Venture For America places graduates in emerging startups

Olive Daniels

Staff Writer

Andrew Yang, a young college graduate with an entrepreneurial spirit, developed Venture For America (VFA) in 2011 as an organization to facilitate and encourage creativity and initiative.

VFA is a selective post-undergraduate program that matches motivated college graduates with startup companies in emerging cities. The fellowship lasts for two years, after which fellows then follow a number of career paths. Some start their own companies, while others remain at their startup.

Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence are among fifteen cities nationwide to which VFA sends its fellows. Caroline Toch, VFA Marketing Associate, emphasizes the organization’s work toward the growth and revival of American cities, as well as innovation through the creation of new opportunities for driven individuals. Officially, according to Toch and VFA’s formal mission statement, the program seeks predominantly “to restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.”

Davidson graduate Amanda Silver ’15 has spent her summer and fall as a fellow in the VFA program. Upon graduating in May as a Psychology major and Communication Studies minor, Silver hoped to channel her passions and values into meaningful, sustainable work. VFA became an effective way for her to realize this ambition and be a part of improving the world around her, specifically her new home city of Detroit.

Today, she works for Castle, a startup founded by three VFA alumni. As a member of a six-person workforce, she appreciates the “opportunity to contribute so much” in an environment in which her “voice is truly valued.” Despite being far from her original home in Westchester County, NY, Silver credits the strength of the VFA fellow and alumni network with helping her feel comfortable and secure in Detroit.

At Davidson, Silver was involved with the Entrepreneurship Initiative and worked closely with leaders of the Special Events Team in the President’s office. As a communications intern on campus, she learned much about innovation and social media as a platform for collaboration and advancement. Additionally, Silver participated in Davidson’s Entrepreneurship Internship program, through which she interned for Street Soccer USA, founded by fellow Davidson alum Lawrence Cann ’00. During her internship with Street Soccer USA, Silver learned that she wanted to participate in and facilitate meaningful tasks and social sustainability. However, after involving herself mainly in non-profit organizations throughout college, Silver was eager to explore opportunities in the world of for-profit business, and the VFA fellowship was an ideal.

From an inside perspective on what it means to be a VFA fellow and how to best prepare for the program, Silver emphasized the importance of passion in driving career choices and prospects. Although there is no one archetype of a VFA fellow, creativity and problem-solving often help participants get the most out of their experiences at startups. Additionally, while VFA does not look for specific majors or areas of study, many fellows come from business backgrounds. According to Silver, however, the most important element of VFA participants is their ability to channel their “passions into the company” and use this energy and creativity to positively affect the company and beyond.

For someone like Silver, VFA provides an environment conducive to gaining experience and making positive change, while still allowing its fellwos to chase a prosperous career path. At Castle, Silver relishes the fact that the work she does everyday “makes a real impact on the city,” yet still provides her a strong foundation to move forward in her chosen career. Her ultimate goal, along with those of many other VFA fellows is to eventually develop her own startup company. According to Toch, 26% of VFA alumni start their own companies through VFA. Specifically, Silver plans to expand upon a model that combines “sustainable business with social positives.” She hopes to do this with the help of fellow members of her VFA class, taking advantage of the strong network created and maintained by the program.

Anyone interested in a prospective experience with the VFA fellowship is welcome to apply and contact representatives for more information. The VFA application process is made up of an online application and interview (usually conducted via video chat). While most prospective participants choose to apply during their senior years, VFA does offer an early admissions process for interested and motivated juniors.

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