We Will Help You Start a Company
Not every Fellow will want to start their own company. For those that do, we have the resources, programming, network, and funding to help you succeed
From Fellows to Founders
We’ve developed resources and programming to help our Fellows turn their entrepreneurial dreams into reality. Whether you’re just toying with an idea or are ready to go to market, we’ll be here to help you every step of the way.
Success Thus Far
Our approach to helping our Fellows launch companies has produced amazing results so far. Our Fellows and Alumni have launched 64 companies that employ more than 200 people. To date, they have raised over $38 million in combined venture investment and brought in more than $12 million in sales in 2018.
Fellow-Founded companies have gone on to participate in some of the country’s most prestigious and competitive incubators and accelerators, including Y Combinator, the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator, TechStars, Project Entrepreneur, and more.
Finding and Testing Business Ideas
You might think that the ideas for great businesses just happen, by serendipity or divine inspiration. In fact, most entrepreneurs will tell you that coming up with ideas for a business is a regular process and practice. Many call it a muscle – something that can be trained and improved upon with time and dedication.
To help our Fellows come up with ideas for tomorrow’s next great businesses, we have an ideation curriculum – programming and events specifically designed to get the creative juices flowing and to test the ideas that arise.
An Accelerator for Ideas
If you think you might want to launch something, Side-Project-a-Thon is the place to get started. (We call it SPaT for short).
Think of SPaT like an accelerator for ideas: 36 hours of collaborating with your fellow Fellows on the problems you want to explore and solve, hopefully laying the groundwork for a real side project. SPaT happens every summer during the Training Camp, when Fellows from the previous year’s class gather for a long weekend of building and learning together.
Testing Your Idea
Once you have an idea, the Validation Challenge helps you test it on a small scale to see if there is a real opportunity to turn it into a business.
Fellows in the Validation Challenge have the opportunity to pitch their early ideas and compete for a modest prize (up to $1500) to help create and test a minimum viable product. This early investment helps Fellows get one step closer to working on full-fledged businesses.
Getting Early Traction
You have an idea and you’ve done the early tests to make sure it’s solid. Now it’s time to gain some traction, the early wins that will help you build momentum around your company.
Social Enterprise Award
Fellows interested in building businesses that tackle societal challenges and improving their local communities can compete in our annual Social Enterprise Award pitch competitions. Supporters like Comcast NBCUniversal and CVC make up to $40,000 available to Fellows to help fund their socially-focused companies.
An annual crowdfunding competition, the Innovation Fund has helped Fellows raise over $550,000 for their new companies and projects.
During the Innovation Fund, participants work closely with our Launch team to refine their idea, set a fundraising goal, devise a plan, and then spend four intense weeks raising money for their projects. We contribute to their success by awarding additional prize money to the teams that show the most hustle.
The crowdfunding competition gives Fellows an early read on the market for their new business and an infusion of investment funds. The Innovation Fund helped launch companies like Revival Chili and Sweat Seal.
Innovation Fund Success Story
Taking Better Baby Pictures with Lookalu
Mike Mayer ’12 thought long and hard about the best way to launch his company’s first product, Lookalu, a smartphone gadget that helps parents easily snap the cutest baby photos. After about six months of deliberation, he decided that crowdfunding would be the best way to both raise the capital needed to go into full production on the product and to validate that there were actually consumers in the market who’d be willing to buy it. Mike entered the Innovation Fund as his way to do both.
Mike and his team put a lot of thought and a heaping dose of hustle into making Lookalu’s campaign a success. In the end, they raised 180% of their initial goal and walked away the first place winner of the whole competition, securing an additional $7,500 in funding for the companyRead Mike's Story
Growing & Scaling Your Company
Access to needed capital can be the difference between a promising business and one that becomes a long-term success. We make sure that our Fellows are covered there too.
We know it isn’t easy to turn a side project into a full-time job. Among other things, building a company takes time, space, and support from people who have been there. Enter: the VFA Accelerator.
For four months, participants spend their time in Detroit living and breathing their company. With help from the team and a wide range of industry leaders, Fellow founders can focus solely on building their fledgling companies. From connecting Fellow founders to advisors, to providing them with space to work, to helping them figure out the legal stuff, the Accelerator is all about guiding new founders down the path to success.
At the end of the four months, we host a Demo Day for Accelerator companies to pitch to investors in our network and for a chance to raise seed capital! Accelerator companies also have an opportunity to pitch for investment from our UBS Venture Catalyst Awards, a pool of over $150K, specifically earmarked for Fellow-Founded companies.
In 2017, we launched our first Seed Fund with over $1,000,000 in investments. The VFA Seed Fund provides an early boost to Fellow-Founded companies with real potential. This fund will invest directly in those companies’ Seed and Series A funding rounds and help them grow the the next level.
How many Fellows start their own companies?
To date, about a quarter of our Alumni have gone on to start their own companies.
If I'm not sure I want to start my own company, can I still be a Fellow?
Absolutely! We do not expect every Fellow to start a company. We know that is not the right choice for everyone. Many Fellows work in startups and are happy being leaders at those companies. Our goal is to eliminate the barriers to becoming an entrepreneur and to expose top talent to what those careers can be.
What if I'm not ready to start a company as soon as I graduate the Fellowship?
There’s no time limit on our support for our Fellows who want to start businesses. Whenever you’re ready to start a company, we’ll be here to help you do it—whether that’s 3 months after you graduate the Fellowship or 3 years.
Can non-Fellow-Founded companies join your accelerator?
No. Our Launch programming and resources are exclusively for VFA Fellows and Alumni in good standing.
How can I mentor Fellow Founders?
We rely on our network of investors, entrepreneurs and advisors to help mentor and coach our Fellows on their journey to build businesses. We’d love your help!
If you’re interested in mentoring or investing in our Fellow Founders, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.