize. They sound a little crazy, but what pioneer ever sounded sane?

Spend a couple minutes talking with the community behind the appearance and you will find that Detroit is ripe for progress. That’s why Venture for America is so exciting to me—a couple dozen Fellows could be trailblazers into this prosperous future. Detroit is on the starting block, not the chopping block, and it just needs some people to work for and believe in its success. In Venture for America, Detroit may have found its most promising advocate. I can’t wait to see how that second story—the story of optimism and glory—pushes out the nay-sayers. When it does, VFA Fellows will be leading the charge.

Carpe Diem: Venture for America

By Guest Blogger- Gen Furukawa, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell

College campuses have an abundance of interesting references to ancient Roman history, through the architectural styles, the study of Roman philosophy, even the mottoes that define the schools (my alma mater is In deo speramus). Yet even after studying Latin for seven years, as an undergraduate student I failed to understand the true meaning of a simple phrase: Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Sure, I knew that I would eventually Seize the Day, but only after working “at a real job” for a few years.

I saw any delay in employment after graduation as a chasm between me and my peers. I can’t turn back time, but I can get a second chance. I am now in business school, which has provided me the chance to hit the figurative “Reset” button. I promised myself that I would maximize all privileges that came with my student status to “become an entrepreneur.”

After graduating from Brown University in 2004, I got swept up with the galloping herd of newly minted graduates and believed that I needed a job ASAP in order to validate my college degree. So I obligingly paid my dues in a corporate job, plotted out my career trajectory, and quickly saw with frightening clarity how my future could play out for the next thirty years if I didn’t veer off the corporate path. I loved watching the action at Dunder Mifflin, but didn’t want to spend my life in The Office.

So I realized from my first days as a business school student at The Johnson School at Cornell that the experience would be a sprint from start to finish. The ultimate goal: start a business before I graduate. As an undergrad, I missed the opportunity to explore the wealth of resources readily available to entrepreneurial students, and I wanted a sip of the startup kool-aid too. Despite warnings of a Cornell contagion called FOMO (an acronym for “Fear of Missing Out”), I was going to do everything I could that included “Entrepreneurship” in the title.

Business school has helped me solidify a foundation (at least academically) to start a business when that time does come. And I have weaved my way into the epicenter of the startup community at Cornell, which is pulsing with entrepreneurial energies everywhere. I have immersed myself in the community in a number of ways: MBA Fellow for Entrepreneuership@Cornell, where we are building a mobile app to help students, alumni, and faculty network and engage with fellow Cornell entrepreneurs; eLab Fellow, where I mentor and help undergraduate entrepreneurs at Cornell’s incubator; a VP of the Entrepreneurship Club, where I organize weekly University-wide events and treks to NYC; and Teaching Assistant for several entrepreneurship-related classes. These are all fulfilling activities that have exposed me to the dynamic nature of entrepreneurs that I love.

Venture for America is the first innovative program that captures this vibrant entrepreneurial spirit of college campuses and translates it into a program that helps recent graduates create immediate value in their organization and impacts communities, cities, and America in a very tangible way. I wish that something like this existed when I was an ambitious undergrad looking for a small nudge in the right direction. Venture for America combines the vision for a better world that resounds so loudly with many young Americans, and infuses the self-empowering nature of entrepreneurship. The result: the realization that we can shape our own future. Now. Carpe Diem!

For anyone who can attend, come learn more about Venture for America when Founder & President Andrew Yang visits Cornell on Tuesday, November 15th. Event details can he found here:

http://on.fb.me/cornellvfa2

Contact Gen at gwf36 [at] cornell.edu or on Twitter @genfurukawa

Guest Blogger- Taylor Fleming, Colgate University

Venture for America is excited to feature guest blogger Taylor Fleming. Taylor is a junior at Colgate University, majoring in English with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies:

As the semester rolls along, many Colgate seniors are beginning to wonder about their future plans. Andrew Yang, graduate of the Brown University class of 1996, found himself, only a few years back, in the same boat. After graduation he practiced law for a bit and even got a job as a CEO of Manhattan GMAT. Yet, during his time at Manhattan GMAT he found a common trend among the recent college graduates he encountered. Grads had major interest in the work force and specifically in entrepreneurship. Like young Colgate graduates and students, these grads all had what Yang characterized as “pent up energy” but no where to use it. At the same time, new and eager venture capitalist firms and entrepreneurship startups seemed to have trouble finding a way to connect to the desirable candidates for their open positions.

The need for a connection between the two appeared essential to Yang. This idea, complied with many months, a lot of hard work and what Yang refers to as “a long story,” created Venture for America. The organization, which will launch into action in June 2012, is the construction of a bridge between hiring startup companies and hard-working graduates. Modeled after Teach for America, Venture for America aims at placing eager college graduates in low-cost cities where they can work with and for startup companies. Venture for America hopes that the work at the companies will spark business, create more jobs and help improve the economies of these cities.

Those who are accepted into Venture for America will spend two years in the program. The experience will begins at Yang’s alma mater, Brown University. Fellows will spend five weeks on campus training for the next two years in the “Venture Fellow Summer Institute.” At the Institute, fellows will experience all the hands on technological training necessary for placement in the low-cost cities. They will also have the chance to study and discuss entrepreneurship with successful professionals and investors who have seen it all.

After the institute, Venture for America provides a two-year assignment in groups of ten to twelve at a startup company in a city, such as Providence, Detroit or New Orleans. Yang believes that the assignment ensures that the fellow works in that city “doing what that city needs.” The companies that they are assigned to are ones with great potential and varying interests. Among those involved, Detroit Venture Partners is the largest early-stage company. The company, founded by the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, describes the group as “street fighters [who] are willing to get down and dirty with our entrepreneurs in order to drive results.” Other companies deal with sustainability and renewable energy sources. At every company, fellows will earn a full salary and health benefits. The Venture for American website, ventureforamerica.org, estimates the salary in the range of $32,000-$38,000.

While at work over the two years, fellows will meet twice a week to confer about their experiences and assignments. The first year concludes with an ‘Intermission,’ or debriefing convention between all the fellows. At the end of the two years, one student, who is selected as the best performing fellow of the class, will be awarded $100,000 to either finance the fellow’s current company or a new company, which the fellow will found or co-found.

For graduates of Colgate University, Venture for America is an amazing opportunity. Applicants do not need a certain major and might even benefit from their background in liberal arts. Venture for America is a young company, and they are looking for people who mesh well with their program. The recent Colgate grad, from the year 2012 or earlier, embodies the description that Yang, founder and now president of Venture for America, depicts for ideal candidates. “We need our best and brightest,” he said. And they are well on their way. The organization, which is in its first year, already has over 700 applicants, but they, “hope to get more.”

In fact, they are so hopeful that Venture for America personally contacted Colgate University to seek more applicants. Yang and his entire staff at Venture for America believes in placing, “people with ambition and ability into places where they can stimulate careers,” and ultimately, help, “the country begin to grow again economically.” And they reached out to Colgate University as a perfect place to obtain the people to fill these roles. If Colgate students have any questions, they are encouraged to visit the VFA website at ventureforamerica.org. Applications are due by two different deadlines, November 28th, 2011 or February 15th, 2012, both for the session beginning in June 2012. The application is available on their website at ventureforamerica.org/apply.