Message to All VFA Applicants

Thank you for considering applying to become a Venture for America Fellow. Your interest says a fair amount about you as a person– enterprising, motivated, and looking to have an impact.

My belief in you and the potential of our country’s best and brightest is why I founded Venture for America. I know that what makes the biggest difference on the ground is having the right combination of people. A core group of smart, energized individuals has been behind every success story, in business and every other realm.

I want to acknowledge a painful truth that the number of applicants to Venture for America will far exceed the number of Fellowships. At present, we will be able to offer approximately 150 Fellowships for 2015. The precise number is indeterminate because we are continuing to identify new companies that want to hire a Venture Fellow, and the circumstances of companies change in both directions (i.e. a company that is committed in August may not have the resources the following March, while another company may successfully raise money and be newly interested).

Our expectation is that over a thousand individuals will apply for the Venture for America Fellowship in 2014 – 2015, resulting in a very low offer rate.  An offer rate this low means that we are by definition going to miss out on many exceptional candidates.

In recognition of this, if you are a finalist for the Venture for America Fellowship and find it appealing, we will share your information with start-up companies around the country that have opportunities for recent graduates. There are many growing businesses that will want to talk to you. In this way, we hope to connect a larger number of applicants with early stage companies that could use a talented, energetic hire.

As for the awarded Fellowships, in a standard admissions process, you look for candidates who have certain qualities to the extent you can discern, and you select the individuals who perform above a certain level.

Here, the number is so small and the needs are so distinct that we are almost looking for specific individuals. That means that applicants can do everything right and possess a phenomenal set of attributes and still not be selected.

First, we will consider three threshold questions:

1. Does this applicant satisfy a particular company’s requirements? Each Fellow will be working for a real company that has specific needs. As we review candidates, we will have the companies’ needs in mind. Yes, if you are an engineer or programmer you will likely have a better chance at getting a closer look, though we expect over half the positions to be non-technical in nature.

2. Does this person satisfy our program’s requirements? We are looking for individuals with high records of achievement in academic, athletic, extracurricular, personal, or business contexts. Basically, we believe that the virtues of talent, work ethic, attitude and character are transferable to the early-stage business setting, and are seeking individuals who have demonstrated the ability to be successful in whatever they have done to date. Venture for America is also seeking to build a diverse group of Fellows in terms of geography, major, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background and other considerations.

3. Would this candidate represent Venture for America’s values and mission and serve as a role model and example to others? Our mission as an organization is to rebuild American cities through entrepreneurship, enable our best and brightest to create new opportunities for themselves and others, and restore our culture of achievement to include value creation, risk and reward, and the common good. Any startup entrepreneur will tell you that an organization’s culture is crucial to its success – we feel the same way.

Beyond these qualifications, we will ask “Is this person likely to be okay with failure?”  Entrepreneurship, start-ups, growth companies, cities in transition, human relationships – none of these things are linear or certain.  Venture for America is the real world.  We’re not a great fit for people who want sure things or controlled environments.  We’re looking for people who can grow through genuine uncertainty, ambiguity, and adversity and come out the other side stronger, whole and ready to contribute.

Only if the answer appears to be a clear “Yes” to all of the above will a candidate be considered past the initial submission. We expect that the vast majority of candidates will not make it past the first stage.  The subsequent rounds will consist of a video submission  as well as a phone interview, each of which will yield a proportion of the remaining candidates. The final stage will consist of an in-person Selection Day in New York with Board members and established entrepreneurs; if you make it to Selection Day there is still a substantial chance you will not receive an Offer.

If the above sounds forbidding or discouraging, we want to be forthright in what we are looking for. We will be working hard to find the right candidates who will be able to make a real difference in the success and development of an early stage company and contribute to the economic and cultural revitalization of our country.

Best of luck in applying, and looking forward to meeting some of you in the coming months.

Andrew Yang

CEO and Founder

Venture for America


Fellow Spotlight: Katherine Catlin, Gonzaga University



Name:  Katherine (Kate) Catlin

Hometown: Redmond, WA

University:  Gonzaga University   ’13

Major: Economics

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

I’ve been active in social and environmental causes since Junior High, and always thought I was going into the public sector or NGO work. Spending a semester in Nicaragua with the Social Entrepreneurship Corps changed everything. I saw how business and the private sector could transform communities, providing a necessary good or service while maintaining financial self-sustainability and empowering people through jobs. As soon as I heard about the VFA opportunity I knew I had to apply. What better way to learn entrepreneurship than doing it?

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

Biking. I almost swerved into traffic.

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

I’m most excited about the connections and networks to be made. First with my fellow VFA colleagues, who are all creative go-getters ready to create the next Google/Kickstarter/sliced bread. Next, with mentors and investors that could be the support I need to launch my own business within the next five years.

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose?  Seattle. I’ve been lucky to travel a lot and see some beautiful things, but there’s no place like home.

Best thing about Goganza University:  The Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program

Favorite Book: Anything Shakespeare or Herman Hesse.

Favorite childhood TV show: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Favorite meal: Grilled pacific NW salmon

Favorite holiday: Christmas

Best class you’ve ever taken: Economics of Microfinance

Favorite thing to do on Sunday:  Long bike rides up mountains and down rivers.

Favorite entrepreneur: Greg Van Kirk and George Glickley of Community Enterprise Solutions, the inventors of the empowering “MicroConsignment” model.

Favorite cereal: McCann’s Steel Cut Oats with peanut butter.

Most worn article of clothing: Under Armour Leggings. I love to be active and outdoors whenever possible!

Favorite sports team: Gonzaga Bulldogs basketball

Best trip you’ve ever been on: Kayaking down the Rio San Juan between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Sunset on that river can’t be described in words.

Favorite historical figure: Kate Mardsen- one of the toughest and most compassionate women in history. Marsen journeyed 2,000 miles across Siberia in the late 19th century searching for medicine to aid people afflicted with Hansen’s disease.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: Biking from Seattle to Washington, DC in 2009. This was the most intense physical challenge of my life. Yet more importantly, I conversed with people from all walks of life, witnessed the disparity of economic conditions across our nation and changed my perspective on just about everything.


Businesses take time to build

After over a decade working in startups, Andrew Yang has learned many important lessons about what it takes to build a business. But according to him, what entrepreneurs really need to found a successful organization is patience and willingness to dedicate time to the idea.

In his recent article in the Huffington Post, Andrew discusses how in business, there’s no such thing as an ‘overnight success’, and how hands-on experience is the only way to understand what to expect when building a company. For more from Andrew Yang, you can check out his other Huffington Post articles here.

By Andrew Yang, CEO and Founder of Venture for America

One of my mentors once said to me, “It takes at least four or five years to see if a company is going to work. Generally more. If you’re really fast, maybe you can get a sense of where things are going by the end of Year Three.”

This surprised me at the time. But I’ve come to realize that he was right.

There have been many recent accounts of companies becoming immediate successes, particularly in the Internet space. But for most businesses, ‘overnight success’ is an outlier. Generally, a company makes progress incrementally, and the overnight success was years in the making.

Even for the rare product or software app that does become a rapid hit, it often took the programmers or product developers or designers time to build up the necessary expertise. In many cases, they might have worked on some earlier product that no one ever heard of, learned from it, and came back to build something great. Rovio was around for six years and underwent layoffs before the ‘instant’ success of Angry Birds, for example.*

Think about what goes into a company. First, the founders are on the drawing board developing the concept, testing ideas and preparing the offering. Sometimes this takes months in itself. They have to spend a considerable amount of time gathering resources (people, capital, know-how, sourcing, vendors, infrastructure). Then, the company has to land its first customers who kick the tires and make suggestions.

Sometimes these initial customers aren’t paying. The feedback the founders get at each stage can take months to incorporate. A company can set off in one direction, figures out that it’s not the right way to go, and then go in an entirely new direction. Over time, the product or service improves, and the company gets better at executing and delivering.

Eventually, the initial customers are happy enough that they tell their friends, and word of mouth slowly spreads.** Vendors begin assuming you’re going to pay them. The company may even start generating enough revenue so that it can invest in sales and business development, perhaps migrating to multiple locations or new distribution channels.

All of the above typically describes a painstaking, multi-year process. Most businesses require a complex network of relationships to function (e.g., staff, investors, suppliers, vendors, partners, customers), and these relationships take time to build. In many instances, you have to be around for a few years to receive consistent recognition. And it often takes time for staff, and founders, to become effective in their roles.

Experienced entrepreneurs have a number of advantages where pace is concerned. First, they know roughly how long it will take to get something done if they’ve done it before. Second, they can move faster because many of the necessary relationships are already in place (e.g., they can call people they’ve worked with, use the same lawyer/accountant/P.R. firm, draw on earlier investors, reach out to past customers, etc.). Third, they can proceed more decisively because of greater confidence in their judgment, both internally and externally.

Still, if you’re building a new business, you should expect it to take time, as in several years at least. If you’re not prepared to fully invest yourself in the business for 3 -5 years, you might not want to start down the road, particularly if you’re planning on having other people rely upon you. Prepare yourself for the long haul, and maybe you’ll surprise yourself if it develops faster than you think.

* There’s a story about a woman asking Picasso for a drawing. He drew a quick sketch on a napkin, and said to her, “That will be $5,000.” She exclaimed, “But that only took you one minute!” Picasso replied, “No. It has taken me my whole life to draw that sketch.” The one-minute sketch is generally years in the making.

** Despite the advent of social media, most things gain traction and spread at a deliberate pace. Even if someone likes your service, it’s generally not going to be a priority for him or her to go around telling his/her friends about it or liking your service on Facebook. Think about your own behavior – When’s the last time you went around telling everyone you know about something you liked, even if you genuinely enjoyed it? People should do this more often. Spread the word about something you like today!

Help VFA win the JobRaising Challenge


Dear VFA Friends and Supporters:

We're thrilled to announce that Venture for America has been chosen as a finalist for The Huffington Post's JobRaising challenge!  Now, we're out to raise as much money as possible and we need your help.  The winner of the challenge will receive $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation – enough to help 10 VFA Fellows join and help build startup companies in cities that need them.

Here's how you can help…

Make a Donation: Click here to make a contribution today. Every amount helps, no matter how small!  If you've ever thought about giving money to VFA, now's the time.  ;)  

Fundraise for VFA: If you'd like to help VFA raise money to win the JobRaising Challenge, click here and go to "Create your Fundraiser." In seconds, you'll have your own fundraising page you can share with family and friends.

Anyone who donates through our JobRaising Challenge Fundraising Campaign before the end of the contest on March 1, 2013 will be eligible to receive the following prizes:

$25+: An awesome pair of Venture for America Sunglasses
$100+: One of our ever-popular VFA T-shirts
$250+: A General Admission Ticket to the 2013 Venture for America Summer Celebration on Thursday, May 30th in New York City
$1,000+: A VIP ticket to the Venture for America Summer Celebration, which includes access to the VIP lounge where guests can mingle with prominent business luminaries

This is a great opportunity to help VFA raise money and awareness and help put Americans back to work. Please help Venture for America achieve our mission:

To revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship. 
To enable our best and brightest to create new opportunities for themselves and others.
To restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

If you have any questions regarding the challenge itself, please email and they'll respond.  For anything VFA-related please contact  

The Class of 2013 is at 22 Fellows and growing every day.  Thanks again for your support!

The VFA Team 

Click Here for the contest rules for the $150k, $50k and $30k grand prizes.

Invite from the White House

Monday night I received the following message from the White House:

INVITATION: Meeting with the President (4/26/2012)

Dear Andrew Yang,

April 2012 marks the one-year anniversary of the White House Champions of Change Program. To celebrate this anniversary, we are inviting a small group of our past Champions to participate in a small meeting with the President on April 26, 2012.

As one of our great Champions, we wanted to invite you back to the White House to personally tell the President about the incredible work you are doing in your community.

Although we do not have a time confirmed, this meeting will take place on April 26, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC. Please respond to this email indicating whether or not you will be able to accept this invitation. If you are able to attend, please complete the attached security form and send it to [xxxxxxxx] by Tuesday, April 17 at 6:00 PM EST.

Thank you,

Kyle Lierman

I had been selected as a White House Champion of Change last August, and enjoyed the chance to meet up with Josh Linkner and Jen Medbery during the event. But I certainly didn’t figure on a return visit.

Upon processing what this invite meant, I responded “Yes” and then shared it with my teammates, Board members, entrepreneurs, Fellows, supporters, and others who have brought Venture for America to this point. From the beginning the world has been conspiring to help VFA succeed, and the conspiracy has taken the form of many different people. VFA would be nowhere without Eileen Lee, Mike Tarullo, Bernie Sucher, Charlie Kroll, Darren MacDonald, Brielle Beaudette, Sy Jacobs, the folks at Manhattan Prep, and so many others who have gone above and beyond to see Venture for America put in position to achieve its goals. Perhaps most importantly, our 40+ Fellows are demonstrating what our best and brightest are capable of taking on if given the proper opportunity.

I wish that everyone who’s been part of VFA’s success could come next week, but the group would be bigger than even the White House could accommodate. I’ll do my best to bring part of the experience back with me (and write it up). And hopefully we’ll all get to celebrate together for real when Tony Hsieh comes to town for our big Summer Celebration in June.


I was on a panel at SXSW earlier this week with Mark Davis (Kohort), Marc Nager (Startup Weekend), Nick Seguin (Kauffman Foundation), Jeff Slobotski (Silicon Prairie News), and Paige Craig (BetterWorks) moderated by Shane Reiser (also of Kohort).  The topic was How to Build Entrepreneurship Communities.  Brad Feld of Techstars was meant to join us, but stayed in Boulder to attend to his wife. 

It was an interesting panel, as each of us had a different perspective.  We each directly touched different aspects of what makes an entrepreneurship community vibrant and successful: leadership, successful and aspiring entrepreneurs, media and resources.  Over the past year or so I’ve become exposed to the start-up scenes in Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas, so I had some sense of how these cities’ entrepreneur networks developed. 

A few themes arose from our discussion: 

  • Leaders often emerge by accident.  In many instances, a member of the community saw a problem (i.e., entrepreneurship is too inaccessible, no one’s talking about what’s being done in a particular region) and set out to solve it.   By so doing, they found themselves in a leadership role and a central figure in their community, though that wasn’t the original goal. 
  • The right community leaders prioritize others.  In part because they hadn’t set out to be the focus of the community, the best leaders think about how to build something independent of their own position.  Mark Davis talked about the greatest victory being that someone would come to a Columbia Venture event and not know who he was.  Lining up a successor in an organization was regarded as a crucial part of building an enduring network. 
  • Communities require lasting commitment. Mark, Marc, and Nick all commented on how communities take time and resources to coalesce.  It’s not an overnight process, but instead a multi-year endeavor that requires persistence to see results.  One signal of long-term commitment is a dedicated innovation hub, accelerator and/or co-working space, which appears in most any thriving start-up scene (RI-CIE and Betaspring in Providence, Cincytech and the Brandery in Cincinnati, Launchpad Ignition and Ideavillage in New Orleans, DVP and Bizdom in Detroit, etc.). 

Overall, the panel was well-received.  I was approached afterwards by individuals looking to build up start-up communities in Las Vegas (a VFA city), Chicago, Houston, Honolulu, Ithaca, Asheville, and other environments.  The interest level is at an all-time high. 

One point of contention that came up was that our panel was male-dominated, which could be said about the start-up scene in general.  Shane took the heat for that, but it’s really not his fault that the numbers are the way they are.  Hopefully Venture for America will be able to ease the entry of some enterprising women into start-ups and growth companies nationwide. 

What The Right People Can Do

New blog post from Venture for America Founder and President, Andrew Yang:

One of the central premises of Venture for America is that having the right people on board early in a company’s development is crucial to a business growing and achieving its potential. The more experienced an entrepreneur is, the more he or she tends to value early hires.

There are a few reasons why. First, in most organizations top employees are not just incrementally more productive than average workers. They’re MUCH more productive. Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying the top programmer is 100 times more productive than an average programmer. While that’s a bit dramatic, it’s true that having a handful of top-notch people on board early makes any company much more likely to establish itself and succeed. Devising a new and innovative product or offering and delivering on it are a lot more doable if you have a few of the right people around.

Second, in a start-up people’s roles often morph and grow over time. Ideally you’re hiring someone not to do a job, but to do or even invent a bigger job when the company expands. At my last company we hired a brilliant guy straight out of college to the Marketing Department. Over time, he realized that we needed to bulk up our online presence. He wound up teaching himself to code, revamped much of our site, and over the next couple of years became the Manager of a brand new Online Marketing department that was built around him. He’s now getting his Master’s Degree in Computer Science. Not coincidentally, the company’s revenue grew about 150% during this period. You’re not always sure what your needs are going to be as the company grows; the right people will help you figure them out and fill whatever needs that do arise.

Third, if you have strong early hires, it’s highly attractive to other talented and hard-working people. There’s an aphorism that A people hire B’s, B people hire C’s, and C people hire losers. The challenge is to hire A’s from the outset and keep the quality high for as long as you possibly can. It’s a million times easier to build a winning team if the first few players are talent magnets. On the flipside, it’s brutal trying to pull together the right people if you have someone around early on that doesn’t generate a high degree of confidence/enthusiasm/respect. Cultures get built from the beginning, and whoever joins a company takes cues from whoever’s already there.

When building a team, a common saying in start-up world is, “Slow to Hire, Fast to Fire.” Good organizations work very hard at recruiting and retaining the right people. To paraphrase Margaret Mead, don’t doubt what a small group of smart, committed people can accomplish – because that’s the way everything starts.

VFA Board of Directors member Darren MacDonald in The Daily Californian

Check out the opinion piece by Venture for America Board of Directors member Darren MacDonald in UC Berkeley’s The Daily Californian.

 Read the article on The Daily Californian’s website here: Exploring a new path to entrepreneurship

Vote for Venture for America | Mashable Awards 2011

Vote Venture for America to win the “Must-Follow Non-Profit on Social Media” award at the 5th Annual Mashable Awards.  If you enjoy learning about the latest VFA news and updates via our Facebook, Twitter, and blog, now’s the time to let us know!

If you have one minute, go to the Mashabale Awards 2011 website and type in “Venture for America” in the blank box. Be sure to vote for us in the “Must-Follow Non-Profit on Social Media” category.

Thank you to everyone who has already voted for us! You can vote once per day for each category. We hope that through the Mashable Awards more people will learn about Venture for America and our goal to create 100,000 jobs by 2025.


Mashable Awards 2011: