Working in startups requires adaptability and turning on a dime. When COVID-19 began disrupting daily life in the United States, Venture For America immediately pivoted programming and priorities to ensure the safety of our community and job security for our Fellows.
Working to Bring Opportunities to our Fellows
The COVID-19 pandemic has rippled through the U.S. economy and job market. Even so, VFA has remained committed to our promise to support every incoming Fellow as they secure full-time employment.
Sourcing Opportunities for Fellows
Each of our cities has a dedicated Community Director charged with identifying startups (Company Partners) with opportunities for incoming Fellows. Additionally, we have our own private job portal (Match) that may be exclusively used by incoming Fellows to connect with these opportunities. When the economy contracted this spring, we delayed opening our Match platform to allow for our Company Partners to better assess how COVID-19 was impacting their operations, which allowed them to have more confidence in the positions they ultimately posted.
As a result, our Team sourced hundreds of job opportunities across cities for 2020 Fellows, a significantly higher proportion than public job board sites relative to previous years.
While we don’t want to understate the challenge of Fellows and Company Partners finding mutual fit during the pandemic, we’re pleased that members of the Class of 2020 are interviewing with multiple Company Partners to launch their careers, and that Company Partners continue to turn to VFA as a source of talent in a competitive job market.
Preparing Fellows to be Great Job Seekers
We know that now, more than ever, nailing the application process and interview is critical. This year, VFA doubled down on helping incoming Fellows prepare to become great job seekers.
Our Fellows received feedback on their resumes and cover letters, training to help them improve their interviewing skills, and one-on-one job coaching with pitch support, mock interviews, and other needs. Some of our 2020 Fellows and where they’ll be working:
- Nassir Criss studied Communication Studies and Social Entrepreneurship and graduated from Christopher Newport University in 2018. Nassir is working as a Business Development Analysis at Kansas City-based Five Elms Capital.
- Adriana Román graduated from Williams College this where she studied Political Science. Adriana is working for Philadelphia-based CampusESP as a Customer Success Manager.
- Nicole Sun studied Business and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin this year. Nicole will be a Marketing Manager at Astrohaus in Detroit.
Cultivating a Network of Company Partners with Likely Stable Opportunities
In addition to supporting our incoming 2020 Fellows, we’re also committed to continuing to support our current Fellows through the pandemic.
A common misconception about startups is that they are, as a rule, less stable than larger or more established companies. However, emerging studies are showing the resiliency of startups across the nation, and our Company Partners are no different. Even though our Company Partners are not immune to the economic forces of COVID-19, more than 95% of our current Fellows have retained their jobs with Company Partners during the pandemic.
When the pandemic began to cause layoffs in March 2020, the VFA Team began to implement new strategies to support the Fellows who lost their jobs:
- We tapped into our network of Company Partners and local community leaders to create a job board for Fellows in transition.
- To expedite connections between Fellows and Company Partners, the VFA Team created a resume book for Fellows without jobs.
- Displaced Fellows received one-on-one job coaching and support from the Team to provide each Fellow with a pathway to employment.
As a result, almost all of our displaced Fellows have found new employment.
Structuring Safe and Engaging Selection, Training, and Programming
Virtual Selection Days
Our final round interviews (or what we call Selection Days) will be virtual for the 2020-2021 academic year. This will be our third year conducting Virtual Selection Days so we’ve had time to ensure they can run smoothly. Prospective Fellows start off the day working in small groups, solving problems that they may encounter working at a startup. Afterwards, prospective Fellows have an individual interview with a panel of judges. We build in breaks, a lunchtime panel and presentation with current Fellows, and time to connect with other finalists to begin building the community that is so unique at VFA.
Our signature month-long Training Camp, typically held in Detroit, was held virtually for the first time in 2020. We brought in speakers and business leaders from companies like IDEO, Y combinator, LinkedIn, First Round Capital, Rebrand Cities, and Quicken Loans. Fellows made an impact building websites for 43 minority owned small businesses that previously didn’t have one. We also intentionally focused on building community among Fellow cohorts and were able to provide fun and creative ways to network.
The VFA Team blew away my expectations for a virtual Training Camp. In addition to learning many important skills, I truly felt part of a movement that will enhance economic opportunity for cities around the country.– Josh Stockton, 2020 Fellow
Ongoing Community Building and Programming
Moving forward, our city-based programming, like Fall Welcome events as well as national programming, like Validation Challenges and our flagship Accelerator program, will be virtual until we can resume in-person gatherings.
To ensure our Fellows and Alums can continue to work towards becoming startup leaders and founders amidst the pandemic, we’re committed to providing top-level professional development and community-building in a virtual format.