Baltimore Business Journal

Venture for America to match young workers, startups

Friday, July 6, 2012, 6:00am EDT
By Gary Haber– Staff Reporter, Baltimore Business Journal

A national nonprofit that wants to groom the next generation of entrepreneurs will be expanding to Baltimore in 2013.

Venture for America pairs college graduates who hope one day to launch their own company with startup businesses that can use their help. The group’s fellows spend two years working for fledgling firms in fields including biotechnology, online media and clean energy.

In exchange for modest pay — the companies agree to pay salaries between $32,000 and $38,000, depending on a city’s cost of living — fellows will get a chance to learn a business from the ground up and help the company grow. The program is modeled after Teach for America, a nonprofit that trains recent college graduates as teachers and helps place them in inner city schools.

Instead of training teachers, the idea is to prepare a pipeline of budding entrepreneurs who can then go out and start their own companies, said Mike Tarullo, Venture for America’s director of corporate development.

Venture for America is the brainchild of Andrew Yang, a New York lawyer-turned-entrepreneur who felt that too many of the nation’s smartest college graduates were bypassing the startup world for careers in law and on Wall Street.

The group’s first class of 40 fellows will begin work in August in five cities — Cincinnati, Detroit, Providence, R.I., New Orleans and Las Vegas — after completing an entrepreneur boot camp at Brown University. The program is competitive. About 500 people applied for the 40 openings, Tarullo said.

Baltimore is part of the second round of cities that will get fellows starting in 2013.
Tarullo said that what makes Baltimore attractive is the city’s burgeoning tech community, the research being spun out of the Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland, and the city’s growing number of tech-company incubators. Four other cities — Cleveland, New Haven, Conn., Pittsburgh and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. — will also join the program next year.

Tarullo is working with Robert Rosenbaum, executive director of the Maryland Technology Development Corp., to identify Baltimore-area companies that might be a good fit for the program. As part of that effort, Tarullo will be coming to Baltimore this month to start learning more about the area’s tech community.

Rosenbaum said the Venture for America program could be a boon for local tech startups.

“I would be more than happy for one of these fellows to come in here and develop the next Millennial Media, or the next Under Armour or MedImmune,” Rosenbaum said. Millennial, a developer of mobile ads, raised $132 million in a March 2012 initial public offering. Under Armour, the sports apparel giant, saw its stock reach $100 a share this year. And MedImmune, the Gaithersburg biotech vaccine maker, was bought by Britain’s AstraZeneca in 2007 for $15.6 billion.

James Fayal, who is part of Venture for America’s first group of fellows, is typical of the young, would-be entrepreneurs it plans to bring to Baltimore. A May 2012 graduate of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Fayal has a passion for building a company that dates to high school. He launched a business to market his invention: a device that pumps air into a fireplace to keep the fire from dying out.

“I guess what attracted me the most is that I’ve always been entrepreneurial and interested in startups, but it is a hard world to enter,” Fayal said. The 22-year-old Stonington, Conn., resident will be working for CincyTech, a Cincinnati-based venture capital firm that invests in companies in southwest Ohio.

Many startup companies already offer young workers low salaries in exchange for the chance to gain valuable experience, said Jason Hardebeck, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council.

But if Venture for America can truly attract to Baltimore “top-ranked talent that would otherwise go to New York City or San Francisco,” it would be a valuable addition to Baltimore’s tech community, he said.