Venture for America planning to increase Pittsburgh presence

Venture for America planning to increase Pittsburgh presence

Post originally appeared on Pittsburgh Business Times

Venture for America, a national entrepreneurship initiative that has operated in Pittsburgh since 2015, wants to increase its presence and impact in southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Launched in 2011, the New York-based nonprofit’s two-year salaried fellowship program matches recent college graduates with startups spanning a wide range of industries in 18 cities. Locals among the 150-plus firms that are part of VFA’s vetted network include CivicScience, TrademarkVision, Maven Machines, Zulama, Nowait, Naturi, Ascender and Forever. 

“Our goal would be to place between 10 and 15 fellows in Pittsburgh annually,” said Amy Nelson, VFA CEO. “In order to get there, we’re hoping, in the next 12-18 months, to hire someone in Pittsburgh to be a community director who will identify the companies to hire fellows, support the fellows and continue to fundraise to support the local market.” 

About half of VFA’s regions have local leadership; the remainder are supported through its headquarters. Those that have community directors attract twice as many fellows and are more successful at garnering new supporters, Nelson said. 

“We have some really good friends in Pittsburgh and strong connections that have allowed us to grow,” Nelson said. 

Supporters include the Hillman Foundation, Innovation Works, AlphaLab and Ascender. Nelson is speaking at a panel Wednesday afternoon titled “The New Entrepreneur Toolkit” that is part ofAscender’s Thrival Innovation + Music Festival. 

At present, VFA has 11 current fellows living in Pittsburgh and one alum, Jordan Robarge, a University of Virginia graduate who started a catering company and food truck business here called Revival Chili. 

“His goal is to hire formerly incarcerated individuals,” Nelson said. 

VFA’s website listed four fellows from the University of Pittsburgh and three from Carnegie Mellon University. One among them is working locally: Daniel Gorziglia, who graduated from CMU last year, is an engineering manager at Maven Machines. 

“In the past year, we had 79 different schools in our national class, which had 182 fellows,” Nelson said. 

But VFA wants to diversify beyond its pipeline schools. “We accept candidates from everywhere,” she said. 

VFA is now accepting applications for its 2018 program and expects to finish selection by the end of March. Fellows undergo a 5-week training program during the summer before heading off to their new jobs. VFA received about 1,500 applications for 2017, and the goal for 2018 is 1,750. 

“It’s too early to say, but it appears applications are up significantly,” Nelson said. 

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