Birmingham’s Venture for America fellows to more than double in 2017


Originally published in the Birmingham Business Journal

The biggest wave yet of young and aspiring entrepreneurs is heading to Birmingham this year via the Venture for America program.

Birmingham will be host to 18 VFA fellows in 2017 – a significant jump from seven a year ago. The program, similar to Teach for America but for entrepreneurs, brings entrepreneurially minded individuals to the Magic City and other metros around the nation and embeds them with innovative companies.

One of the primary reasons for the increase in fellows is the allocation of resources to the Southeast and Birmingham, according to Sara Williamson, director of the Southeast Region for Venture for America.

“Last year, Venture for America decided they would invest in regional staff members to increase the number of (fellows),” Williamson said. “Part of it is having someone on the ground for the first time to showcase the city to new talent.”

Williamson said another reason why the Magic City was attractive to this class was the fact Birmingham leaders are pushing to showcase the city, and there are many company partners involved.

“In order to sell the city you need a lot of company partners,” Williamson said.

This year’s fellows will work for a range of companies, including Alabama Power, Shipt, BLOX, Innovate Birmingham, Knight Eady, Pack Health and Planet Fundraiser, among others. You can see the full list below.

Venture for America, earlier in the year, brought in more than 40 perspective fellows to view over 40 companies at the Innovation Depot. It was there that Venture for America was able to show off the city and attract interest from many, including those who had never been to Alabama.

By September, all of the fellows will begin their two-year tenure with their respective companies. Venture for America has a 100 percent retention rate for the 2015 and 2016 years with its fellows staying and working in Birmingham.

“The goal is to continue that pattern with 2017,” Williamson said. “It all comes back to the people, the entrepreneurial community. It has been very supportive of venture for America. It was very compelling for the fellows to want to be part of a community here, they can make an impact.”

Here is the full list of 2017 fellows:

  • Haley Oliff, Alabama Power, Washington University
  • Mattie Coacher, Alabama Power, Amherst College
  • Maxen Haveles, Alabama Sawyer, Rensselaer Polytechnic
  • Akbar Hassonjee, BLOX, New York University
  • Sarena Martinez, Innovate Birmingham, Vanderbilt University
  • Yuval Yossefy, Innovate Birmingham, Brown University
  • Caroline Harding, Knight Eady, University of North Carolina
  • Kelsey Murphy, Knight Eady, Xavier University
  • Hannah Mills, MAKEbhm, Missouri University of Science & Technology
  • Arjun Nukal, Momentum Telecom, Brown University
  • Kieran McVeigh, Pack HealthPomona College
  • Michelle Khalid, TheraNest, Duke University
  • Paul Styslinger, Planet Fundraiser, Yale University
  • Abigail Schneider, BLOX, Yale University
  • Bridget Lanigan, Shipt, Saint Mary’s College
  • Miguel Ramirez, Shipt, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jeff Biestek, Shipt, Brown Uniersity
  • Max Polec, UAB HIIE Accelerator, University of Pittsburgh
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