Dan Gilbert’s Quest to Remake Detroit

In the efforts to revitalize the motor city, CEO of Quicken Loans Dan Gilbert is at the forefront, financing “one of the most ambitious privately financed urban reclamation projects in American history.”

14gilbert-ss-slide-E5JT-articleLargeThe New York Times recently published a feature about Dan Gilbert and his work in Detroit, and reported that the billionaire has already spent about $1 billion acquiring real estate with plans to “activate the streets”. With about 80 small companies having moved in to buildings owned by his real estate company, Bedrock, Gilbert seeks to “turn downtown into a high-tech hub, where young entrepreneurs both live and work.” Check out the full article about Gilbert and Detroit’s struggle over the past several decades.

Venture for America is proud to have its Fellows living in Detroit, becoming ingrained in the city’s revitalization efforts everyday. Already, VFA has Fellows working for Detroit Venture Partners, the venture capital firm investing in Detroit startups where Dan Gilbert is a partner, along with a handful of DVP’s portfolio companies including Are you a Human? and Quikly, among others.

Just last month, 2012 VFA Fellow Max Nussenbaum of “Are you a human?” wrote an article for the Huffington Post called “Move Where You Can Matter”, where he talks about his experience living in Detroit and extols the opportunities available there for young people and entrepreneurs.

Check out the video below for a glimpse inside Gilbert’s M@dison Building, which houses Detroit Venture Parters along with many other startups. We look forward to sending even more Fellows to Detroit in 2013!

DETROIT VENTURE PARTNERS from Hendrickson Video on Vimeo.

Fellow Spotlight: Adam Joseph, University of Virginia

0jIkxHXE_soV4RPt0iOuNVKhqNLTQ5zOWbbk4Nw6iX4

 

Name:  Adam Joseph

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

University: University of Virginia ’13

Major: Global Development Studies

 

What led you to apply for Venture for America?

Coming out of school, I wanted to pursue a unique opportunity that would give me solid skills in the business world while surrounding myself with bright, motivated individuals. Venture for America fit that model perfectly, and also seemed like a great opportunity to become involved in the startup world while mitigating a lot of the risk.

What were you doing when you found out you were accepted?

I was actually on my way to a football game, surrounded by 30 fraternity brothers, when Andrew called.  We lost the football game, but it was a great night.

Now that you’re a Fellow, what are you most excited about with regard to VFA? What do you hope to accomplish?

I’m most excited to start working and having an impact in whichever city I end up in.  I’m also really looking forward to Training Camp this summer, so I can get to know the other Fellows and explore Providence.

If you had to live one place for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

Somewhere that has baseball, so probably San Francisco.

Best thing about University of Virginia:  Being surrounded by my friends all the time.

Favorite Book: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Favorite childhood TV show: Keenan and Kel.

Favorite meal: My mom’s pasta Bolognese.

Favorite holiday: Halloween.

Best class you’ve ever taken: Design Themes of Great Cities

Favorite movie quote: “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.”

Favorite thing to do on Sunday: Eat and sleep.

Favorite entrepreneur: Muhammad Yunus.

Favorite cereal: Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Most worn article of clothing: Black ‘Electric’ tee-shirt

Favorite sports team: San Francisco Giants

Best trip you’ve ever been on: Cozamel, Mexico with my family for Christmas last year.

Favorite historical figure: Has to be Thomas Jefferson.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of: Winning money the first time I gambled at a casino.

Started from the Bottom Now We’re Here: Maslow and Careers

By Mike Tarullo, VP of Corporate Development

(originally published on Huffington Post)

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsWhen I was 22 and graduating from college, there were a couple paths to take.

The first path was to follow my dreams, a dangerous idea because the dreams of a 22-year-old are pretty underdeveloped. Yet, this is what our baby boomer parents often tell us to do. David Brooks does the subject a great deal of justice in an op ed in which he explains, “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.” Young people are often guilty of deciding on our passions in a vacuum and it’s no wonder with the cacophony of “follow your dreams” reinforcement we receive.

To me, it’s sort of how great novelists aren’t very often great until their midlife, when they’ve seen enough of the world and its inhabitants to write about them with art and perspective. The dreams of my collegiate career and that of many others are only slightly more substantial than being a football player or an astronaut. The novel I would write at 22 would have protagonists with the depth of the Hardy Boys; in a couple decades I could produce something more nuanced (hopefully).

Many promising young people I interact with tell me they’re hell-bent on doing something that’s good for the environment, or that they want to revolutionize education, or work in health and wellness. These are useful callings, but in many young people they are passions born from analysis, not experience. They have been told to do something that they love, and have selected something from a fairly limited worldview that seems lovable. What most young people do is look at the outputs of an industry and say, “that one,” rather than look at what one’s day to day would actually look like. There is a remarkable lack of transparency across all career paths as to what you actually do all day, and when it’s demystified, working to save education or the environment might not be as stimulating or high potential as one thinks.

The second path was to follow my peers. There are places with brightly-lit roads to guide you there, undeniably attractive promises of advancement, prestigious firms, piles of cash, and whatnot. Many people take this bottom-up path, viewing your career as a series of steps to climb. It’s a much more practical path than the first, and rather a strong start out of the gate in some respects, though it occasionally leaves one wanting in the self-actualization department. Often, these young people promise themselves that they’ll be successful first, and do something they love later. However, if you’re over 30, you might have noticed that the majority of your friends are still doing some permutation of what they decided to all those years ago – unfortunately, the same incentives that draw you to that brightly lit road are fairly good at keeping you on it. I, seemingly blind to everything around me, was not offered any of these incentives, and thus “resisted” the siren’s call.

There’s nothing wrong with this second path; it’s definitely the most stable choice, and has generally good returns for the first four tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy (the 3rd tier might be an independent variable, but that’s a blog post for someone else). For many people, it’s a great choice, and the presence of a clear target (e.g. your boss’s job) makes it easier to achieve.

These two paths seem different, but they have something in common. Both treat your career as something you create, linear steps that can be considered in advance and charted for optimal efficiency. However, careers in your 20′s aren’t that deterministic anymore. Stable jobs aren’t so stable, brightly-lit tracks are subject to culling of the herd at each level (law, banking, etc. are necessarily pyramids), and opportunities come from the periphery as often as the direction you’re pointing (source: that often-quoted “7 career changes in your lifetime” statistic, which even if its actually only 3 or so, is still a boatload of career changes).

So if the bottom-up, step-by-step approach isn’t for you, what approach should you take to your first couple jobs? I think there’s a third path: follow the headroom. The common thread I’ve found among people who are happy in their early-career jobs are that they’re challenged and encouraged to grow. If every time you evaluate an opportunity, you strip away the externalities, like perceived prestige, “mission,” industry, or even money (to an extent), what you’ll be left with is what you actually think of the opportunity. It’s a challenging intellectual exercise, but I think it’s worth it. Prestige, mission, industry, and money are ways to get you to focus on something other than what you’ll actually be doing every day.

The most important things in a workplace for a young person? Finding a team that you’ll be excited to work with every day, and a boss that will give you the headroom to grow and expand your capabilities. Who cares what industry, or what the name of the company is, or even what they’re paying you at first? Too many of us, I think. That’s why people wind up trying to switch jobs all the time – maybe if they had more prestige, or $20k more, or worked in education instead of engineering. These are externalities. They cannot save you from yourself, and they won’t motivate you to do good work.

I’m hoping this is happening for me: I’m working in talent/staffing, a field in which I definitely had no interest at age 22. I got there by doing a couple dead-end jobs in politics and marketing that sounded cooler, and had cooler clients. Unsatisfied, I bailed to the unsexiest company I found, which paid me half my previous salary, but where the founder seemed like he would give me the most opportunity to grow. A couple much more interesting years later, I took the same approach to getting the job I have now: strip away the externalities, look for headroom.

The top of Maslow’s pyramid looks an awful lot like an ideal job, to me: creativity, problem solving, spontaneity, morality. If you’re really engaged in creative problem solving that makes you feel good, the following will happen:

  1. Esteem – people will respect you for being a good problem solver.
  2. Belonging – your self-confidence and happiness brings you the right kind of friends and significant other.
  3. Safety – you’re good at what you do because it engages you; you’ll get rewarded for it.

So you see, I don’t think we need to abandon the idea of doing what we love, just re-imagine what it means to find our way there. When it comes to careers, Maslow might have it backwards.

2013-04-09-masloweshierarchyofcareer.png

Started from the Bottom Now We’re Here: Maslow and Careers

By Mike Tarullo, VP of Corporate Development

(originally published on Huffington Post)

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsWhen I was 22 and graduating from college, there were a couple paths to take.

The first path was to follow my dreams, a dangerous idea because the dreams of a 22-year-old are pretty underdeveloped. Yet, this is what our baby boomer parents often tell us to do. David Brooks does the subject a great deal of justice in an op ed in which he explains, “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.” Young people are often guilty of deciding on our passions in a vacuum and it’s no wonder with the cacophony of “follow your dreams” reinforcement we receive.

To me, it’s sort of how great novelists aren’t very often great until their midlife, when they’ve seen enough of the world and its inhabitants to write about them with art and perspective. The dreams of my collegiate career and that of many others are only slightly more substantial than being a football player or an astronaut. The novel I would write at 22 would have protagonists with the depth of the Hardy Boys; in a couple decades I could produce something more nuanced (hopefully).

Many promising young people I interact with tell me they’re hell-bent on doing something that’s good for the environment, or that they want to revolutionize education, or work in health and wellness. These are useful callings, but in many young people they are passions born from analysis, not experience. They have been told to do something that they love, and have selected something from a fairly limited worldview that seems lovable. What most young people do is look at the outputs of an industry and say, “that one,” rather than look at what one’s day to day would actually look like. There is a remarkable lack of transparency across all career paths as to what you actually do all day, and when it’s demystified, working to save education or the environment might not be as stimulating or high potential as one thinks.

The second path was to follow my peers. There are places with brightly-lit roads to guide you there, undeniably attractive promises of advancement, prestigious firms, piles of cash, and whatnot. Many people take this bottom-up path, viewing your career as a series of steps to climb. It’s a much more practical path than the first, and rather a strong start out of the gate in some respects, though it occasionally leaves one wanting in the self-actualization department. Often, these young people promise themselves that they’ll be successful first, and do something they love later. However, if you’re over 30, you might have noticed that the majority of your friends are still doing some permutation of what they decided to all those years ago – unfortunately, the same incentives that draw you to that brightly lit road are fairly good at keeping you on it. I, seemingly blind to everything around me, was not offered any of these incentives, and thus “resisted” the siren’s call.

There’s nothing wrong with this second path; it’s definitely the most stable choice, and has generally good returns for the first four tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy (the 3rd tier might be an independent variable, but that’s a blog post for someone else). For many people, it’s a great choice, and the presence of a clear target (e.g. your boss’s job) makes it easier to achieve.

These two paths seem different, but they have something in common. Both treat your career as something you create, linear steps that can be considered in advance and charted for optimal efficiency. However, careers in your 20′s aren’t that deterministic anymore. Stable jobs aren’t so stable, brightly-lit tracks are subject to culling of the herd at each level (law, banking, etc. are necessarily pyramids), and opportunities come from the periphery as often as the direction you’re pointing (source: that often-quoted “7 career changes in your lifetime” statistic, which even if its actually only 3 or so, is still a boatload of career changes).

So if the bottom-up, step-by-step approach isn’t for you, what approach should you take to your first couple jobs? I think there’s a third path: follow the headroom. The common thread I’ve found among people who are happy in their early-career jobs are that they’re challenged and encouraged to grow. If every time you evaluate an opportunity, you strip away the externalities, like perceived prestige, “mission,” industry, or even money (to an extent), what you’ll be left with is what you actually think of the opportunity. It’s a challenging intellectual exercise, but I think it’s worth it. Prestige, mission, industry, and money are ways to get you to focus on something other than what you’ll actually be doing every day.

The most important things in a workplace for a young person? Finding a team that you’ll be excited to work with every day, and a boss that will give you the headroom to grow and expand your capabilities. Who cares what industry, or what the name of the company is, or even what they’re paying you at first? Too many of us, I think. That’s why people wind up trying to switch jobs all the time – maybe if they had more prestige, or $20k more, or worked in education instead of engineering. These are externalities. They cannot save you from yourself, and they won’t motivate you to do good work.

I’m hoping this is happening for me: I’m working in talent/staffing, a field in which I definitely had no interest at age 22. I got there by doing a couple dead-end jobs in politics and marketing that sounded cooler, and had cooler clients. Unsatisfied, I bailed to the unsexiest company I found, which paid me half my previous salary, but where the founder seemed like he would give me the most opportunity to grow. A couple much more interesting years later, I took the same approach to getting the job I have now: strip away the externalities, look for headroom.

The top of Maslow’s pyramid looks an awful lot like an ideal job, to me: creativity, problem solving, spontaneity, morality. If you’re really engaged in creative problem solving that makes you feel good, the following will happen:

  1. Esteem – people will respect you for being a good problem solver.
  2. Belonging – your self-confidence and happiness brings you the right kind of friends and significant other.
  3. Safety – you’re good at what you do because it engages you; you’ll get rewarded for it.

So you see, I don’t think we need to abandon the idea of doing what we love, just re-imagine what it means to find our way there. When it comes to careers, Maslow might have it backwards.

2013-04-09-masloweshierarchyofcareer.png

Fellow Spotlight: Alison Schmitt, EMH Strategy

jVupWGn0LUIu3WNpjW-mSlfWNPYmnQKMavhkCqoF8y8Name: Alison Schmitt

Hometown: Rutherford, NJ

University: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business ’12

EMHstrategy

City: New Orleans, LA

Associate, EMH Strategy

What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

There were quite a few factors that got me interested in the program—the combination of working at a small company, attending a 5-week training institute, being part of a cohort of motivated people, and moving to an emerging city all were very appealing.

What is the best part of being a VFA Fellow?

Definitely having a network of other Fellows to live, work, and explore the city with. New Orleans is a city that should be enjoyed with people, and I feel lucky to be part of a group that is eager to meet local entrepreneurs, try new restaurants, and get engaged. I must say it’s a pretty fun bunch.

What does EMH Strategy do?

We work with a variety of clients in the public, private, and non-profit sectors and provide a mix of services including business design, financial services, project management, and expansion planning. We take a hands-on, collaborative, analytical, methodical approach to creative problem solving; and we make sure our solutions are actually implemented. Our goal is to help companies in the Gulf South grow and help the region live up to its full potential. Some example clients include the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, the Louisiana Department of Education, and a local chocolatier called Sucre.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

Because our company is comprised of just 6 people, I do a little of everything. I work on internal tasks such as business development, & marketing, and also client-specific work like crunching numbers in Excel to create financial models, research, writing, playing around with InDesign, meeting with clients, getting free chocolate toothpaste, talking with restaurant entrepreneurs, etc. So to be cliché I suppose there is no typical day for me. Which is pretty sweet.

What’s your favorite thing about New Orleans?

New Orleans is…amazing.

The city has an overwhelming sense of pride, yet is unpretentious and welcoming. The optimism among new and old residents alike is contagious and a lot of progress has been made around crafting local solutions to address pressing challenges like education, food access, and job training. Plus, the food can’t be beat, live music can be found every night of the week, and there is never a dull moment. And the weather is great. And and and…I love New Orleans.

What do you hope to accomplish in your time with VFA?

Ultimately, I want to learn but also execute. I hope to add value to EMH and help the company grow, while also meeting with various New Orleans entrepreneurs to learn about their experiences successfully starting their own initiatives. I plan to start volunteering next month with Liberty’s Kitchen,  a non-profit restaurant that employs 16-24 year olds and provides job training so that they can transition into the workforce. So I’m trying to learn as much as I can about socially-focused business models that incorporate job training.

Fellow Spotlight: Alison Schmitt, EMH Strategy

jVupWGn0LUIu3WNpjW-mSlfWNPYmnQKMavhkCqoF8y8Name: Alison Schmitt

Hometown: Rutherford, NJ

University: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business ’12

EMHstrategy

City: New Orleans, LA

Associate, EMH Strategy

What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

There were quite a few factors that got me interested in the program—the combination of working at a small company, attending a 5-week training institute, being part of a cohort of motivated people, and moving to an emerging city all were very appealing.

What is the best part of being a VFA Fellow?

Definitely having a network of other Fellows to live, work, and explore the city with. New Orleans is a city that should be enjoyed with people, and I feel lucky to be part of a group that is eager to meet local entrepreneurs, try new restaurants, and get engaged. I must say it’s a pretty fun bunch.

What does EMH Strategy do?

We work with a variety of clients in the public, private, and non-profit sectors and provide a mix of services including business design, financial services, project management, and expansion planning. We take a hands-on, collaborative, analytical, methodical approach to creative problem solving; and we make sure our solutions are actually implemented. Our goal is to help companies in the Gulf South grow and help the region live up to its full potential. Some example clients include the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, the Louisiana Department of Education, and a local chocolatier called Sucre.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

Because our company is comprised of just 6 people, I do a little of everything. I work on internal tasks such as business development, & marketing, and also client-specific work like crunching numbers in Excel to create financial models, research, writing, playing around with InDesign, meeting with clients, getting free chocolate toothpaste, talking with restaurant entrepreneurs, etc. So to be cliché I suppose there is no typical day for me. Which is pretty sweet.

What’s your favorite thing about New Orleans?

New Orleans is…amazing.

The city has an overwhelming sense of pride, yet is unpretentious and welcoming. The optimism among new and old residents alike is contagious and a lot of progress has been made around crafting local solutions to address pressing challenges like education, food access, and job training. Plus, the food can’t be beat, live music can be found every night of the week, and there is never a dull moment. And the weather is great. And and and…I love New Orleans.

What do you hope to accomplish in your time with VFA?

Ultimately, I want to learn but also execute. I hope to add value to EMH and help the company grow, while also meeting with various New Orleans entrepreneurs to learn about their experiences successfully starting their own initiatives. I plan to start volunteering next month with Liberty’s Kitchen,  a non-profit restaurant that employs 16-24 year olds and provides job training so that they can transition into the workforce. So I’m trying to learn as much as I can about socially-focused business models that incorporate job training.

It’s Never Too Young to Start Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

Pic 4 LAST WEEK, NEW ORLEANS ENTREPRENEUR CHRIS SCHULTZ VISITED KIPP CENTRAL CITY SCHOOL IN NEW ORLEANS TO TAKE PART IN THE STARTUP EFFECT, A NON-PROFIT STARTED BY FOUR VFA FELLOWS. NOW, CO-FOUNDERS MIKE MAYER AND BILLY SCHRERO ARE TEACHING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS TO EMPOWER YOUTH WITH THE NECESSARY TOOLS TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY, PROACTIVELY, AND CREATIVELY, RESULTING IN INNOVATION AND VALUE CREATION.

SCHULTZ, WHO HAS CO-FOUNDED LAUNCH PAD & FLATSTACK, AND IS CURRENTLY LAUNCHING A NEW VENTURE CALLED NIKO NIKO, INVESTS IN NEW ORLEANS COMPANIES THROUGH VOODOO VENTURES. BASED ON HIS SUCCESS LAUNCHING COMPANIES, HE HAS TAKEN AN INTEREST IN MENTORING OTHER ENTREPRENEURS, WHICH LED HIM TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT.

READ ON TO HEAR MORE ABOUT CHRIS’S EXPERIENCE HANGING OUT WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT KIDS AND THE WORK MIKE AND BILLY ARE DOING IN NEW ORLEANS. ULTIMATELY, THEY HOPE TO SPUR ENTREPRENEURIAL THOUGHT WHERE IT MATTERS MOST – IN THE MINDS OF THE YOUTH IN THESE GROWING CITIES WHERE VFA FELLOWS ARE PLACED.


By Chris Schultz, Co-founder of LaunchPad & Flatstack in New Orleans (Originally published in Huffington Post)

“Who wants fireballs going out, and who wants her shooting flames?” Lionel asked.

The hands went up for fireballs, and Lionel spun around the flame out of the trumpet arms on Fiona Flames, the new character that he prototyped in real-time the ideas being generated by the class of 7th and 8th graders at KIPP Central City in New Orleans.

Pic 1We were in front of this eager group thanks to a new program called Startup Effect, launched by newcomers to New Orleans, Billy Schrero & Mike Mayer, two Venture for America Fellows working with startups in the city.

Startup Effect is an after-school program designed to expose middle school students to real-world startups and inspire them to “Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!” the call and response mantra that Schrero and Mayer shout like coaches during the fast-paced afternoon session.

Lionel Milton is the creator of Mardi Brah, an iPhone football skills game set in the streets of New Orleans, and he had come on this day to get real product feedback from the students who were, in fact, the target audience for the game. The Mardi Brah challenge was prototyping and the students had been taught the importance of “play & refine” and once you design something, you have to test and evolve. The week prior, they had designed a stick figure drawing of a new character for Mardi Brah, and Lionel was here to turn it into a real character in the game, right before their eyes.

Pic 7

Lionel took the prototype the students had created and sketched the female character before digitalizing it and putting it up on a giant screen where the students could provide input and watch the prototyping process. The kids were mesmerized as Lionel constructed Tutti based on their input, carefully running through color choices and adding details like a hair bow and getting her eyes just so. By the time we got to the fireballs coming out of the trumpet-arms, the students had seen their vision executed and the prototype was ready for the game.

Startup Effect is a powerful new program on many levels. The students at KIPP Central City are being exposed to real companies and learning cutting edge startup thinking, and getting started early. The mantra keeps reminding the students that they have the opportunity to do anything they want, they just have to work at it.

Schrero and Mayer are going beyond their full-time positions as Venture for America Fellows with Staff Insight and Federated Sample in New Orleans. They’ve taken it to another level and decided to make an impact beyond just working hard and helping those companies succeed. They have build a program in Startup Effect that will positively impact students in New Orleans and is scalable across Venture for America cities.

It’s a virtuous cycle of paying it forward, and we’re fortunate to have Venture for America & Startup Effect in New Orleans.

Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!

It’s Never Too Young to Start Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

Pic 4 LAST WEEK, NEW ORLEANS ENTREPRENEUR CHRIS SCHULTZ VISITED KIPP CENTRAL CITY SCHOOL IN NEW ORLEANS TO TAKE PART IN THE STARTUP EFFECT, A NON-PROFIT STARTED BY FOUR VFA FELLOWS. NOW, CO-FOUNDERS MIKE MAYER AND BILLY SCHRERO ARE TEACHING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS TO EMPOWER YOUTH WITH THE NECESSARY TOOLS TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY, PROACTIVELY, AND CREATIVELY, RESULTING IN INNOVATION AND VALUE CREATION.

SCHULTZ, WHO HAS CO-FOUNDED LAUNCH PAD & FLATSTACK, AND IS CURRENTLY LAUNCHING A NEW VENTURE CALLED NIKO NIKO, INVESTS IN NEW ORLEANS COMPANIES THROUGH VOODOO VENTURES. BASED ON HIS SUCCESS LAUNCHING COMPANIES, HE HAS TAKEN AN INTEREST IN MENTORING OTHER ENTREPRENEURS, WHICH LED HIM TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT.

READ ON TO HEAR MORE ABOUT CHRIS’S EXPERIENCE HANGING OUT WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT KIDS AND THE WORK MIKE AND BILLY ARE DOING IN NEW ORLEANS. ULTIMATELY, THEY HOPE TO SPUR ENTREPRENEURIAL THOUGHT WHERE IT MATTERS MOST – IN THE MINDS OF THE YOUTH IN THESE GROWING CITIES WHERE VFA FELLOWS ARE PLACED.


By Chris Schultz, Co-founder of LaunchPad & Flatstack in New Orleans (Originally published in Huffington Post)

“Who wants fireballs going out, and who wants her shooting flames?” Lionel asked.

The hands went up for fireballs, and Lionel spun around the flame out of the trumpet arms on Fiona Flames, the new character that he prototyped in real-time the ideas being generated by the class of 7th and 8th graders at KIPP Central City in New Orleans.

Pic 1We were in front of this eager group thanks to a new program called Startup Effect, launched by newcomers to New Orleans, Billy Schrero & Mike Mayer, two Venture for America Fellows working with startups in the city.

Startup Effect is an after-school program designed to expose middle school students to real-world startups and inspire them to “Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!” the call and response mantra that Schrero and Mayer shout like coaches during the fast-paced afternoon session.

Lionel Milton is the creator of Mardi Brah, an iPhone football skills game set in the streets of New Orleans, and he had come on this day to get real product feedback from the students who were, in fact, the target audience for the game. The Mardi Brah challenge was prototyping and the students had been taught the importance of “play & refine” and once you design something, you have to test and evolve. The week prior, they had designed a stick figure drawing of a new character for Mardi Brah, and Lionel was here to turn it into a real character in the game, right before their eyes.

Pic 7

Lionel took the prototype the students had created and sketched the female character before digitalizing it and putting it up on a giant screen where the students could provide input and watch the prototyping process. The kids were mesmerized as Lionel constructed Tutti based on their input, carefully running through color choices and adding details like a hair bow and getting her eyes just so. By the time we got to the fireballs coming out of the trumpet-arms, the students had seen their vision executed and the prototype was ready for the game.

Startup Effect is a powerful new program on many levels. The students at KIPP Central City are being exposed to real companies and learning cutting edge startup thinking, and getting started early. The mantra keeps reminding the students that they have the opportunity to do anything they want, they just have to work at it.

Schrero and Mayer are going beyond their full-time positions as Venture for America Fellows with Staff Insight and Federated Sample in New Orleans. They’ve taken it to another level and decided to make an impact beyond just working hard and helping those companies succeed. They have build a program in Startup Effect that will positively impact students in New Orleans and is scalable across Venture for America cities.

It’s a virtuous cycle of paying it forward, and we’re fortunate to have Venture for America & Startup Effect in New Orleans.

Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!

VFA Boston Summit: Tuesday, April 9th

Hey, Boston-area friends and supporters! How do we turn America’s recent grads into the next generation of business builders and entrepreneurs? Come join us on Tuesday, April 9th for our Boston Summit to find out.

The event will gather our supporters from the Boston/Providence area, and also give others the opportunity to learn more about Venture for America. VFA Founder Andrew Yang will be there, along with VFA Fellows and supporters. The event is free, so just RSVP HERE to be added to the guest list.

Time and Location

Tuesday, April 9th from 6:00-7:30pm 
Flybridge Capital Partners
500 Boylston Street, 18th Floor
Boston, MA 02116

Food and drinks will be provided. We hope to see you there!

Click here to RSVP

VFA Boston Summit:
Tuesday, April 9th

Hey, Boston-area friends and supporters! How do we turn America’s recent grads into the next generation of business builders and entrepreneurs? Come join us on Tuesday, April 9th for our Boston Summit to find out.

The event will gather our supporters from the Boston/Providence area, and also give others the opportunity to learn more about Venture for America. VFA Founder Andrew Yang will be there, along with VFA Fellows and supporters. The event is free, so just RSVP HERE to be added to the guest list.

Time and Location

Tuesday, April 9th from 6:00-7:30pm 
Flybridge Capital Partners
500 Boylston Street, 18th Floor
Boston, MA 02116

Food and drinks will be provided. We hope to see you there!

Click here to RSVP