NextGen Journal Features VFA Fellows

NextGen Journal, a “website for the next generation,” is run by a team of college students from around the nation. Every week, the website will feature a fellow from the Venture for America Class of 2012 in its “Future Entrepreneurs” series. If you haven’t already, check out the articles below!

In week one, NextGen Journal featured Chelsea Koglmeier, a VFA fellow who recently graduated from Duke with a degree in Public Policy. Read the article to find out what Chelsea thought of the first ever VFA Training Camp and see why she’s so excited to join The Brandery in Cincinnati.

Future Entrepreneurs: Chelsea Koglmeier Joins The Brandery


Next, the series featured Brian Rudolph of Emory University, who seemed destined to become an entrepreneur since the days of selling candy from his middle school locker. In the feature, Brian discusses founding his own music website in college and why he’s looking forward to working for Detroit startup Quikkly.

Future Entrepreneurs: Brian Rudolph Joins Quikkly


Then last week, MIT grad Kathy Cheng explained that after a service trip to Calcutta, India, she realized enterprise in the U.S. is just as important as it is abroad. According to Kathy, her job at Doodle Home in Detroit is the perfect way to combine her creative side and business analytical side.

Future Entrepreneurs: Kathy Cheng Joins Doodle Home


So who’s it going to be this week? Don’t forget to keep up with NextGen Journal to find out!

VFA Newsletter: Time Article, New Fellows and June Event



There’s a lot going on here at VFA! Check out our most recent newsletter below for more info on our recent press, the newest additions to our Fellow Class of 2012, and our Summer Celebration fundraising event in June:

April 2012 Venture for America Newsletter

If you don’t currently receive the newsletter and would like to stay up to date on what’s happening at VFA, just submit your e-mail address under the “Keep in Touch with VFA!” section to the right. 

The Brown Daily Herald- Alum offers grads new ventures in Providence

By Ashley Aydin, Staff Writer

Published on: Thursday, September 15, 2011

It’s usually a bad sign when a city finds itself in the company of Detroit and New Orleans — but not always. Providence joins its woebegone sisters in playing host to Venture for America, an entrepreneurship program founded by Andrew Yang ’96.

The program, launched in July, is a nonprofit that seeks to create jobs in economically struggling cities, provide entrepreneurship experience to college graduates and help graduates join start-ups in locations around the country.

“We want to provide a runway for people who have entrepreneurial aspirations and encourage them to fulfill those aspirations,” Yang said.

Venture for America places entrepreneurs in what the organization calls “lower-cost cities” — Detroit, New Orleans and Providence.

These cities represent the “new American frontier,” Yang said. “Each of these cities has a hub for thriving start-ups so that graduates can continue their growth and development,” he said.

Doug Ulman ’99, president and CEO of Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation and a Venture for America advisory board member, said he was moved by Yang’s business model. “He’s focusing on cities that can use the type of influx of youth and excitement,” he said. “I think there are a lot of cities in this country that are not considered hotbeds of entrepreneurial activity. So, there’s so much opportunity for seasoned entrepreneurs to have a huge impact there.”

Yang, who double concentrated in economics and political science, was inspired to start Venture for America when he met Charlie Kroll ’01, president and CEO of Andera, a financial services company.

“I thought if we were to have more talented graduates starting businesses like Charlie, it would great,” Yang said. “That’s what the country needs — more entrepreneurs.”

At Columbia Law School, he “saw a number of bright college grads that went down a particular path that didn’t really fulfill their needs as they hoped or anticipated.” But starting your own company is by no means easy. Yang’s first venture — which he started at 25 — failed. It was difficult starting a company while also focusing on management and professional development, he said.

“It’s hard to get into a start-up when you’re fresh out of school,” Ulman said. Giving young entrepreneurs a “two-year experience in the trenches” will inform their future business ventures.

Venture For America can “help build the bridge between enterprising college grads who want to learn how to be entrepreneurs and start-up businesses that need talent to continue to grow,” Yang said. 

Benefits of the program

Responsibilities of the fellowship include “developing materials, planning and executing placement initiatives, visiting and evaluating prospective start-up companies, interfacing with senior leadership at dozens of start-ups around the country and intensive relationship management,” according to the organization’s website. Venture for America is only hiring 50 fellows in its inaugural year.

“I think that the skills that they can obtain are practical ones,” said Tina Imm ’97, General Manager of Time Inc’s lifestyle group and a member of Venture for America’s entrepreneur board. “In start-ups, you get your hands dirty in a variety of things. You’re the intern getting coffee, and you’re also the CEO making decisions.”

Parker Brown ’12, a public policy concentrator, is interested in pursuing a fellowship after graduation. “You’re working for a start-up, and that can lead to anything,” he said.  

 Brown said Venture for America’s leadership also sparked his interest.

“I really admire the people who head the organization. They’ve done amazing things,” he said.

Brown, who is applying to the program, said he is most interested in using entrepreneurship as a vehicle for innovation.

“Finding more efficient and socially beneficial ways to do things and finding new ways to contribute to society — it’s very personal when you start your venture. I think you’re really invested in what you’re doing,” he said.

Tim Dingman, a fifth-year masters student in electrical engineering, said he first became interested in entrepreneurship while working on the planning committee for Better World by Design, a three-day design conference run by Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students.

“It taught me the performance of distributive innovation,” he said. “Venture for America’s purpose is to funnel people into that network of distributive innovators.”

The fellowship offers a number of benefits to its fellows. Salary includes $50,000 per year plus a bonus of up to $10,000 in the fellow’s first year, as well as medical benefits, a three-week paid vacation and the opportunity to build entrepreneurial experience. Once they have completed their fellowships, fellows can also enter a competition to win $100,000 in seed money for their own ventures.

Entrepreneurship at Brown

With courses like ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations” and an open curriculum, Brown’s academic offerings piqued the entrepreneurial interest of many of Venture for America’s board members.

“I think that Brown in many ways is a fantastic environment for training entrepreneurs,” Yang said. “I may not have gone down this particular path if not for my time at Brown.”

Ulman said Brown is not a university that people think of when start-ups come to mind, but students here are “so creative and innovative, and so many folks from Brown are interested in social change.”

Brown attracts a special type of person, Imm said. “There’s so much talent there,” she said. “You want to be successful and succeed, but not in a cookie-cutter way.” 

Equipped for the future

All of Venture for America’s fellows will be well-positioned to start their own ventures once they have completed the program, Yang said.  

Yang recommended that young entrepreneurs seek out mentors. “You can certainly learn by doing, but it is tremendously helpful to have someone who has gone through it before to tell you what to expect.”

Dingman stressed the importance of networks. “From what I’ve seen and read about and studied, building networks is the best way to build the thing you want,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have the best credentials in the world. It’s easy for someone to say, ‘Oh, there’s someone else like him out there.'”

Having a strong vision is one of the most important aspects of being an entrepreneur, Imm said. “It’s about patience and persistence, and keeping at your vision,” she said. “You have to be like the energizer bunny and just keep going and going and going.”

VFA Note: Fellows salaries will range from $32,000-38,000 +benefits, instead of “$50,000 per year plus a bonus of up to $10,000 in the fellow’s first year, as well as medical benefits, a three-week paid vacation…” as stated. Also, all fellows participating in the fellowship have the opportunity to be awarded the 100k seed money and will be judged throughout the fellowship experience based on criteria given in advance.

Alums Who Do Cool Things (and a future career for you): Andrew Yang ‘96, President of Venture for America

From The Brown Daily Herald Blog, By: Jenny Bloom

Eager overachievers heading into inner-city classrooms – it’s been done.  Eager overachievers heading into some of America’s most struggling cities, including Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence, to create jobs – fresh meat.  Venture for America forges a liaison between college graduates, the start-up community, and distressed economies by placing young fellows in high-unemployment cities.  With the charge of creating organizations and expanding employment infrastructure, the organization hopes to create 100,000 domestic jobs by 2025.  The organization president, Andrew Yang ’96 (economics concentrator), took some time to speak with BlogDH.

What inspired you to start Venture for America?  How did you get the idea?  I’ve encountered hundreds of enterprising recent college graduates who wanted to get into start-ups but didn’t know where to start.  Yet, when I was running a company I was always looking to hire good young talent and had a hard time finding it.  I realized that there was a structural issue around start-up recruiting – if we made it easier to work for start-ups and provided a support system, many more graduates would take advantage of the opportunity.

How did you develop the model for VFA? Do you have any association with Wendy Kopp or Teach for America?  We’re certainly inspired by what Teach for America has accomplished.  Several of my recent colleagues were Teach for America corps members, and I saw what a profound impact TFA had on their careers.  One of our Board members is the former President of Teach for America, but we don’t have any official relationship beyond that.

Can you tell us more about the inaugural Training Institute in Summer 2012 at Brown?  It lasts for 5 weeks, and over 30 experienced venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have already agreed to speak at the Training Institute.  We’re focused on conveying concrete skills that will allow the Fellows to contribute at a start-up from Day 1.  It will be quite intense.

What support and training are given to VFA fellows prior to starting their jobs?  In addition to the Training Institute, VFA Fellows will be part of a strong community – each will be living in a city with 10 or more other Fellows.  Programming continues throughout the 2 years, as the Fellows will meet online every two weeks to discuss their experiences and various assigned readings.  Also, there will be an in-person monthly event in each city hosted by a different entrepreneur or company.

Do applicants need any prior experience?  Applicants need the talent, drive, and skills to be useful to an early stage company, but work experience isn’t required.

How did you go about executing this vision and recruiting financial support as well as assembling a board of directors?  I’m very fortunate in that, having been an entrepreneur for the last 11 years, I’d developed a network that helped get VFA off the ground.  Also, people find the mission of Venture for America compelling, as everyone wants to see our economy generate more jobs and help start-up companies succeed.

How did you pick your target cities?  We were drawn to cities that we believe represent the new American frontier, where there are entrepreneurs who are developing businesses that had an opportunity to grow.  I obviously had an attachment to Providence, given my time at Brown.

What advice do you have for student entrepreneurs interested in a start-up?  In my experience, the best way to put yourself in position to start a company is to support another more established entrepreneur first.  You’ll get a lot of exposure, gain some skills, and begin building a network that will help you if and when you decide to go out on your own.

What was your favorite class at Brown?  Engineering 09 with Professor Hazeltine was up there!  I also enjoyed Labor Economics and Ethics and Public Policy with Professor Cheit. I learned a lot in those classes.

Is there anything else you went to tell us, either about your experience at Brown or after graduation, or your company, Venture for America?   In my view, Brown is a natural training ground for entrepreneurship given its emphasis on intellectual freedom and creativity.  Several of my friends from Brown started companies at various points.  I hope that Venture for America provides a runway for at least a handful of Brown graduates to fulfill their start-up aspirations.

Andrew Yang will be on campus Tuesday, September 13 for two events.  He will be at a Brown Career Services Info Session from 12-1:30pm (@ Career Services on Angell St.) and speaking to The Entrepreneurship Program and Brown Investment Group from 5-6pm (location TBD).

Note from Venture for America: The Brown Entrepreneurship Program and Brown Investment Group event will be held in Wilson 101!

New Program Leads Grads to Start-Ups


Almost one in three students from the Class of 2011 working for pay this year will take jobs in the financial services or consulting sectors, according to Senior Surveys conducted by the Office of Career Services last spring.

It’s a statistic that embodies the extent to which Harvard students gravitate towards high-profile and high-paying jobs.

Now a group of entrepreneurs are looking to give students another option.

Drawing lessons from the successful Teach for America program that sends college graduates into classrooms across the country, the new program—Venture for America—will connect graduates with start-up companies.

The program, whose board includes a number of Harvard alumni and professors, will give 50 hopeful entrepreneurs two-year jobs at 50 separate start-ups beginning next summer.

The arrangement is “win-win-win,” said VFA’s founder Andrew Yang. College graduates will gain coveted entrepreneurial experience, while start-ups without the recruiting resources of larger companies will be able to entice the country’s best and brightest, he said. And by sending students to start-ups in three “low-cost” cities—Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence—program organizers also hope to foster community development.

“We think that there are hundreds of seniors who very badly want to learn how to start a business, but those ambitions are difficult to fulfill on your own,” Yang said.

The program is gaining momentum. Although its formal recruiting process has not begun, more than 400 students from schools across the country have submitted applications.

Yang hopes VFA will become a “runway” for students interested in entrepreneurship. Following a three-round application process that includes a written application, phone interview, and trip to New York, each selected “fellow” will receive five weeks of training at Brown University.

Participants will be matched with 1 of 50 partner start-ups and will receive normal employment benefits and an annual salary of approximately $35,000.

Gaibrielle A. Bryant ’12, a Detroit native who has already applied to VFA, said the program is more than an internship.

“This is a job that you have for two years,” she said.

And for one talented fellow per class, there is an extra reward at the end of the program: $100,000 in feed investment to start his or her own business.

Jinzhao Wang ’14, co-president of the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum, said this incentive is an important aspect of what makes VFA innovative.

“VFA will give people the satisfactory feeling that they are doing something good—but they are making this opportunity just as economically satisfying as other opportunities,” she said.

HCEF is coordinating with VFA to organize a recruitment event on campus early in the fall.

Chris S. Paik ’09, a member of VFA’s Board, said he thinks VFA’s message is a particularly important one for the Harvard community, which is generally very “risk-averse.”

Calling the financial services “prestigious, well paying, safe,” and “logical,” he acknowledged that starting a business means accepting a high rate of failure—an idea that Harvard students may have trouble taking to heart, he said.

“If you get it right, you’re Mark Zuckerberg, and if you get it wrong, you live in your parents’ garage for the rest of your life,” he said.

But Paik hopes that VFA can gain the prestige of TFA—and start to eliminate the stigma of risk Harvard students associate with entrepreneurship.

—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at

Crain’s Detroit Business- Conduit to college grads

Conduit to college grads

Venture For America to link talent with Detroit businesses

By Jon Zemke

Venture For America, an entrepreneurial concept that borrows the concepts of Teach For America, plans to launch out of Detroit next year, a move that seeks to attract another pipeline of talented college graduates to the Motor City. The New York City-based nonprofit will pair recent college graduates with startups in Detroit and Providence, R.I., in its first class of fellows. The programs will provide young people with a job for two years and local businesses with top talent.

Andrew Yang, founder and president of Venture For America, chose Detroit not just because of its economic challenges but also because of the growing number of people working to reinvent the local economy. “Detroit is a hotbed of entrepreneurship,” Yang said. “There are limitless opportunities to make an individual mark or career here. … A lot of our success in Detroit is based on all the people who are already doing amazing things here.” Yang, 36, is an entrepreneur himself, taking part in four startups to date. The last, Manhattan GMAT, he served as CEO until the test prep company was acquired by Kaplan Inc. at the end of 2009. The Brown University graduate wants to make similar opportunities available to high-performing college graduates who want to build companies but aren’t sure where to start.

Venture For America will provide that portal, mirroring Teach For America’s model of signing up top college graduates to spend two years teaching in challenged school districts. The idea is to introduce a potential career in teaching to some members of the next generation of movers and shakers who might otherwise never consider it.
Venture For America has already rounded up a number of big names as partners for its Detroit launch, including O’Connor Real Estate and Development founder Ryan Cooley, Bizdom U and the New Economy Initiative.

Teach For America’s model has proved immensely popular. The nonprofit is the No. 1 employer of college graduates in the U.S. About 48,000 college graduates applied for Teach For America 5,200 positions in 2011. Among those applicants are 12 percent of the seniors from Ivy League schools and 8 percent of the University of Michigan‘s graduating class. To Yang, this shows young people want to make a difference.

“There is this supply of young people who desperately want to get into startups and build businesses and create jobs,” Yang said. “On the other hand, there are these businesses that would love to have that sort of talent working for them. Venture For America is going to build a bridge between those two groups.” Venture For America also promises to become one more piece of the puzzle to slowing the brain drain in both Detroit and Michigan. Programs like Teach For America and City Year Detroit already send hundreds of recent college graduates into the city and surrounding suburbs to help improve the region’s quality of life. These programs also give participants the opportunity to plant roots and improve their perception about a place they might otherwise avoid.

“All of these activities to create opportunities for young professionals to live and work in Detroit are wonderful,” said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future Inc., an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit. “It begins to change the equation about the city and the region for attracting talent.” To Glazer, young people and immigrants are essential to the city’s future viability. “Having young talent settle in Detroit instead of Chicago and Seattle is essential to the survival of the city,” he said.

Adrian Walker is one of those local entrepreneurs who would love to take advantage of some of Venture For America’s talent portal. The 20-something UM graduate started First Element Entertainment, a film, animation and mobile technology firm, three years ago. The six-person startup recently began participating in the Detroit Creative Corridor Creative Ventures Acceleration Program. For Walker, providing jobs for Venture For America fellows is a no-brainer for local small businesses. “Every single startup and entrepreneur would happily accept talented young grads,” said Walker, CEO of First Element. “That’s what we’re looking for. We all have job fairs on our calendars for the fall, but Venture For America promises to make it much more fluid.”

Josh Linkner, CEO of Detroit Venture Partners, a downtown Detroit-based venture capital firm, added that startups in his company’s portfolio would happily take as many as 20 Venture For America fellows in its first year. It’s important to provide support for entrepreneurs, Linkner said, because otherwise concerns about debt and risk aversion might drive ambitious people fresh out of business school to take the safe way out.  “So often what happens is talented people take a big job at a big company,” Linkner said. “Many of them look back at that decision 30 years later with regret.”

Randal Charlton, executive director of TechTown, also sees the potential in Venture For America. The business accelerator plans to leverage Venture’s talent pipeline for its startups. “To have pre-screened, high-performing college graduates working with our companies for two years would be an enormous help,” he said.  Jonathon Triest, 29, managing partner of Ludlow Ventures, which is moving to the Madison Theatre Building in Detroit this fall, said he is a fan of Venture For America and expects big things from it. Ludlow, an early stage venture capital firm, has 12 tech startups in its portfolio, such as and, and expects to have 15 by the end of the quarter.  “It’s extremely valuable for both parties, especially in a city like Detroit where we are trying to create jobs,” Triest said. “The entrepreneurial spirit is one of the most contagious things I can think of.”