Ivy League senior Ethan Carlson recently turned down a job with a global-energy consulting practice and instead pledged to spend two years working for an entrepreneur, perhaps with a focus on renewable energy, in a struggling U.S. city.
“I want to make an impact not only on myself, my career and my finances, but also society around me, and my local community,” the 21-year-old mechanical-engineering major at Yale University says.
The project he plans to join, Venture for America, was founded by Andrew Yang, the former chief executive of Manhattan GMAT, a test-preparation company acquired in 2009 by Kaplan, a Washington Post Co.
Venture for America says it was inspired by Teach for America, which places recent college graduates at schools in low-income communities for two years. This summer its first crop of about 50 “fellows” will be placed at small businesses such as Drop the Chalk, an education-software firm in New Orleans, and Andera Inc., an online-account-opening firm in Providence, R.I.
The companies will pay participants $32,000 to $38,000 a year, plus health benefits. The program includes a five-week program at Brown University that mimics training for consulting and investment banking.
Firms with fewer than 500 employees created about 65% of the nation’s net new jobs, or jobs created minus jobs eliminated, according to the most recent Small Business Administration data.
The goal of the program, Mr. Yang says, is to help start-ups and early-stage businesses get off the ground, and its target is to create 100,000 jobs by 2025. The program has drawn commitments to donate services and about $500,000 in cash, he says.
Mr. Yang believes there is a disconnect between small businesses seeking to hire successful college graduates capable of wearing many hats, and graduates, like Mr. Carlson, who want to learn about the basics of starting a new company.
Fifty-four percent of the nation’s 18-to-34-year-olds either want to start a business or have already started one, according to a survey by the Young Invincibles, a group focusing on young entrepreneurship, that was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a research group.
Some of the struggling cities selected by the program have burgeoning start-up scenes but still need talent. Cincinnati, for instance, has a fairly vibrant consumer marketing and branding industry, partly because Procter & Gamble Co. and Kroger Co. are based there.At Andera, the participating fellow will be expected to work as part of a team to conceptualize a new product and to create a business case for it, says Charlie Kroll, the company’s founder and chief executive officer.
The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a nonprofit strategy and research organization based in Boston, Mass., estimates that 460,000 U.S. businesses are located in inner cities.
Jen Medbery, founder and CEO of Drop the Chalk, says the program will serve as a “professional recruiting firm, picking the best and brightest from the top colleges and making it affordable for me to hire and mentor them.”