The Power of 1,000
Yesterday, we welcomed the Venture For America Class of 2019 to Training Camp in Detroit. By adding these 206 ambitious, aspiring entrepreneurs into the VFA fold, our community of Fellows and Alumni has grown to just over 1,000 members. While perhaps the number is arbitrary, seeing that scale tip to four digits got me thinking about the power that 1,000+ values-driven job creators will unleash in our economy over the course of their careers.
The Class of 2019 is not only our biggest yet; it is arguably our most entrepreneurial — 53% of them have already started a business or nonprofit prior to joining VFA! More than 113 colleges and universities are represented in its ranks; our most wide-reaching to date. It’s also our most racially, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse class in VFA history. This community of builders is poised to take on 21st century challenges head on, building companies that will create meaningful impact in our communities.
Here are three stories of these exceptional young people that demonstrate this drive to create.
- Ayah Rashid started her own fashion company called Sinjab dedicate to providing Muslim women with affordable, stylish yet modest clothing. In her own words: “A year ago I started a fashion line called Sinjab, dedicated to providing Muslim women with affordable, ethically made, stylish modest clothing. In talking to my peers I realized there was a struggle to find high-quality modest clothing that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Because of my interest in fashion I was able to recognize a need and went to fill it, not with the motivation to make money, but to provide a product my peers wanted. I have learned a lot about what it takes to manage a business over the past year as I had no previous experience setting up an online store or working with overseas manufacturers, but found mentors to guide me along the way.”
- Rachel Dunnam founded “Prom Palace” to collect donated prom dresses for disadvantaged young women who cannot afford them. She says, “During my senior year in high school, I came up with the idea of establishing a Prom Palace – a location where financially disadvantaged young women could have a shopping experience for clothing for special events during their teenage years. Over the course of a year, I was able to engage multiple charities and churches in the project and accumulate over 150 donations of gently used and new prom, formal, and quinceanera dresses for those who cannot afford them for these special occasions. After four years, the program is still running successfully at Caritas in Waco, TX, benefiting families in my community.”
- Pratik Patel started his own sock company that gives back to Detroit called Detroit Boxed Socks. As he describes it, “I started Detroit Boxed Socks with the intent to promote local artists from Detroit, as well as give back to Detroit Public Schools. This brand gave me the opportunity to be the direct point of contact for manufacturing and logistics, make community connections to further brand awareness, and coordinate charity events. We were able to produce a high quality product while giving artists a canvas they have never worked on before, while also being able to host successful events filled with entertainment and charitable contributions.”
This class also keeps the tradition of the #VFAmily strong. We welcomed our third VFA sibling, our seventh Fellow who interned for a VFA Company Partner, and our fifth VFA intern-turned-Fellow into the Fellowship. A VFA Alum said to me recently, “I tell everyone who wants to apply that VFA isn’t a network; it’s a community.” That simple truth is our shared values keep our community strong and connected, and I’m excited to witness our first pair of Alums getting married this summer, and count our 38th company co-founded by two or more VFA Fellows joining the VFA Accelerator in August.
What does the future hold for these 1,000 young people? I believe they will create businesses that solve challenges that we can’t even begin to imagine today. Here’s what we know about our Alumni so far: nearly two-thirds of them live in a Venture For America city. Three cities – Detroit, Baltimore, and Philadelphia – now boast VFA communities of 100+ Fellows and Alumni apiece. You can barely walk down the street in these downtowns without stumbling on a VFA Fellow! What’s more, 48% of all VFA Alumni self-identify as a startup leader, with a full 76% still working in the startup world. These 1,000 entrepreneurs are exceeding our expectations every day. Our job is to guide the start of their career trajectories, and I am continuously impressed with how the formative experience of Venture For America shapes the decisions and values of Fellows even years after they graduate from the program.
As always, thank you for your backing of Venture For America. We look forward to your support of the 206 new Fellows – they need people like you to help them build great companies in the communities that need it most.