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!

Last chance to join the class of 2013!

With our final deadline to join the Class of 2013 approaching this Monday, February 18th at 11:59pm E.T, this is your last chance to become part of our second class of Fellows! If you’ve been thinking about applying, now’s the time.

To work on your application, you can visit vfa.dylanschuster.com/apply. For answers to your questions about the application or Fellowship, visit our FAQs page or e-mail apply@vfa.dylanschuster.com. (Please note: Recommendations are OPTIONAL. As long as you have your written application, resume, and transcript (official or unofficial) submitted by the deadline, you will still be considered.)

If you’re wondering what the life of a VFA Fellow is really like, check out recent interviews with two of our Fellows, Tim Dingman and Sam Stites, as they describe a typical day on the job.

Tim Dingman, Accio Energy in Detroit

How did you choose which startup you’d work with and what’s your typical day like?

“VFA actually has a two-step application process. First, you’re hired by VFA and then you need to be hired by one of their partner startup companies. I was able to give my preferences– I wanted to work in sustainable energy and engineering and use my technical skill-set but not be pigeon-holed into a strictly technical role. I went through a few interviews and I was ultimately matched with the perfect opportunity at Accio Energy, a company that is revolutionizing how wind-powered energy is generated.

On a day to day basis, I work on the computer modeling of protoypes Accio is planning to build, measuring how the model will interact with wind and electric fields. Based on the work I do, we can refine prototypes to be as effective as possible. Typically a position like mine would report to the Chief Technology Officer but instead I work closely with the Chief Financial Officer because I wanted to get experience on the operational side as well as the technical side.”

See Tim’s full interview on the Seelio Blog here.

Sam Stites, TurboSquid in New Orleans

What’s a typical day like for you?

“Scoot into the Squid Shack, grab a bowl of Luck Charms—hoho! More marshmallows than yesterday? I think so! Chat with Adele, our VP of Marketing, about Entrepreneurship, greet the desk mates, hop onto the computer, and kick up Excel, R, and SQL Server. I’ve got my headphones in with The Stanford Ecorner or an audiobook on play. Break for some design meeting where we discover that the name of the project has changed yet again, and we talk about edge cases of animal taxonomy: How do we classify BearManPig on the site? Is it a Bear, a Man, or a Pig? No it’s a BearManPig!

Stay in late to ask questions on StackedOverflow. Chat with Jonathan Lloyd, my boss and the VP of Product Development, about TurboSquid in the bar downstairs, then, depending on the day, go through some of MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Head over to The New Movement Theater for improv, or go rock climbing with Mark. Get back home, fix some dinner, work on a personal project, and crash for the night.”

See Sam’s full interview for TurboSquid’s “Meet the Squids” series here.

Adjusting for Risk

Andrew Yang’s most recent Huffington Post article digs into how we get more of our most talented young people to embark on the high-risk, high-reward path to entrepreneurship and building businesses.

Check out the article below and subscribe to Andrew’s articles on the Huffington Post here!


Originally published by Huffington Post

Occasionally a company is born that creates immense value, generating hundreds of jobs and even transforming multiple communities. At Venture for America, we are looking to find the people who are capable of helping found or build these companies.

One reason why entrepreneurs are admired is that they often take on a degree of risk in launching a new business. There’s reputational risk; your name is on the line to your friends and family who know what you’re doing (and they really should know). Then there’s financial risk; at a minimum you’re devoting time with uncertain reward, and presumably forgoing some form of income and/or putting your own money in to get the business off the ground. If a business doesn’t achieve its goals, the founder(s) often experience significant personal consequences.

How do we increase the odds of individuals taking on the challenges of starting a new business?

One of the quandaries is that many of the people who would have the most to offer as a founder or inventor have other appealing options. Let’s say that you were to line up 100 brilliant 21-year-olds that might have the potential to start a company someday. You tell them, “Okay, you have two choices. You can commit to being an entrepreneur. There’s a 10 percent chance that you become extraordinarily successful, wealthy and create hundreds of jobs. There’s a 30 percent chance that you’re a modest success. And there’s a 60 percent chance that you toil in obscurity for years and have some good stories to tell. Alternatively, you can commit to a high-paying career at a well-regarded company, and there’s a 95 percent chance you’ll succeed by most conventional standards.”

What would the 100 brilliant 21-year olds do? Most of them would probably opt for the latter path, because they only have one outcome to consider — their own. They have one life to live, and with the first option, both the chances of failure and the consequences may come across as unacceptably high. These individuals have often been successful at whatever they’ve put their minds to up to this point, which may make taking on risks unappealing. Plus, their parents may have invested considerable resources getting them to this point, increasing the pressure to ensure a return.

What would happen if you were to line up the same 100 21-year olds and give them the same choice, but with this change: “You will all sign a contract that if you become an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur, you will share the financial and reputational rewards with the other 99 people here in this room by hiring as many of them for your venture as you can.” Would this change anything? Now, each person’s downside would be significantly reduced as long as someone in the cohort does extremely well. Taking on the risky path could become a much more reasonable bet for each as a result of the collective understanding.

One way to get more of our most talented young people to embark on the higher-risk, higher-reward path is to create a community and network. It might be a lot easier to take risks if you’re part of a group who will look out for one another.

Help VFA win the JobRaising Challenge

 



Dear VFA Friends and Supporters:

We're thrilled to announce that Venture for America has been chosen as a finalist for The Huffington Post's JobRaising challenge!  Now, we're out to raise as much money as possible and we need your help.  The winner of the challenge will receive $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation – enough to help 10 VFA Fellows join and help build startup companies in cities that need them.
 

Here's how you can help…

Make a Donation: Click here to make a contribution today. Every amount helps, no matter how small!  If you've ever thought about giving money to VFA, now's the time.  ;)  

Fundraise for VFA: If you'd like to help VFA raise money to win the JobRaising Challenge, click here and go to "Create your Fundraiser." In seconds, you'll have your own fundraising page you can share with family and friends.

Anyone who donates through our JobRaising Challenge Fundraising Campaign before the end of the contest on March 1, 2013 will be eligible to receive the following prizes:

$25+: An awesome pair of Venture for America Sunglasses
$100+: One of our ever-popular VFA T-shirts
$250+: A General Admission Ticket to the 2013 Venture for America Summer Celebration on Thursday, May 30th in New York City
$1,000+: A VIP ticket to the Venture for America Summer Celebration, which includes access to the VIP lounge where guests can mingle with prominent business luminaries
 

This is a great opportunity to help VFA raise money and awareness and help put Americans back to work. Please help Venture for America achieve our mission:

To revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship. 
To enable our best and brightest to create new opportunities for themselves and others.
To restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

If you have any questions regarding the challenge itself, please email JobRaising@CrowdRise.com and they'll respond.  For anything VFA-related please contact donate@vfa.dylanschuster.com.  

The Class of 2013 is at 22 Fellows and growing every day.  Thanks again for your support!

The VFA Team 
 

Click Here for the contest rules for the $150k, $50k and $30k grand prizes.

VFA on Campus: Week of January 21-25

Our final deadline to join the Class of 2013 is less than one month away, and VFA representatives and Fellows will be on campus everyday this week to meet with potential applicants and answer all your questions about the fellowship.

Be sure to keep up with our blog and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on our events!

Tuesday, January 22nd

RIT Info Session
Hosted by 2012 Fellow Rob Solomon.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Bausch & Lomb Center, Room A-190
3:00-4:00pm

Lehigh Info Session
Lehigh University
UC 408
5:00-6:00pm

Wednesday, January 23rd

Villanova Info Session
Bartley Hall, Room 1011
Villanova School of Business
1:00-2:00pm

Swarthmore Info Session
Swarthmore University
Parrish Hall 159
4:00-5:00pm

Middlebury Info Session
Hosted by 2013 Fellow Astrid Schanz-Garbassi.
Middlebury College
McCardell Bicentennial Hall 104
6:00-7:00pm

Haverford Info Session
Bryn Mawr College
Campus Center Room 200
6:30-7:30pm

Thursday, January 24th

Duke Career Fair
Come by the Duke Career Fair to meet 2013 Fellows Shilpi Kumar and Jack Farrell and learn more about VFA.
10:00am-3:00pm

Friday, January 25th

Columbia/Barnard Career Fair
LeFrak Gymnasium
3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
9:30-1:30pm

VFA on Campus:
Week of January 21-25

Our final deadline to join the Class of 2013 is less than one month away, and VFA representatives and Fellows will be on campus everyday this week to meet with potential applicants and answer all your questions about the fellowship.

Be sure to keep up with our blog and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on our events!

Tuesday, January 22nd

RIT Info Session
Hosted by 2012 Fellow Rob Solomon.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Bausch & Lomb Center, Room A-190
3:00-4:00pm

Lehigh Info Session
Lehigh University
UC 408
5:00-6:00pm

Wednesday, January 23rd

Villanova Info Session
Bartley Hall, Room 1011
Villanova School of Business
1:00-2:00pm

Swarthmore Info Session
Swarthmore University
Parrish Hall 159
4:00-5:00pm

Middlebury Info Session
Hosted by 2013 Fellow Astrid Schanz-Garbassi.
Middlebury College
McCardell Bicentennial Hall 104
6:00-7:00pm

Haverford Info Session
Bryn Mawr College
Campus Center Room 200
6:30-7:30pm

Thursday, January 24th

Duke Career Fair
Come by the Duke Career Fair to meet 2013 Fellows Shilpi Kumar and Jack Farrell and learn more about VFA.
10:00am-3:00pm

Friday, January 25th

Columbia/Barnard Career Fair
LeFrak Gymnasium
3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
9:30-1:30pm

Professional Services as a Training Ground

Recently, Huffington Post and Business Insider published an article by Andrew Yang on the “Professional Services as a Training Ground.” In the article, Andrew explores the pros and cons to the post-grad “Plan” many college seniors have, which is to spend a few years at a larger firm before leaving and joining a smaller company.

You can check out the article below, and if you would like to subscribe to Andrew Yang’s articles on the Huffington Post, you can do so here.


“Professional Services as a Training Ground” by Andrew Yang

One of the most frequent narratives I encounter in achievement-minded college seniors is a (very reasonable) plan to spend several years advancing professionally and getting trained (and paid) by an investment bank or consulting firm or law firm. Then, the thought process goes, one can set out to do something else with some exposure and experience under one’s belt. This mindset is reinforced by the intense recruitment culture at many schools.

I subscribed to a version of this mindset when I graduated from Brown back in the day. In my case, I went to law school thinking I’d practice law for a few years (and pay down my law school debt) before lining up another opportunity. I wound up working at the firm for less than six months before leaving to co-found a start-up.

My sense is that there are plusses and minuses to ‘the Plan.’ There are some immensely constructive things to be said about spending 2 – 3 years in professional services after graduating from college:

    1. Training. Professional service firms are designed to train large groups of recruits annually, and they do so very successfully. You will emerge with a set of skills that can be applied in other contexts (e.g., Excel modeling if you’re a financial analyst, Powerpoint if you’re a consultant, editing if you’re a lawyer). You also often develop domain expertise (e.g. you’ll work in a particular industry and so you become conversant with the firms in that field, etc.).

    2. High-level work product. If you spend time at a bank/consulting firm/law firm, you will become excellent at producing world-class work. Every model/report/presentation/contract needs to be sophisticated, professional, and error-free, in large part because that’s one of the core value propositions of your organization. The people above you will push you to become more rigorous and disciplined, and your work product will improve across the board as a result.

    3. Socialized professionally. After a couple of years in a professional setting you’ll get used to dressing presentably, preparing for meetings, speaking appropriately, showing up on time, writing professional correspondence, etc. You can speak corporate. You also become accustomed to working very long hours. These attributes are transferable to and helpful in many other contexts.

    4. Learn how large organizations work. If you work for a top professional service provider that is hired by big companies, you will grow to understand how successful corporations make decisions, organize themselves, adopt policies and procedures, purchase from suppliers, etc. You will also learn to be process-driven, which is necessary for most large organizations to function properly.*

    5. Confidence. If you spend a couple of years at a big-name firm, it gives you an acute sense of the sort of people that populate and succeed in these environments. They’re your friends and colleagues (and you, for as long as you’re there). Emerging from a firm gives you a sense that you’ve worked among some of the best in a field, and that you’re as capable as anyone else.

    6. Credentialing. Similarly, your experience at a big firm is a great signal to prospective employers and partners. It will give you a source of credibility with clients, investors, and anyone else you deal with for the rest of your career.

    7. Network. You will almost always leave a professional services environment with a few noteworthy friends and relationships. These contacts can prove to be extremely valuable both personally and professionally.

    8. Motivation (sometimes). Some people who come out of these firms are ideally motivated and hungry. They’ve seen the other side, and now they want to accomplish something and make a mark. They’re not afraid to work hard, and they’re determined to achieve something significant outside of their old context.

It’s a pretty impressive list, to be sure. It’s no wonder that so many recent graduates find these options so compelling. So what are the drawbacks, if any? After going to law school, practicing law briefly, working in start-ups for over a decade, running a GMAT prep company for 5+ years, and seeing any number of personal career paths play out, here are some potential considerations: 

    1. Different Process/Output. In professional service environments, the output is almost always analytical (e.g., a set of valuations for a company, a series of cost-cutting recommendations). Sometimes, an analysis can take months to generate, with a half-dozen people working on it for hundreds of hours. In the start-up setting and in most companies, the output is action-oriented. You need to be getting things done and making decisions, often with limited information. You need to hire people, devise and improve a product, get customers and drum up business, market yourself and the company, learn how to manage and lead a team (when they’re not all either analysts or support staff), allocate scarce resources, etc. For most companies, the value is in the execution. You pick a path and find out if you’re right in real-time, and then change approaches accordingly. Mistakes are acceptable if they’re the result of moving forward. You develop judgment and instincts around execution that are very different than what is sometimes jokingly called ‘analysis paralysis.’ It’s the difference between examining a company and operating it.

    2. Switching Costs. Much has been made about how companies struggle to innovate and challenge themselves if they have a business that is successful.** People function the same way. If you’re a young professional making $100k producing spreadsheets/analyses/recommendations, it’s extraordinarily difficult to then switch to doing something else where you’re starting from scratch. I’ve seen many people leave to try their hand in another arena (e.g., writing, starting a business, etc.) and get discouraged with their lack of pay or quick success, particularly when they’re competing with people who have been engaged in the new activity for years.

    3. Difficulty Identifying Opportunities. Contrary to popular belief, exciting companies are not generally reaching out to banking analysts/junior consultants/corporate lawyers with great opportunities. Start-ups, for example, often hire out of personal networks and people who are actively engaged in the start-up community. Headhunters are eager to place you at another investment bank/consulting firm/law firm, but they’re virtually always industry-specific (it’d be a tougher sell for them to try and help people switch, plus the commission would be smaller). This is exacerbated by the fact that, for many professionals, this is the first time they’ve had to engage in a conventional job search (most were recruited directly out of school). Many of them struggle. Sometimes people will find a promising opportunity, but often they grope unsuccessfully. Many wind up giving up and applying to business school.***

    4. Narrowed Focus and Competency. Professional service providers often become very good at their particular discipline at the expense of other capacities. The skills developed in finance/consulting/law are valuable in certain contexts, but most businesses revolve around some other central activity (e.g. retail, energy, tech, entertainment/media, etc.). Many professionals become specialized in certain types of roles (e.g., the number-cruncher/analyst/lawyer) and don’t have the chance to develop in ways that would make them more central to building or driving a business.

    5. Value Creation vs. Optimization. By the time a company can hire an investment bank or consulting firm, it generally has already reached a certain stage of development. You’re seeing mature organizations that are trying to do a deal (buy another company, go public, etc.) or optimize. Consequently, your exposure is well past the stages where much of the value gets created. You have limited exposure to what makes small organizations grow and succeed, as well as minimal experience executing with limited resources.

    6. Commitment/time-frame. The nature of professional services is that you’re typically working on a deal or a client engagement that lasts a brief period and then ends. You’re used to relationships measured in weeks or months (or even days, in the trading context). You’re also used to colleagues coming and going very quickly (e.g., the attrition rate at one top-tier consulting firm is 30% a year, one reason they’re always hiring). Companies, in contrast, typically rely upon long-term relationships to function well. They require a significant commitment, where the time frame is measured in years, not weeks or months. Turnover is detrimental to developing a good management team. Building up the value of one’s equity and relationships takes time.

    7. Relationship with Work. As a professional service provider who is changing clients or transactions every period, it’s hard to become emotionally invested in your work. It’s like trying to care about a car you know you’re renting. Your clients are themselves big companies, and your interaction with them will often be limited to the occasional meeting with a senior executive or a manager. You’re there as a transaction cost because someone wants to get something done. You’re grease on a wheel. Your main motivation is to avoid looking bad to your superiors who may not expect you to stick around long-term because they’ve seen so many young people come and go.

    8. Appetite for Risk. One’s appetite for risk generally diminishes as you get older. This can become even more pronounced in a professional setting. You spend your working life in nice offices around well-compensated people. You often have support staff from Day 1. The only people you interact with work at large public companies. Your expenses creep upward over time – you get used to nice things. Your interpersonal obligations mount. As you adapt to your role and circumstance, taking a risk professionally becomes more and more of an abstraction. 

In my view, professional services have become conflated with ‘business’ when really they’re a narrow subset/category of businesses. College seniors would often benefit from figuring out what their long-term aspirations are and then try to pursue them directly. In particular, going to banking or consulting to learn how to start or run a business is not ideal. It’s like trying to learn how to become a chef by going to a company that sells things to restaurants.

One of our goals with Venture for America is to introduce some of the benefits of professional services environments (e.g. training, strong work product, socialization, credentialing, network, etc.) while enabling some of our best and brightest to take risks and become action-oriented builders from the beginning of their careers. At a minimum, they’ll have 2 years of seeing how early-stage businesses perform from the ground floor. Entrepreneurship is something you get better at over time, and an early start can make a big difference.

I also hope that Venture for America can represent part of a more genuine range of choices for our talented young people to start their careers and develop professionally. What they do should be more than a function of which organizations and industries have the highest levels of resources to recruit.

  • *Professor Gregg Fairbrothers, Director of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, made this observation and shared it with me. Great guy – Dartmouth students are lucky to have him.
  • **The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen spells this out in complete and compelling detail.
  • *** The average post-MBA job tenure is less than two years, and the same types of firms recruit the second time around.

Congrats to TeeSpring and Fellow Sean Pennino

Below is a guest blog post from 2012 Fellow Sean Pennino, who began working with a startup called Teespring in Providence through VFA back in August. Recently, Sean and his company received some very exciting news, and VFA couldn’t be more proud to be partnered with Teespring and founder Walker Williams during this exciting time.


“Teespring Accepted into Y-Combinator” by Sean Pennino, Class of 2012

Two weeks ago, Teespring received exciting news– we were offered to join Y Combinator’s Winter 2013 cycle. For three months starting in January, Teespring will be operating out of Mountain View, CA for a coveted opportunity.

YC is a program that provides early stage companies with seed funding, mentorship, and unparalleled networking throughout the Bay Area. Since 2005, they’ve helped build companies such as Reddit, Dropbox, and Airbnb just to name a few. This year, roughly 3,000 companies applied for fewer than 50 spots.

The story of Teespring’s success is one that VFA strives to promote. After graduating from Brown in May 2011, Walker Williams and Evan Stites-Clayton started building the company based off a website Walker developed to rally support for a troubled, student-favorite bar. Their motivation to pass on traditional career paths in favor of creating something valuable and personally fulfilling is the culture of achievement VFA hopes to inspire in recent graduates for years to come.

It should be mentioned that the fellows and staff are a big reason why we are doing so well. During a training camp challenge, all the fellows used Teespring to raise money for different causes. This gave Teespring a huge revenue boost, led to spinoff campaigns, and created relationships with clients that we are still working with. In September, Andrew Yang invited us to attend an event at the Democratic National Convention, which gave us great exposure. I’ve used the network of fellows countless times to seek advice, and Teespring has even signed on with another VFA partner company, Swipely, who is now saving us money on credit card processing.

The coming months will be full of experiences I could not be more excited about and grateful for. Getting a front row seat for Teespring’s coming growth will be invaluable for my future entrepreneurial aspirations. 100,000 new US jobs by 2025? Challenge accepted.

Andrew Yang TEDx talk: “Fixing the Flow of Human Capital”

Andrew Yang recently spoke at TEDxGeorgetown, where he gave a talk on “Fixing the Flow of Human Capital”.

During his talk, Andrew explains why the flow of talent in the U.S. is one of the fundamental problems we face today, and how VFA seeks to solve it. Check out the video here:

If you’re interested in learning more about Venture for America, or know someone who is interested in getting hands-on business experience and becoming an entrepreneur, visit our FAQs page for more info. You can even share this video with them and help spread the word!

To restore the culture of achievement

We drafted a mission statement for Venture for America a number of weeks ago:

To revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship.

To enable our best and brightest to create new opportunities for themselves and others.

To restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

Though they’re all appropriately ambitious, I think that the third goal is perhaps the most far-reaching and profound and vital to achieving the others.

To restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

When I was in college at Brown, I had a general desire for status and achievement. In my case, it led me to law school and a job as a corporate attorney in mergers and acquisitions and banking in New York.

That didn’t make me a bad person. I volunteered to do pro bono work as a sign that I was still interested in doing something kind of positive. That was maybe 2% of my time. The other 98% I was grease on a wheel, helping large transactions happen.

We need transaction attorneys to keep the wheels of commerce turning.  But we need more than that.

Our culture of achievement has grown to emphasize visions of success that are, for the most part, fairly predictable. Go to Goldman Sachs/McKinsey/Bain/BCG/Morgan Stanley, then to a top-ranked business school, then back to banking/consulting/private equity/a name-brand tech company. Or in the legal realm, go from law school to top firm to partner or in-house at an investment firm. Live in New York or SF.

People who head down these roads are generally very smart and hard-working. But we need smart and hard-working people to build businesses around the country as much as we need them to process complex transactions.

I was talking to someone who said, “I wanted to take a risk. That’s why I left Google for Foursquare.” This was AFTER Foursquare had just raised millions of dollars and had become a household name in tech circles. I thought to myself, “That’s a risk?” But to this person (who had graduated from Stanford), it probably seemed awfully risky.

Charlie Kroll started his software company as a senior in college with some seed money.  He worked for years in relative uncertainty and obscurity.  He almost went out of business multiple times, and had to figure out what to say to employees if he couldn’t make payroll.  Now, a decade later, his company, Andera is thriving, with 85 employees in Providence.   Jen Medbery is building Kickboard, an education tech company in New Orleans, that is making teachers’ lives better and more efficient and is hiring right now.  Don Naab is the CEO of Danotek Motion in Detroit, which is making more efficient wind turbines using magnets.  These are people who took on significant personal risk in order to build businesses that deliver real value and create jobs. 

We had our applicants and Fellows agree to the following statements as part of their application process:

1. I see my professional pursuits and my career as a moral choice that indicates my values.

2. I appreciate those who assume personal risks in order to build a company or pursue a common good.

3. I believe that actions are the proper measure of one’s accomplishments.

4. I believe that creating value and opportunities for myself and others is an important aspect of professional success.

5. I believe that one’s professional conduct is a reflection of personal character, and will always strive to act accordingly.

These statements likely represented something of a ‘check the box’ for most applicants. But our Fellows are actually demonstrating these values through their actions. They are dedicating the first portion of their careers to building businesses in parts of the country (Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Las Vegas, Cincinnati) that could use an economic boost. Most of them turned down far more lucrative offers. They’re taking a risk in that the company environments they are heading to are uncertain (and in this 1st year, Venture for America is kind of new). The goal is that most of them over time will become the kind of job creators and business leaders that the country needs.

We need to redefine achievement to include these qualities.   We need more intelligent risk-takers and value-creators who see their communities reflected in the work they do.