How Charlotte tech companies are using this program to build the talent pipeline

Charlotte Business Journal
September 7, 2018
By Caroline Hudson

When it comes to driving growth, technology companies know building a talent pipeline is the key to future success.

That’s where Venture for America comes into play. VFA is a national fellowship program that places hundreds of recent graduates into two-year stints at technology companies in 14 cities. The overall goal is to create opportunities for young entrepreneurs while also bringing needed talent to participating cities.

Participating companies and organizations in Charlotte this year include: Queen City Fintech, ShopOff, Passport, Skipper, DealCloud (now merged with Intapp Inc.) and Johnson C. Smith University New Science Center.

Barrie Grinberg, senior director of community partnerships at VFA, says startups are the engines of economic growth. Startups are usually defined as companies in business for five years or less, but many fast-growth enterprises hold onto the title as a nod to their entrepreneurial culture.

Each high-skilled technology job created in a city could potentially bring five more, including teachers, dog-walkers or even restaurateurs brought on to accommodate a growing population, Grinberg says.

VFA fellows are selected at an approximately 11% acceptance rate. More than half of this year’s class is comprised of women, an unusual occurrence in the tech sphere, she says. Charlotte welcomed eight new fellows this year, bringing the total to more than 25 fellows working for about 15 companies since VFA’s launch here in 2015.

“We welcome both their excitement to join their new companies and their passion to leave a lasting impact on Charlotte. As the former hiring manager at DealCloud, I can confidently say that the VFA talent pool is unmatched and that we are lucky to have VFA in our city,” says Rob Cummings, a co-founder of DealCloud and board member for VFA in Charlotte.

Grinberg says about 17% of VFA alumni go on to start their own businesses.

VFA’s entrepreneurial focus is what attracted Ryan Davey to the program. Davey is a 2018 fellow and now holds a position as assistant product manager at Charlotte-based mobile payments firm Passport.

Having grown up in Raleigh, Davey says he was familiar with Charlotte, but the program opened his eyes to the potential opportunities here. He says he was drawn to Passport’s work culture in particular when he paid a preliminary visit in May.

Davey says he appreciates the resources made available to him through VFA and how they coincide with his dream of starting a business.

“I’ve kind of had my own ideas about starting my own company, and I’ve also worked for a few startups in the past,” he says. “Going through the process, it was extremely smooth.”

Kate Haffey, vice president of people operations at Passport, says it’s important for the company’s business and for the overall economic ecosystem to support programs such as VFA. Passport currently employs three VFA fellows.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got those budding entrepreneurs, in addition to the experienced entrepreneurs, so that they can learn from one another,” Haffey says. “Programs like this, because they’re nationwide and in a number of cities, they’ve got a great infrastructure that when we can bring them to Charlotte, it helps us tap into a broader talent market across the U.S. that we might not otherwise have natural connections to.”


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