VFA Founder & Board Member featured on Forbes.com


Venture for America’s founder Andrew Yang, and board member/inspiration Charlie Kroll of Andera are featured on Forbes.com today!  Entitled “An Entrepreneur’s Big Idea to Boost Struggling Cities,” it’s a tale of how Andrew and Charlie’s search for fulfilling and exciting careers led them to entreprenurship and to getting involved with VFA.  The article includes nods to some of our wonderful 2012 Fellows (check out their bios to see if you can guess who:).  There are a couple little mistakes – the city of Detroit is not, in fact, paying for Fellow housing, and our fellows are going to be doing a lot more than just making phone calls and getting office supplies – they’re going to be building products and businesses!  Follow this link to read this great piece written by Forbes entrepreneurship reporter Helen Coster. 

WSJ – For Grads Seeking to Work and Do Good




For Grads Seeking to Work and Do Good


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.”

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.

Introducing Venture for America – How to Create 100,000 Jobs

When a company has a serious problem, it sends its best people to solve it.

Right now our country has a serious problem – we need to create more jobs. And yet, our top college graduates are often not heading to innovative start-ups and early stage companies that will generate jobs and produce new industries. In 2010 over 50% of Harvard graduates went to work in financial services, management consulting, or to law school, with fewer than 15% going to industry, which includes companies big and small. The same picture holds true at other top college campuses.

Despite the numbers, many graduating seniors would have a strong interest in working for a start-up that had the potential to grow. It’s an ambition that’s commonly expressed among students. But there are significant obstacles for a senior looking to pursue this sort of opportunity:

1. They are not actively recruited. Start-ups often lack the resources to interview and recruit on-campus, particularly because they are generally only looking for a small number of entry-level hires.
2. It’s hard to find a suitable company. It’s difficult, and a departure from past experience, for a college senior to network and do the legwork necessary to find and identify suitable start-ups that might be hiring around the country.
3. You’re on your own. Many seniors learn about opportunities or on-campus interviews from career services or classmates. Dozens of your peers generally aren’t heading to start-ups to give you guidance.
4. It’s potentially risky. Even if you’ve identified a start-up and it wants to hire you, there may be concern about the risk involved, particularly as there may not be a structured path of advancement or training relative to a more conventional position or program.

One compelling illustration of what can happen when you address these issues is Teach for America, which last year drew 46,000 applicants for 4,500 teaching positions, including 12% of Ivy League seniors applying. Teach for America is a role model in its success in attracting a critical mass of talent to an underserved sector.

We must make it easier for our top graduates to choose to join promising start-ups and early-stage companies. Only then will we seed the wellspring of innovation that will enable us to create the thousands of jobs we need and keep our economy competitive.

I have spent the last several months traveling to Detroit, Providence, New Orleans, and other cities and found dozens of promising companies that are all hungry for talent. There’s a supply and a demand – we just need to connect the two sides.

Venture for America is a new national non-profit that will recruit top college graduates to work in start-ups and early-stage companies around the country with a focus on regions undergoing economic change (e.g., Detroit, New Orleans, Providence). Venture Fellows will attend a 5-week Training Institute at Brown University with seasoned entrepreneurs and investors next summer before going to work at their companies. The goal is to funnel a new generation of talent into the start-up ecosystem to both support current companies and, over time, create new ones. Our stated goal is to generate 100,000 U.S. jobs by 2025.

If we provide a concrete runway to our best and brightest to create opportunities for themselves and others, they will embrace the challenge and renew our nation’s economic future.