One Year into Vision 2020: VFA’s Impact Today

From CEO Amy Nelson

Happy Fall! After a few weeks of playing referee on important issues like which Marvel character makes for the best backpack, we in the Nelson household are all humming along in our routines. The same is true at VFA. Fall means the recruitment of our next class, the launch of a new Accelerator cohort, and 171 new Fellows settling into their cities and jobs.

It’s also a time of reflection for all of us, as we look back on our last cycle and hit reset on our goals looking forward. A year into our strategic plan, Vision 2020, and my leadership as CEO, I’m pleased to report that we have made significant progress toward our overarching objectives. As always, there remain areas for improvement, and the Venture For America Team is eager to take on the challenge.

One year into Vision 2020, how do we stack up?

Objective 1 – Deepening Our Impact In Our Cities

What we have done:

  • Hired local Community Directors in 9 of our 14 cities, with more on the way
  • Strategically reduced our geographic footprint so that we can focus on communities where we can best achieve impact
  • Developed our internal leadership beyond HQ – more than half of the VFA Team now lives in one of our cities

What impact has this created?

  • 8 of 14 markets hit our goal of attracting 10+ Fellows for the Class of 2018, and many saw significant increases in cohort size
  • 81% of the graduating Class of 2016 has chosen to remain in a VFA city
  • 210 companies now employ a Venture For America Fellow in one of our cities

Our awesome Pittsburgh Fellows

Objective 2 – Creating the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

What we have done:

  • Developed new programs like the Validation Challenge and city-based Ideation Sessions for Fellows to start testing entrepreneurial ideas early on
  • Retooled the VFA Accelerator, recruiting 50 new mentors with a diverse set of backgrounds, and partnering with companies like kpiReady, GAN, and McKinsey to bring in more services and resources for our Fellow Founders
  • Invested more than $1,700,000 in Fellow-Founded Ventures

What impact has this created?

  • 176 Fellows participated in new entrepreneurship programming in the past year
  • 94 companies have been founded by Venture For America Fellows and Alumni
  • 55 of those companies have raised capital: a cumulative $41mm, leveraging our dollars $1 to $24
  • 131 side projects have been started and worked on by Venture For America Fellows and Alumni

Our 2018 Accelerator Fellows

Objective 3 – Promoting Diversity in Entrepreneurship

What we have done:

  • Partnered with organizations like HBCUx2020, LEDA, and Thurgood Marshall College Fund to continue diversifying our applicant pool
  • Recruited 141 company partners led by a woman and/or a person of color (representing 40% of companies in this year’s hiring process)
  • Engaged diverse speakers and trainers during VFA Training Camp, including Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, Lorenzo Gomez of 80/20 Media, Dug Song of Duo Security, Janice Fraiser of Bionic, and Hajj Flemings of Rebrand Cities (among many others)

What impact has this created?

  • 51% of the VFA Class of 2018 identifies as female, and 2% as gender non-binary, making it the first majority-female class in VFA history
  • 38% of the Class of 2018 identifies as a person of color
  • 63% of the founders participating in this year’s accelerator are women or people of color
  • Applications from Historically Black Colleges and Universities increased 166% for the class of 2018 from the year prior

Just a few of the 2018 Fellows

We are thrilled with this momentum, but we still see room for improvement.

In particular:

  • Our hiring partners do not reflect the diversity of our cities. We are working with local accelerators and entrepreneurship organizations to identify great companies with diverse leadership.
  • Latinx individuals remain underrepresented in our candidate pool and Fellowship. This year we are partnering with Hispanic Serving Institutions like the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin and organizations like LTX, Jopwell, and RippleMatch to begin to remedy this.
  • Our Fellow class is not as socioeconomically diverse as we would like. We need to build special vehicles to support their out-of-pocket costs like travel to Selection Day and relocation to their VFA city.

How you can help:

  • We are re-launching our mentorship program, and we need to recruit 200 mentors this month! Please reach out to our programs team if you would like to become a VFA Mentor.
  • Start thinking about that annual gift. We rely on annual giving to fuel our growth, and we need to build on this momentum to achieve Vision 2020.
  • Save the date for Demo Day. VFA’s 2nd Annual Demo Day will take place the evening of Tuesday, November 27th in New York City. Stay tuned for an invitation!

Thank you as always for your confidence and support of what we are building at VFA. After an incredible summer in Detroit, I remain humbled and impressed by our Fellow community. Having folks like you in our corner makes all the difference.

Gratefully,

Amy

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