The Ride So Far

It’s been almost a year and a half since Venture for America launched last July.  The past 18 months have been an incredible ride.

Our biggest accomplishment is that we now have 40 Fellows on the ground working hard at start-ups and growth companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Cincinnati and Las Vegas.  The Fellows are doing great – over 80% of them are rated by their companies as either in the top 1% or top 10% of early hires.

4 of the Fellows (Mike Mayer, Billy Schrero, Brentt Baltimore, and Brian Bosche) started a non-profit, the Startup Effect, to train junior high school students in Detroit and New Orleans in entrepreneurship.   The idea was born of a suggestion by Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn and an Advisor to VFA who generously contributed the seed capital for the Startup Effect.  Other Fellows are also hard at work making the cities around them better even as they look to help their companies expand and succeed.

Applications stream in every day for the Class of 2013, and we already have 20 top prospects who have accepted offers and are set to go for next year.  They include programmers, a biomedical engineer, a physicist, a college athlete who started a couple of businesses while in school, and many other talented and motivated young people.  Our 2013 class will be approximately 80 – 100 Fellows.

In addition to our first five cities, we are expanding to Baltimore thanks in large part to a grant from the Abell Foundation.  We are also heading to Cleveland to work with JumpStart and New Haven due to the leadership of Miles Lasater, co-founder of Higher One.

It’s hard to imagine now that Venture for America was little more than an idea 18 months ago.  Since then we’ve been to 50 different universities, in the New York Times and on Fox News, to the White House, to Training Camp at Brown, and to the offices of hard-working entrepreneurs across the country.  We certainly couldn’t have foreseen half of what’s transpired this past year plus.

When we launched in 2011, there were only 3 people full-time.  We had commitments for about $400k and were working out of my old offices.  I was going without salary, in part to save money and in part to help galvanize fund-raising.

Now we are up to 7 people on the full-time team and have raised over $1.2 MM.  Our annual budget has gone from $400k in 2011 to $800k this year to about $1.5 MM in 2013.  We just moved into new offices (still free as we’re being hosted by one of our generous Board members at Mimeo).  There have been countless people who have moved mountains and gone above and beyond to help us reach this point.  We have some very exciting developments coming shortly too.

Upon reflection, it’s a wonder that we’ve progressed this quickly.

I believe it’s because everyone sees the need – our top young people are not being driven to roles that address the needs of our time.  The question I pose at campuses (and occasionally, nice offices) around the country is this – imagine if the same proportion of talent that currently heads to finance, law, and/or management consulting were instead heading to start-ups and growth companies around the country.  How long would it take to meaningfully impact job growth, innovation and economic vitality? What effect would it have on our culture?

That is the question we’re going to answer over the coming years.  Thank you to everyone who’s looking forward to finding out alongside us and helping make it happen on the ground.  Excited to see what the next 18(0) months have in store!