Venture For America Fellows Are Sticking Around And Crushing It In St. Louis (Just Look At Their Job Titles)
Tales of Great Daring and Little Kindnesses.
May 24, 2018
By Victor Mendez
In the challenging and ever-expanding realm of the startup community, every advantage and connection can result in noteworthy payoff. One such advantage can be seen in Venture for America (VFA), a fellowship program serving as an onramp to a career in entrepreneurship.
Across a number of VFA fellows, the consensus shows that VFA provides a ‘triple-threat’ of benefits, through its sense of community, accessible resources, and plentiful opportunities.
Through VFA, fellows receive the benefits of being matched to job opportunities in startup communities. This results in teams of young professionals, all driven by their desire for innovation and improvement.
Simultaneously, the choice is also provided for fellows to decide where they would like to reside during their fellowship. Many have found their niche best served by the startup community here in St. Louis, finding value in the city’s innumerable options for activities, relatively cheap living expenses, and great access to its various communities.
Even so, the city can present an imposing hurdle if one is not willing to try and break into the local scene. A number of these VFA fellows in St. Louis provided their stories about the program and its effects and impact on their careers.
Have a Meaningful Impact
Hayley Shoaf, VP of Impact at Launchcode – VFA Fellow 2015
VFA changed my life. That sounds like a big statement to make, but it is completely and unequivocally true. Working in startups was definitely not a foregone conclusion, and VFA gave me a pathway to think differently about my career, and what it meant to have an impact.
VFA helped me to see the broad range of opportunities out there and introduced me to a whole host of startups that I never would have found on my own.
I have fallen in love with St. Louis as a city. St. Louis is a city that is hungry for passionate people, and it is an easy place to dive in and contribute. In my opinion, that kind of environment is the ideal place to launch a career.
Tremendous, Supportive Network
Christopher Kontes, Founder/President of Balto Software – VFA Fellow 2015
The network has been tremendous. Between my VFA class, the mentors, and the VFA staff themselves, I can basically bug anybody I want for help! VFA provides a ton of great support for fellows; they help you find a great job, cover certain expenses involved in the job search.
True story – A VFA friend of mine was looking for a new position. He cold emailed a very successful and very famous founder in the VFA network and had two jobs offered within a week. That’s insane.
STL is the perfect place to start a company. The entrepreneurial community is robust, the rent is cheap, and access to early-stage capital is plentiful.
Sense of Community
Chisom Uche, Director of Investor Relations at Cultivation Capital, Associate at SixThirty – VFA Fellow 2014
I have been fortunate enough to meet and learn from people who are wise, caring, and passionate about a myriad of topics. Each of them willing to share their passions with one another. If I ever wanted to start an enterprise, I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to as strong of a pool as there is of potential co-founders, mentors, and partners.
The strong sense of community in St. Louis definitely played a key part in my decision to stay and begin my career in St. Louis. Everyone here is gunning for everyone else’s success and there is drive towards collaboration here that is unique to the Midwest charm, I think.
Accessing a World of Opportunities
David Yocom, Venture Analyst for iSelect Fund – VFA Fellow 2017
My college experience had a tendency to specialize my focus as I progressed further through my degree, and VFA really showed me a whole world of job opportunities that I was totally unaware of. I never would have found the role I’m in without VFA and would never have thought that venture capital was a career that I would be interested in.
There’s so much access here in St. Louis; everyone who is working in innovation & the startup community has a tendency to be few degrees of separation from someone you know well. It makes communication and collaboration very easy, and overall there’s a lot of excitement here and a ton of unique opportunities.
The VFA community here has made it remarkably easier to make the move from the West Coast to the Midwest.
Martha Cosgrove, Investing Analyst at Boeing HorizonX Ventures – VFA Fellow 2017
The people! The community I have been introduced to through the Venture for America program is incredible… We are all young professionals dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation, and trying to create and expand opportunities for others across the nation. I am inspired by my VFA peers, they challenge me to think creatively and test limits.
My dream is to advance female leaders in the workplace. My goal is to capitalize on what I have been granted in life, and use that to my advantage by creating new opportunities for women who aspire to lead. I feel it is duty to provide a network of support for women who have the desire to rise up the ranks and lead by example through my own career trajectory. I have taken this more seriously and stepped up as a leader on the VFA Women Resource group.
Truly though, I love the city. The startup community is vibrant and visibly growing. The city is doing a lot of development to support the growing ecosystem, which is really nice to see.
More On My Radar
Yvette Rodriguez, Principal at Cultivation Capital – VFA Fellow 2015
VFA gives you more exposure to opportunities outside of where one would typically look for or have the visibility into. Additionally, VFA helps integrate you into a startup community from the start of your move, which as a transplant into a new city is a big plus.
I would say my experience and placement through my fellowship has influenced what I want to be “when I grow up.” I’ve been working in the VC/Accelerator space and want to continue exploring this space as there is always something new bubbling up — college ‘me’ did not have this on my radar.
I never thought I’d live in STL after graduation — I’m not from the Midwest and went to school in Providence. St. Louis grows on you. There’s a lot to do, but you do have to be proactive in searching, and become involved with different communities/neighborhoods.